Poor Man’s Soup, and making it richer

There are a few dishes around the world that reek of “truly poor”, and this is one. On the other hand and as noted with many other recipes, it’s possible to turn it into something that’ll have folk asking for it by name.

Here’s the base. A few slices of stale bread, broken into crumbs and small chunks and put in the bowl. Heat some water to boiling and barely cover. Stir so it forms a thicker liquid, and enjoy your bread soup.

sigh. Yes, there have been times in my life when bread soup was one of my regular dishes. If you bake your own bread it’s cheaper than ramen.

The first step of improvement is add some salt. It’s still not enough but at least it’s got a taste better than that of stale bread. Pepper is nice. A few other spices really start to pick things up if you can.

The next thing you could do is oomph the liquid. Half and half water and milk, or all milk, makes for a smoother texture as well as some essential nutrients (calcium, you know). Broth to replace water is even better, and now you’re either out of being poor or you’ve access to stuff the rich consider throw-away. Things like chicken backs, feet, wing tips, and heads. Pig feet and knuckles, not to mention jowls and other parts of the head. Ox tails, cow necks… you’re getting the point. Lots of broth making potential, too much work for those who (sniff) can’t be bothered with parts that have no meat to speak of.

As an aside – if you’re poor or frugal, go to your butcher and have a heart-to-heart talk with him. Ask him what parts he throw away – offal, bones that have had the meat stripped, bone meal, skin, EVERYTHING. Ask him what he’d charge to ensure these doesn’t get contaminated and offer to haul at least some of it away. Some are penny pinchers and won’t work with you. Some will make surprising deals – I am minded of a butcher who insisted I put up to half the broth I made in containers he provided – if I ran out of containers I got the excess. He in turn took them to a charity kitchen. Broth that cost only the stove gas and my labor? Oh, yes.

Yes, I also got other stuff out of such deals. That’s part of the ugly bits discussion, however, and I’ll not put it in here. Here, we’re dealing with Poor Man’s soup.

So you’ve now got a few slices of stale bread that you’ve broken up, and you’ve poured a mix of broth and milk over the top – just enough to cover the break so it makes a fairly thick soup because that’s filling. You’ve added some salt, some pepper, and maybe a cheap other spice if you’ve got it.

Let’s step it up a bit higher. Take a veggie – darn near any veggie. Let’s take… I know, let’s take carrots. Get out your peeler and use it to cut a carrot or two into paper thin strips; as thick as a peeling (grin). Run a knife through to knock the strips down to bite size. We can toss those in and we have carrot soup. But we can still keep it cheap and add an extra mile of flavor.

Every cook down onions for french onion soup? You can do the same thing with carrots, you know. All that sugar in those roots makes this glorious carmelization. Take a pan and put it on the lowest heat your stove will manage. If you have it, lightly brush the bottom of the pan with a lubricant (oil, shortening, lard, butter) and pile the carrots in. You’ll want a lid to help trap heat, but you want the lid to let at least some of the steam out as well. If you’ve got a lid for a pan one size smaller you’re golden, otherwise just keep the lid slightly off-center on the pan. Stir your carrots every fifteen minutes or so, but you’re looking for… well, frankly you’re wanting what’s practically a mush. You’ll have this amazing caramel-carrot odor – what you get when you bring onions to this stage, but it’s carrots instead.

Add this to your poor man’s soup. If you want you can boil everything together for another half hour or so – the bread will break further and will give you an even creamier texture. If you cut the carrots into very small bits instead of bite size you’re approaching a creamed carrot soup that will astound your taste buds.

Four slices of stale bread. A cup or so of homemade broth, maybe partially replaced with milk if you’re having a bit better week – or if the milk you have is reaching an expiration date (but isn’t sour; not for this one). One large or two small carrots. A bit of pepper and salt. Time.

Could I use another veggie? Of course. If it’ll caramelize, do to it what you did to the carrot. If it won’t, decide if you want crisp bites or a soft infusion to the whole and treat it appropriately. A potato need to be cooked to soft, but it’s your choice whether you finely mince it to mash it in or leave it in dices or slices for bites. A beet or a turnip? Yep. Again, however, you can’t do the caramelization thing with them – you’re going to have to do something a tiny bit different instead, and the what will depend on your cooking skills and available utensils.

By the way, if you’re truly being a poor man and already seeing the butcher, check with your grocer. They throw veggies away – and trust me they are at the stage where you do NOT want them as a fresh veggie dish. But they’re still ‘ok’ if you’re hungry, and they work surprisingly well in a soup where they’re broken down.

I don’t make this very often – it reminds me of some difficult times. Sometimes, however, I’ve this urge. The thickening from bread and bread taste in the soup are a wee bit different from what most people experience. The taste of caramelized carrots is still a glorious taste that will draw me in. The times, though rough, weren’t miserable (well, they were but I wasn’t STARVING or out of clothes and shelter).

And for those who haven’t had the associative taste, try it. You might like it. Feel free, if you’re well enough to do so, to add meat or a variety of spices and veggies. On the other hand you can still get a rich meal from a poor man’s dish.

Poor Man’s Carrot Soup.

Per Serving:
four slices bread (day old or stale) broken into small crumbs.
One cup broth (type does not matter).
One large or two small carrots, finely diced or julienned or shredded.
Salt to taste.

Cook carrots over very low heat till fully broken down and caramelized.
Bring broth to boil.
Put bread and carrots in bowl and pour broth over top. Stir and serve.
Alternately, add carrots and bread to broth and continue cooking for another 15-30 minutes.
Add salt to taste.

alternate notes: replace carrots with onions.


One thought on “Poor Man’s Soup, and making it richer

  1. I thought it was poor man’s Bread. My dad survived the depression era with what he called Poor Man’s Bread. I called it Poor Man’s Sandwiches when my kids were small made same way though. You take Bread (usually cheap white stuff) spread it with butter and sprinkle sugar on it. Fold the bread over to make a 1/2 sandwich. Or use two pieces and cut in half. My neices still talk about how much they loved it and how cool of an aunt I am. They called me the “Rich” aunt even though I didn’t have enough money to make ends meet. My kids and my sister’s kids never knew that. I could always scrape up something new and different. Good thing I like to experiment.

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