In 2009, after Martha Bayne’s attempt to write a book about an experiment in sustainable agriculture and its effect on a tiny island community didn’t work out as planned, she returned to Chicago from Wisconsin. Lucky for Chicago, Bayne returned to her food roots. She wasn’t returning to her previous work, however, penning restaurant critiques for the Chicago Reader; instead, she wanted to create a thriving soup community, from the bottom up. It was winter, and Bayne was bored and lonely while tending bar at the Hideout. To combat the cold, isolation and even desperation, she started inviting folks from the food community to “Soup and Bread” nights on Wednesdays. The Hideout soon became the epicenter of potluck and mixed talents, as DJs, actors, writers, families, a Michelin chef and other personalities gathered to break bread and dine on various pots of donated soup.
Thanks to Bayne’s networks and socializing skills, for three winters running, the Hideout has hosted a weekly Soup & Bread feast, gathering an eclectic assortment of artists and parents, writers, professional and amateur cooks, all of whom donate homemade soup to crowds of one hundred or more. And the “Soup and Bread” cookbook is just as cozy and comforting as the soup gatherings that inspired it. Compact and red, and packed with recipes from local food writers like Mike Sula (Kimchi Chigae) and Chuck Sudo (Gumbo—Bridgeport Style), “Soup and Bread” is packed with no-frills, hearty, DIY flavor. Just like Chicago.
Divided into nine chapters of soup variations (with themes like Soup from Home, Soup for Swapping, Soup For (more than) Sustenance, Soup for Peace and Soup That Shines), Bayne weaves in bits and pieces from Chicago’s history in community building. In Soup For Spreading the Word, Bayne reflects on how in Upton Sinclair’s time, volunteer workers from Jane Addam’s Hull House on the West Side trucked over vats of hot soup to nearby industrial workers who didn’t have access to a hot lunch. Can the world be healed, one pot of soup at a time? I decided to give it a shot.
The twelve recipes in the Soup for Spreading the Word chapter feature soups showcasing pure flavors of seasonal vegetables, and all can be made into vegetarian versions by substituting chicken stock for vegetable. Due to its intriguing combination of ingredients, I chose Cauliflower and Watercress Soup by Maggie Kast, the author of “The Crack Between the Worlds: A Dancer’s Memoir of Loss, Faith and Family.” Coincidentally, I made the soup for myself and two friends from the burlesque comedy show we’re all currently performing in. I never follow recipes precisely, but Kast’s starting point of onions, cauliflower, water and olive proved to be a great kickoff. To this stewing pot I later added the watercress, and some soymilk and dill. The result was healthy, delicious, and oh-so-comforting. (Marla Seidell)
“Soup and Bread Cookbook: Building Community One Pot at a Time”
By Martha Bayne
Agate Surrey, 224 pages, $20.95