never mock a turtle….

veg soup_crop_0017

Having been in it too many times, soup and I have seen the best and worst of each other. Soup follows us through the seven ages of our lives from the first toothless food experience of puréed baby food to the penultimate moments, when sans teeth once again, although dental implants will change that Shakespearean assertion, soup once more becomes the only option. During teenage years, when boarding school food was deemed intolerable, tins of Heinz Tomato Soup were, at times, my sole nourishment. Such soup had the quality of being able to be drunk cold directly from the jaggedly opened, pre ring pull tin whilst the violent red of the soup concealed, momentarily, the blood welling from the cut lip or tongue. Lunch with the parents in provincial hotels, on outings from school, provided an introduction to a paradox that would often feature in later life. That of apparently being offered a choice, in this case from the contents of an upholstered menu, yet noticing, as the BrownWindsor soup, that had been ordered on your behalf was placed ceremoniously before you, that this freedom has been subtly usurped which sleight of hand you will come to recognise as one of life’s leitmotifs. Soup served as my early alimentary atlas: minestrone from a packet was Italy, muligatawny was India, chicken noodle was China and onion soup was France…admittedly a limited atlas but at that time my palate was less enquiring than my genitals. I’m not entirely sure which souplike dish it was, a second helping of which Oliver Twist hungered, but a memory, a highly untrustworthy ally at this point in my life, leads me to believe it was “gruel”, a rare example of onomatopoeia in a noun defining a food stuff. There is indeed something cruel  in the grim fuel that is gruel. Among the many cookery books on my shelves there is a small book, reprinted from the 1877 original pamphlet, which is entitled:






…within whose pages are several recipes for gruel which show it to be a soup like dish consisting  of groats or oatmeal boiled in water. Sugar can be added for sweetness or butter and some sort of spirit for the savoury version. It is likely that the cook at Oliver Twist’s establishment was neither convinced of the need for any embellishment on the simple oats and water version nor concerned with the alleviation of hunger. Happily I have never been so hungry that I would relish such food, let alone a second helping, and for that I count myself extremely lucky…however, this is not a hunger awareness post, a need that is ably filled by the ever more extreme displays by a legion of “celebrities” without which, it would appear, the public conscience would not be pricked and which displays I consider to be the “gruel” of entertainment: something to be stoically endured, hopefully without a second helping. This post came about through my reflections on the qualities of truly flavoursome, yet straight forward bowl of vegetable soup that I produced from a handful of ingredients. When making soup I try not to forget Elizabeth David’s caveat – “….the soup pot cannot be treated as a dustbin……. the creative urge in the matter of embellishments is best kept under control.”

About Food,Photography & France

Photographer and film maker living in France. After a long career in London, my wife and I have settled in the Vendee, where we run residential digital photography courses with a strong gastronomic flavour.
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35 Responses to never mock a turtle….

  1. Nadia says:

    That gruel sounds awful.

  2. ardysez says:

    You’ve brought back fond memories of the many soups I’ve eaten, the earliest of which was Dad offering to make lunch for us– always consisting of toasted cheese sandwiches and Campbell’s soup. Mm-mm good 🙂 Lovely post Roger.

  3. Misky says:

    I had some tinned tomato soup a few months ago, and it was nowhere near as tasty as I remembered it to be. Somethings are just better left in the can…. Memories included. Mine, obviously, not yours.

  4. I’m in agreement with you and Misky. Heinz tomato soup for me was for days when I was sick (or at least trying to convince my mum I was sick). I bought some a couple of years ago and oh what a shock…so sugary and nasty, what a shattering of the memories! Think I’d rather have the gruel 😉

  5. Francesca says:

    I remember the time and place I had my first real bowl of minestrone in an Italian restaurant, winter 1968, and the culinary epiphany experienced on reading Elizabeth David’s books for the first time, Jan 1970. Most of these memories concern soup, which I love and eat more than any other dish. Your vegetable soup looks like my cup of tea.

    • I was not originally a food photographer, but a fashion photographer. However, on one occasion I ended up shooting a food shot outside an elegant, home counties country house. Caroline Conran was the home economist and it was she, and her husband Terence, who introduced me to the wonders of food….and to Elizabeth David ( not in person, sadly, but both of them knew her):)

  6. Mad Dog says:

    I distinctly remember a very nasty Brown Windsor on a family holiday to Devon. I’m quite sure that gruel is better!

  7. Eha says:

    Coming on late has its benefits on being able to read the delightful comments one’s fellow bloggers have made . . . . perhaps in this case a ‘somewhat’ explanation why I have never quite been a ‘soup person’ . . . .oh, mid-winter I do enjoy an unctuous pot-au-feu and a summer day may be enriched by a gazpacho or a minestrone I make quite well these days, but . . . I do remember way back giving my growing brood the occasional tinned soup and cheese toast when darling husband and I were rushing out to more exciting meals . . . can one feel guilty in retrospect . . . 🙂 ?

  8. Sally says:

    “at that time my palate was less enquiring than my genitals” … Oh Roger… you do brighten my day.

  9. lulu says:

    Soup from a can was never my cup of tea. Today’s presentations are much more palatable but can’t beat the soups I make at home with whatever ingredients are on hand. Those yield some pretty creative and tasty concoctions more suitable for palates than for other things.😏

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