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Friday, March 15, 2013

Five steps to hosting a soup exchange party

Soup party gang 2012: Pauline, Anna, Katie, Arleen, Rachl, AJ, Chris, Gail
I just hosted my second annual soup party. Wisconsin is so weird. Last year we had our soup exchange in March and we wound up spending a lot of time outside on the deck; the temp was in the 60s (or so). This year we met again in March...but there was hardly enough room for my friends to park their cars around the plowed-up piles of snow.

So it goes in our beloved state.

No whether the weather, I'm always ready for soup. I never get sick of it...probably because there are so many different kinds. If you're sick of brothy soup, you can make one thick enough to walk across and vice versa. If you're sick of vegetable soup, you can make meat soup and vice versa. If you're sick of creamy soup, you can make a brothy one and vice versa...on and on.

A friend told me about a Christmas cookie exchange she goes to every year. The participants are VERY strict about the rules. If you bring three dozen, you leave with three dozen. If you bring six dozen, you leave with six dozen. No variation.

My cooking friends are much more loosey-goosey in giving out their soup. As Chris says, "It's just SOUP."

Last year we had eight cooks who attended the gathering, with soups featured from nine cooks (one couldn't make it but sent her soup along). See the photo above. This year we had only six cooks, so we had less variety in soups. (Photo is at the end of this blog post.)

This year we had more variety in age: the youngest was 28 and the oldest was 78. Last year the youngest was 27 and the oldest was 64.

The age difference is part of the fun. I've noticed that young and old take turns shocking each other. There are a LOT of laughs.

I went to my first soup exchange in 2010, where we snacked on cheese and crackers, drank wine, and chatted before doing the exchange.

At the two  exchanges I hosted, I chose to serve a simple supper first: vegetarian chili and cornbread. We also had tea, coffee, strawberry shortcake, and some wine.

Someone suggested doing a "best soup" tasting and judging, but we can't quite figure out the logistics, with all the talking, laughing, eating and imbibing we have to do. I think my friends are a little too relaxed for a juried event.

Here's how we do the exchange:

1. Any homemade soup is allowed, even if it's "homemade" by the local restaurant or grocery known for good soups. We don't judge.

2. The cooks put their soups into various containers: quart Ziploc bags (we found they hold a full quart and don't burst during freezing); rigid plastic store-bought containers, re-used deli quart containers, whatever. Each soup is labeled by name; cooks indicate if it's vegetarian or not. Some cooks freeze their soups ahead of time - we refer to Internet sources for wisdom about which soups freeze well.

3. Everyone puts their soups in a pile on my big dining room table, often with photocopied recipes nearby. This year, Arleen brought a container of her soup and warmed it so people could try it first; she wasn't sure if folks would like the ginger she used in it (we did).

4. Each cook tells a little about her soup...where it came from, what alterations to the recipe the cook might have made, how the soup went over in her family, and so on.

5. Everyone draws a number. The first person chooses a soup-to-go first, and so on. Strictly speaking, if you come with five soups, you leave with five. But our group tends to share easily. People who bring more soups encourage those who brought fewer soups to take 'em anyway.

Folks take their souper treasures home. That's it!

2013 soup exchangers: Gail, Nancy, Arleen, Colleen, Chris, and Pauline
 (Nancy is clearly focused on the soup!)

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