“The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.”
   — Charles Dickens

Last week I made some soup.  As I sat working at my computer, the aroma of it simmering on the back burner of the kitchen range permeated the entire downstairs of the house; and my delight spilled right over the edges of my own simmering pot and into a social media post, “Chicken veggie soup already simmering.  Ahhhhh, lunch!”  Making soup is such a wonderful adventure.  From the moment the first water hits the pot until the last spoonful is scraped from the bottom of my bowl, I just find myself completely engaged in the process that slows me down, entices me along, and finally warms me with the comfort of soup in my belly, with plenty to spare.

A notification arrived on my computer.  Someone who had read my post responded with the words I love and dread:  “Share the recipe, please!”

This is where the whole business of making soup gets complicated.  There are many recipes tucked away in my files, neatly lettered and with exact measurements noted so that when I am gone, someone new can construct a memory of the good things that sometimes come out of my kitchen; but soup is different.  Dickens said it.  There is a difference between construction and creation, and the soup that comes from my kitchen is not made from a recipe.  It is loved into existence.  Rather than try to construct a recipe to share, I thought I would take a minute or two and share with you the process of loving soup into creation.

When I was a young girl, maybe ten or twelve years old, my mother made the most wonderful soup.  I didn’t fully appreciate it then, because vegetables were way down my list of foods worth eating; but I remember watching her pull together a bit of this and a touch of that until she ended up with a simmering pot of aromatic delights that filled the house with a splendid vapor and reminded my stomach that dinnertime was near.  As I grew older, my tastes became more mature.  Soon I found myself wanting to recreate my mother’s magic in my own kitchen.  I asked her for the recipe, and she told me there was none; so  I simply closed my eyes, loving the soup I would make before a single ingredient was chosen, and opened my heart to the art of soup-making.

It would be unfair and not at all helpful if I were to stop here, because not everyone who wants to make soup grew up in my mother’s kitchen.  In the absence of a recipe, I will offer you a framework.  Just as each painter requires a canvas, a palette and some colors to mix, each soup maker will need some basic ingredients.  There is a science involved in the mixing of paints, and there is a science involved in the assembling of a pot of soup; but what matters in the end is the love the painter brings to his artwork and the love the cook brings to her pot of soup.  Without that love, you can construct the same thing again and again; but with heart wide open, you can take your creation to new levels of deliciousness every time you cook.

Here are some of the things that do not change when I make soup:

I always begin with four cups of bouillon — chicken, beef, or vegetable — to match the meat or lack of meat that is the basis of my creation.

I love to make soup, because I love to cook; and when I cook, there are leftovers.  It is usually what is left in the refrigerator that determines the flavor of the week’s pot of soup; although I have been known to cheat and cook some loose ground beef or a new breast of chicken if the leftovers are sparse.

Whatever meat I plan to use is chopped into small pieces and added to the simmering broth where they can flavor each other while I work.

Next comes half of a medium-size onion and about three ribs of celery.  These are minced and added more for flavor than for substance.

Potatoes are next — five or six of them, cut into small cubes.  I don’t bother to peel them, and I think the skins add some texture, some fiber, and some nutrients.  I cut them small enough that a piece of potato would not be a whole spoonful of soup.  I picture a spoon and try to fit onto it in my mind all the flavors I would like to enjoy at the same time.

Fresh carrots are wonderful, and they make veggie soup incredibly sweet!  I slice approximately the same quantity of carrots as potatoes and add both roots to the soup next.

People say that soup is savory.  Close your eyes and think of the herbs that you enjoy most.  What are the flavors that you and your family savor?  Add those flavors along with some salt and some pepper to suit your taste.

Add a large can o f diced tomatoes — or at this time of year, some seeded and diced fresh tomatoes to equal about a quart — and watch your broth take on the beautiful color the tomatoes add.

Now the fun begins.  Hunt through the refrigerator for those half-servings of vegetables that were left over from your meals.  Toss them in and think of how this new adventure is bringing them renewed flavor.  Think of how wonderful it is to use every bit of the food at your disposal rather than waiting for it to grow  mold and throwing it away.  In the summertime, I save ears of sweet corn and cut the kernels off at soup time.  There is nothing like the crisp sweetness of those tiny bits of corn to wake up all the flavors it touches.

Finally, add a bag of frozen mixed vegetables and let them simmer until they share their flavors with the broth and the broth shares its goodness with them.

Play with the ingredients.  Think of what your family loves best.  Are you fans of green beans?  Then add some extra beans.  Do you love the pungent flavor of cabbage?  Then slice some and add strips to the pot.  Let it boil, and then turn the heat down to a simmer.  And wait.

Linger in the kitchen and give thanks that you have a kitchen.  Give thanks that you have leftover food that can make lunches for a week.  Clean away the remains of the work you have done and give the pot a stir or two.  Love those veggies as they circle away from your spoon, and then let them simmer.

Let your gratitude grow as each breath you take brings the amazing smell of homemade soup and the promise of a delicious meal.  Love the soup that you have created, and don’t stop loving it simply because your work is done.

When I thought of a recipe for soup, I immediately thought of Dickens’ words.  You probably wondered whether you would be learning to make cabbage broth or gruel when you opened this post; but I think it takes knowledge of the fruits of a loveless world for someone to understand the difference between constructing and creating.  I suspect that Dickens might have been a soup maker; and I think he knew that the most important ingredient in any great dish is love.