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Swaps Get More Mileage From Humble Bowl Of Soup

As the days get darker, colder, and wetter hot soup sounds pretty inviting. A homemade pot of soup can be healthy, economical, and delicious. But by day four, it can also get kind of boring.

Food writer Deena Prichep found that across the Northwest, people are coming together to get more mileage out of the humble bowl of soup.

A few years ago, Seattle tech consultant Knox Gardner made a big pot of soup, and got a little sick of eating it. So he decided to get a few friends together for a trade.

Soup Swaps like this one in Portland, Ore. allow people to get more mileage out of the humble bowl of soup.

Deena Prichep / Northwest News Network

Knox Gardner: “My original idea was that it would be some loud, boisterous kind of event, where you would trade three of my corn chowders, because you know I’m an awesome cook, for, you know, one of your minestrones.”

This was the beginning of Soup Swap. As you can imagine, the math on this laissez-faire approach didn’t work too well. So Gardner came up with some guidelines.

Knox Gardner: “You bring six quarts, and then draw numbers and go around the room six times until everybody gets all new soups.”

In addition to a set of rules, Gardner got a website, a national Soup Swap day in January, and some Internet hype from food bloggers. And now, it’s spreading across the country. There are swaps with hand-foraged mushroom chowder, and swaps showcasing Velveeta soup.

Here in Portland, Jon Van Oast and Megan Kelley invited a dozen friends to a Soup Swap on a chilly Sunday.

People started by sharing their stories, a little ritual Gardner calls “The Telling of the Soup.” Some recipes came from the Internet, and some, like Christina Kellogg-Gratschner’s fruit soup, were family traditions.

Christina Kellogg-Gratschner: “Fruit soup is something that my mom would make out of all her home canning pears, peaches, whatever she happened to have. And she’d cook it up with a little bit of cornstarch, and pour it on whole wheat toast.”

Deena Prichep / Northwest News Network
Soup swappers bring six quarts of their favorite home made soup and leave with six quarts of what others have made.

Swappers then went around the circle, choosing their six quarts. People were definitely excited to leave with a variety of soups — especially those balancing busy lives.

Stacy Meyer teaches fifth grade, and scrambles to fit cheap and healthy meals into her schedule.

Stacy Meyer: “I will admit to having the breakfast-for-dinner kind of thing, that’s happened before. And so being able to have a ready-made dinner in the freezer helps out quite a bit.”

According to Boston University economist Juliet Schor, people are increasingly coming together for these sorts of informal swaps. In her latest book, Plenitude, Schor says the economic downturn has made more people open to the idea of swapping. And besides, it’s just a lot easier to do these days:

Juliet Schor: “In the past, if you wanted to organize some kind of a neighborhood swap or sharing scheme, you’d have to go around and call the people in the neighborhood, knock on their doors, etc. So there’s a lot of what economists call transactions costs. With the Internet, that’s drastically reduced.”

And Schor says that once these swaps do come together, they reinforce connections between people. It’s what economists and sociologists call “social capital.” And Schor says communities with strong social capital work better.

Juliet Schor: “Soup may seem like a small thing, but it may turn out that your sharing network is very important to you if you lose your job, if your housing is in jeopardy. You’re going to have these folks to rely on.”

Founder Knox Gardner has seen a rise in Soup Swap activity every year, as more groups start up. He agrees the Internet and economy have definitely helped, but it’s also because of the soup.

Knox Gardner: “I think that there’s something really fundamental that happens when people bring food together to share it. Soup’s like the ultimate soul food.”

But of course, Gardner doesn’t want you to take his word for it. He wants you to host a soup swap of your own.

Deena Prichep writes about food at

Soup Swap Recipes

White Bean Soup with Kale, Tomato and Andouille Sausage - Allyson Harris

yields 6 quarts


2 lb dried Great Northern Beans

1 lb andouille sausage, sliced length-wise, and cut into in pieces

1 T. olive oil

1 large white onion, diced

3 carrots, chopped fine

3 stalks celery, chopped fine

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 quarts chicken stock

2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes, pureed

1 T. balsamic vinegar

1 T. brown sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Dash Tabasco

Optional: smoked salt


Soak beans overnight, rinse and drain, and reserve.

Brown andouille sausage in large frying or sauté pan – in batches if necessary, toavoid crowding. While sausage is cooking, heat oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Saute onion, carrots, and celery until softened, but not browned – about 5minutes. During last minute of cooking, add garlic. Add soaked beans to stock pot, cover with chicken stock, add pureed tomatoes, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer ~2-3 hours, or until beans are tender, but still firm. About 30 minutes before the cooking time is done, add the kale. Add vinegar, Tabasco, sugar, salt and pepper, and optional smoked salt to taste, and simmer until incorporated.

Fruit Soup -Christina Kellogg-Gratchner

Yields 6 quarts

We serve the soup hot over whole-wheat toast for breakfast, mixed into cooked steel-cut oats, or over rice for a simple supper. It’s also good with ice cream, and can be garnished with fresh mint for a fancier presentation.

2 quarts preserved peach halves drained and diced, liquid reserved

2 quarts preserved pear halves drained and diced, liquid reserved

2 quarts preserved apricot halves drained and diced, liquid reserved

2 20 oz cans pineapple chunks in light syrup

2 small cans mandarin oranges/liquid reserved

1 lb can sweet cherries, liquid discarded

1 cup water

grated zest of 1 orange

3 cinnamon sticks

1 Tbsp vanilla

cornstarch, or instant tapioca, if desired instead for a thicker dessert-like consistency

Place all fruit except for cherries in very large soup kettle.  Add mixed reserved syrups till fruit barely covered, then add the additional cup of water.  Add the orange zest, cinnamon, and vanilla, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat until it’s just high enough to maintain a simmer.

Meanwhile, mix the cornstarch (if using) with a bit of water to make a slurry, and add to the boiling soup.  If using the tapioca instead, add at this time. Boil the soup for 20 minutes, adding additional tapioca or cornstarch slurry if desired for a thicker consistency.  Add reserved cherries at the end of cooking time to reduce staining.

Tortilla soup - Renee Barbara

Yields 6 quarts

Include serving directions with this soup

6 quarts of chicken stock (home-made is really best)

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, diced

1 bay leaf

6 tomatoes, whole

salt and pepper

For Serving:

Fried corn tortillas cut into strips or chips

Grated cheese, such as Monterey Jack or Muenster

Avocado, sliced

Cilantro  chopped

In a large pot combine the stock, jalapeno, garlic, onion, bay leaf and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, and reduce the heat until it is just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cook until the tomatoes fall apart. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, place some tortillas, cheese, and avocado in a bowl. Ladle the hot broth on top, garnish with cilantro, and enjoy.

Meatball, Mushroom and Kale Soup - Jon Van Oast

Yields 6 quarts


1 lb ground beef (85% lean)

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1 egg

1/2 small onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

salt and pepper

2-3 Tbsp olive oil, more if needed

1 lb mushrooms, thickly sliced (you can use a mix of white, brown, and portabellas)

2 Tbsp soy sauce

3 quarts beef broth

1 large bunch kale or similar greens, washed and coarsely chopped

hefty pinch thyme and sage

Mix together the meatball ingredients, and shape into small balls. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, and saute the meatballs, stirring regularly, until well-browned (about 10 minutes). Transfer the meatballs to a crockpot, and set aside. Leave the pan on the flame.

Add the mushrooms to the same skillet, adding more oil if needed, and sprinkle with the soy sauce. Saute until well cooked, ~10 minutes. Add the cooked mushrooms, along with any liquid they’ve released, to the crockpot as well. Pour some of the broth into the skillet, simmering until the delicious bits deglaze from the bottom of the pan. Pour this broth and fond into the crockpot as well.

Add the remaining items to the crockpot, and add additional water to fill if needed to fill the cooker, ~1 quart. Cook on low all day, at least 6 hours. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Matzo Ball Soup - Deena Prichep, with thanks to Manny Prichep

Matzo Balls:

1 cup canola oil

10 eggs

2-3 cups matzo meal

1 tsp baking powder

1 Tbsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 large handful parsley, finely chopped


5 quarts chicken or vegetable broth

4 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal into fat coins

4 parsnips, peeled and sliced on the diagonal into fat coins

1 small bunch dill, finely chopped

Whisk together the canola oil and eggs in a large bowl. Add the matzo meal, starting with the smaller amount. Add more as needed, to yield a consistency like thick-but-loose mud (it will continue to thicken upon standing). Add the powder and salt and pepper, mix well, and then stir in the parsley. Chill for at least 10 minutes.

While the matzo ball mixture is chilling, place the soup ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil, and reduce heat until it’s just high enough to maintain a simmer. Continue to simmer, uncovered, until the vegetables are quite soft and the flavors are well-combined, ~30-45 minutes.

When the matzo ball mixture has chilled, bring a few large pots of salted water to a boil. Form the mixture into balls, either with oiled hands, two spoons, or an ice cream scoop (I favor small balls, with a 1-2” diameter). Simmer the balls, covered, for 30-45 minutes, until cooked through. Stir occasionally to make sure they simmer evenly. Turn off the heat, and allow to cool somewhat in the pot. Remove with a slotted spoon, and serve in the soup.