The story of stone soup has been told all over Europe. Details change with location. I tell the story this way.
Andy and Grayson trudged down the dusty road. Grayson had found a dry, stale bit of bread at the bottom of his pack that morning. With a drink from their canteens, breakfast, such as it was, was complete. The Canteens were empty now. Thankfully, they saw a small village not far away, just down the hill and across a bridge. As they paused before continuing down the road, they heard what sounded like a muffled horn. What could that mean?
Daniel, the shepherd, had seen the two strangers walking down the lane toward Mill Creek. He blew his horn so the others would know to hide what little food they had. To Daniel, the two young men looked like ruffians. The village has experienced many such travelers since the troubles had begun. It seemed like it was one king or another marching to some forgettable battle or another. They had passed through here several times. They took what little the village had managed to store each time. Last time they took Alison’s cow. Since then, she had hoarded her cheeses. Daniel knew where Alison had them hidden. He didn’t use that knowledge to steal a bit of cheese, well, at least not yet. His sheep gave a little milk, but the lambs took the most. The herd was small, with only three ewes and two lambs. The last time a foraging party had passed through, he had managed to hide the sheep. That was until Buck, the old ram, decided that he needed a drink from the stream. So, after breaking through the blackberry briar fence, he trotted down to the creek, followed by Daniel’s three best ewes. He had sauntered up to the soldiers as they were drinking from the stream. Needless to say, old buck and the foolish ewes who had followed him had become a meal for the army that was passing not far away.
Daniel’s belly rumbled. He hadn’t eaten a good meal for days now. No one was willing to share what they had. So, Daniel had to content himself with barley and the little ewe milk he could gather. He was sick of barley. Sick of sheep milk.
Much the same could be said of all those who lived in Mill Creek. Each had what they had been able to hideaway. Each had only one or two items of food.
Tim had his potatoes, Amos and his wife their onions. Thomas had the best of the lot. He had a few ham hocks secured where he hoped no one would look. The Sydoriak boys, Jason and Mike, knew where to find purslane and other greens. Everyone was sick of what they had, but no one would share or even consider trading. Daniel had tried. It was true that he had only barley and sheep’s wool. He had thought half his barley and what wool he had would have at least secured a piece of ham, but no, Thomas would not consider it.
Andy and Grayson stopped at the walled-in spring that fed into the babbling stream. The water was clear and cool. Before they traveled on across the bridge into the village, they quenched their thirst and filled their canteens. They felt like their luck had changed. Surely, they thought someone here would have a bit of work for them to do. Enough work to earn a meal. They noticed a woman closing the door to her house. In front of that house was a stack of wood that needed chopping. Across the way was a wagon load of hay sitting in front of a barn. That would be a good half-day of work by itself. With those obvious chores, they were sure they could earn a meal. They were returning to their mother’s house. They could almost taste her home cooking. They even looked forward to their father scolding them for so foolishly joining the gypsy band those months ago. Well, never again. They had promised themselves. Home was where they intended to stay. At least until the next pretty gypsy maid flirted with them.
Thomas peeked out his window. Well, those ruffians could look all they wanted. They would never find where he hid his ham hocks. He had them hidden away where no one could find them. Some days Thomas wished he had something more than those ham hocks. He was tired of eating them. At first, he had been overjoyed that the last band of soldiers had left with only the moldy old ham he had hanging in the smokehouse. They never thought to look under the floorboards. That where he had hidden the ham hocks and the best pieces of ham he had had. Now the ham was gone, and all he had left were his ham hocks. Even the best meal in the village got old after weeks of eating the same thing. He had thought about the trade Daniel had offered him. Barley would make a change in diet. But, no, if the others found out, he had enough to trade with one of them, they would want him to deal with them. Thomas kept by the window to see what the strangers would do.
Granny Bare was watching as the two young men walked into the village. They looked like nice boys to her. The other villagers might think her wrong, but she wasn’t. She thought about sharing a meal with those hungry looking boys. But they probably wouldn’t appreciate the small loaf of bread she had made yesterday. Most didn’t appreciate how she flavored her bread. She had grown tired of the plain sourdough bread, so she had added a few cloves of garlic and some of her peppers. She had shared some with Daniel the other day. He took one bite, and tears sprang into his eyes. At first, she thought it had been in gratitude for her kindness. But, no, Daniel, like so many others, didn’t appreciate the spiciness of her bread. He handed what he had back to her. Then ran to the spring to try and drown the heat.
Grayson Knocked on the door they saw the woman walk through. Alison opened the door just a crack. “What do you want?” She asked with a trembling voice.
“My Brother and I are hungry. We thought if we chop your pile of wood and stack it for you, we might earn some bread and perhaps a bit of cheese.” Grayson told her.
“I’ve no bread and barely enough to feed myself. Leave me be.” She said as she shut the door.
Andy and Grayson had much the same experience with every door they knocked on.
“I guess we should just travel on,” Grayson said to Andy.
Andy shook his head. “I may have an idea.” He told his brother.
He walked up to Grannie Bare’s house. He had spied a large kettle leaning upside down against her home. “That’s what we need.” He thought.
“I’ve been waiting for you to knock.” Grannie Bare told him. “I have a few crusts of bread you can have. But you better take just a small piece. I like my food spicy.”
All it took was a smell for Andy to know that as hungry as he was, Grannie Bare’s bread was much hotter than he would be able to eat
“Thanks anyway.” He told her. “Can I borrow that kettle and some of that wood instead?”
“Whatever you want,” Grannie Bare told him.
Andy had Grayson help him wrestle the heavy kettle to where they could build a fire under it. Grayson made several trips with Grannie Bare’s water buckets to fill the kettle with water while Andy chopped the wood and built a fire.
With the fire heating the water in the old pot, Andy reached into his backpack and brought out something wrapped in a cloth.
The villagers had slowly come out of their houses to watch these strangers perform their strange ritual.
Andy unwrapped a stone about the size of his hand. It had a hole through it, almost in the middle.
Andy carefully lowered the stone into the heating water. It made a dull clunk when it hit the bottom of the kettle.
Daniel’s curiosity overcame his hesitance. “What are you doing?” He asked.
“He’s making stone soup, of course,” Grayson told him with a smile. “The stone has to boil for a while. But in the end, it makes the best soup.”
Andy added wood to the fire. He appeared to be ignoring the conversation.
“It needs some garlic,” Grannie Carrie said as she broke two bulbs into the soup.
Andy touched her arm and stopped her from adding a bundle of hot peppers. “I think we can use only one or two peppers,” he told her.
“You know,” Andy suggested, “Some potatoes would help moderate the peppers.”
“Last time we made this, I thought it needed more body. Perhaps some oats or barley would help.” Grayson suggested.
“I’ve got a little barley I can spare,” Daniel said as he ran over to his house to get it.
Tim walked over and, without saying a word, dumped some sliced potatoes into the pot. Amos’s wife followed him and added three big onions to the boiling pot. “Who ever heard of a soup with no onions.” She told them.
Andy took a wooden spoon, dipped it into the pot, and brought him out a taste. “Hmm.” He gave his head an approving nod. “It’s coming around nicely. However, a little meat would make it better.
Thomas had been edging closer, trying to get a smell of what was cooking. He thought to himself, “Yes, a couple of my ham hocks would improve the mixture.” So he walked back to where he had hidden his ham hocks. Being careful not to let anyone see exactly where he had them hid. It wasn’t long until he dropped two ham hocks into the pot.
Jason came up and said, “Mike and I found some young dock this morning. A soup like this needs some greens.”
Before long, the villagers were milling around the kettle as it boiled. After the Sydoriak boys’ contribution, it seemed like everyone wanted to contribute. Someone added a few more potatoes. And Alison brought out the heel of a round of cheese to put in it. “I always wanted to try this,” she said.
The pot boiled, and Andy stirred. It wasn’t long past noon that he tasted it one more time. He looked to Grayson. “Find some bowls and spoons. The soup is ready. I think the stone’s magic has outdone itself this time.”
Everyone rushed home to find a bowl and spoon for themselves. Andy and Grayson took turns ladling the soup into the bowls. The fire went out as the soup disappeared from the kettle. Grayson was becoming concerned that perhaps he and Andy might not get any of the soup when Grannie Bare tapped him on the shoulder and handed him a bowl as she took the spoon from his hand and dipped him a bowl full. Andy gave her a big grin as she ladled his bowl full and handed him a piece of her spicy bread.
Thomas leaned back against a stone wall and patted his belly. “Best soup I’ve had in a long time. That sure is a wonderful stone you have.”
Everyone agreed that the fantastic stone made the best soup ever.