Photo by John Ivanko
Our friends the Caruses host soup nights in the winter to create community and used up preserved summer produce.
Brenda Carus is on a mission to build community, one soup pot at a time. She and her family cook up reasons for people to connect over food by hosting impromptu “soup nights” during the winter months. The Carus recipe for community is simple: send the word out to come over for conversation, then cook up several different pots of soups using the summer bounty preserved from their urban farmstead. Lucky us: Because we live nearby, we’re regulars.
The vision for soup night came to Brenda a few years ago through a friend: “Someone was sharing a story about potlucks and how it brought neighbors together and helped build a sense of community around food,” she explains. “Autumn came and with it, soup season. So we hosted our first soup night at our place.”
“People seem to think this is such an innovative, different idea, but what we’re doing isn’t radical—it’s traditional,” Brenda explains. “My grandparents’ generation always prioritized stopping in and visiting friends in person, usually lingering over a bite to eat. We need more of these community connections that bring us together, face to face. Our kids need more examples of adults lingering over coffee cups around the kitchen table, or better yet, a bowl of soup.”
Soup nights have grown to be both a family tradition for the Carus family as well as a local highlight among their friends. All we have to do is just ask them, “When’s soup?” to prompt another gathering.
“Soup night serves up the ultimate reward for us by blending those most important pieces of our lives right in our kitchen: our garden, family and friends,” Brenda says.
There’s an extra perk, as well, as soup night gives the Carus family motivations to get the house picked up. “I confess, soup night gives my husband, Luis, and I and our kids a reason and deadline to focus and give the house a clean,” Brenda laughs.
Here are some ideas the Carus family gives on hosting your own soup night:
1. Serve soup.
Soup wins the gold medal for easy, relaxed entertaining: Guests serve themselves, and all you do is keep it simmering on the stove. All the prep work of the host is done ahead of time and—like Brenda—you can simply enjoy your guests. Plus, soups, like the classic potato, French onion or mixed vegetable, use up preserved produce from summer gardens. Soup night also gives a good impetus to try out that new soup recipe and get some feedback from folks as they sample.
There’s also something much deeper behind those pots of soup simmering on the stove. By calling it a soup night versus a regular potluck, it diffuses the responsibility to bring a dish. People are more likely to simply stop by. Of course, many folks do bring a dish to share, so there’s never a lack of food. But people still feel welcomed to just pop in for a shorter spell if they have other things going on that evening.
Soup by its nature exudes an informality that extends through the gathering. No fancy table settings or gear required. Soup is comfort food that naturally builds community and invites conversations. The Carus family makes several different kinds of soup and folks linger around the stove and sample each one as they chat. “Leftovers are never a problem with soup; they are a bonus since we have lunch made for the week,” Brenda adds.
2. Call the shots.
“We don’t have a set schedule of soup nights,” Brenda says. “Whenever we’re both in the mood and have an open night, we pick a date that works for us and send out an email or post to Facebook.” That’s important to keep it fun for her family. No pressure or obligations. Remember, it’s OK to work around your schedule.
Avoid the formality of RSVPs, which makes soup night more enjoyable for the hosts. “Sometimes we have a standing-room only crowd while other times it’s an intimate group that ends up playing dominos around our dining room table,” Brenda says. “It really doesn’t matter to us and we always have enough soup to go around.”
This relaxed, no-RSVP approach further extends the warm and welcoming open-door philosophy. “Folks don’t feel any pressured obligation if something else comes up last minute,” Brenda explains. “Likewise, people feel welcomed, even if they never called to say they could come. There are always some surprise guests on soup night.”
3. Set the table for conversation.
An informal setting encourages discussions over soup. Brenda simply sets out bowls with spoons in a canning jar on her kitchen counter next to the stove with simmering soups. This leaves folks to sample soups as they please. Most people hang on to their bowl though out the evening, returning multiple times for small sampling portions to try all the different soups.
Craving soup? Check back to next week’s blog for our favorite Farmstead Chef soup recipe: Cornucopia Beer and Cheese Soup, our Wisconsin State Fair award-winning recipe.
Savoring the good life,