What Is Stone Soup — and Is It Even a Real Thing?

Here’s the story behind the legendary soup (and its name).

vegetable beef soup

What Is Stone Soup?

Stone soup is the name given to a wide variety of hearty meat and vegetable soups that stems from a European folktale about community sharing. Stone soup typically features humble but delicious ingredients like potatoes, peas, cabbage, and affordable cuts of beef or chicken.

Stone Soup Legend

Variations of the tale have popped up all over Europe since (at least) 1720, when it was printed in France. In some stories, there is no stone. Instead, the soup is based around other inanimate objects. For example, in one version it is called "axe soup," while in another it is known as "button soup." However, the moral of the story is consistent no matter where it is told:

A hungry traveler arrived in a village with nothing more than the clothes on his back and an empty pot. The villagers, wary of the traveler and suspicious of his sudden appearance, refused to give him any food.

The man, unfazed by this display of stinginess, smiled politely at the unfriendly villagers before setting up camp near a local stream. Once he was situated, he wordlessly filled his pot with water, placed it over a fire, then dropped a stone into his makeshift "soup."

Village members couldn't help but ask the traveler what he was creating over the fire. "I'm making stone soup," he replied. "It's delicious. I'll be glad to share it with all of you when I'm finished — I just need to find a few more ingredients." One by one, the villagers added ingredients from their individual homes, making a rich vegetable soup worth sharing.

Is Stone Soup a Real Thing?

Of course, the story exists to teach a lesson: Sharing, a necessary part of life, makes everything better. However, a dish called "stone soup" that uses the elements really does exist in Oaxaca, Mexico.

The Chinantec people used the rocky Mexican terrain to their advantage during the Pre-Ceramic period, according to Culinary Backstreets. Large boulders, heated with fire, served as cookware.

Stone soup, which is has an earthy and rich taste, is still enjoyed today. It's often prepared using a few different methods:

  • In large boulders.
  • In leaf-lined holes dug into the sand on the river banks.
  • In individual jicaras (gourds). Each bowl usually contains a stone or two to preserve the natural flavor.

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