I first heard about the Random Soup of Kindness Challenge on Vanessa Kimbell’s blog via Twitter. I was immediately drawn to it, because it is a brilliant idea, but also it reminded me of the people that I used to work with in a former life, when I was an Energy Efficiency Advice Centre manager.
Every year in the UK (and other places, but it is marked in my home country) thousands more vulnerable people (i.e. the elderly and those with certain medical conditions) die in the winter than the summer. This is called Excess Winter Death (EWD), which claimed over 20,000 people in the UK in the winter 2009 -10. The figures are getting better, but it is still a shocking amount of people.
The causes of excess winter deaths are complex, but a good deal of it can be attributed to people in poor housing conditions being unable to heat their homes, either for practical or economic reasons. This, in turn, exacerbates ailments and medical conditions, making them susceptible. I have met elderly people who regularly have to decide if they have lunch or if they put their heating on for an hour.
People who cannot afford to adequately heat their homes are said to be in Fuel Poverty. It affects lots of households, not just the elderly, and the situation will only get worse with rising fuel prices and in the current recession. I am priviledged enough to never have been in fuel poverty, but I have live in a very inefficient rented home. I know first hand how miserable it is to be cold. It is not something that I would want for my neighbours, especially those who can’t move around much to keep warm.
I loved this challenge, because it is a really practical way that everyone can help someone address the issues associated with being cold. Please have a go at this easy way to reach out to the vulnerable people in our own communities, make sure they are OK, help them out in this desperately cold weather, and offer them internal heating and a good meal.Of course, not all elderly people are in the same position as I describe above, but who would say no to a friendly visit and some hot soup? It really can make a real difference to your neighbours, and won’t take too much effort on your part. And that is the least that you will get from having a go.
Having got the necessary, if somewhat shocking stuff out of the way, I’d like to tell you about my first foray into Neighboursoup. I say my first foray, because I got so much out of it that I am definitely going to do this again.
I live in a great street where all the neighbours are pretty friendly, and we all have a chat if we see each other, or help out with the odd pint of milk, or bucket of water or whatever, here and there. I love it, it feels good to know that there are other human beings in your street, instead of just other people, if you see what I mean. It is the first time I have lived somewhere with such a sense of community since I was a little girl.
One such neighbour is an older gentleman, who is the most helpful man. He is always ready to lend a hand by taking you to the garden centre; or helping us find a scrap metal merchant when we discovered someone had dumped a ton of old metal pipes in our pond; or look out for the flat if we are away. He has been invaluable to us as a neighbour. I am always trying to give him something back, but he doesn’t often let me. He has occasionally accepted chutneys and jams from me, which he repays with more jam jars. I really feel that I owe him.
As soon as I heard about this challenge, I knew this would be the way that I could get to repay his kindness, do him a good deed, and one that he would not be too proud to accept. I also knew that I would have to make him a traditional Dutch soup, because he does seem to have traditional Netherlander taste (for example, he refuses to even try my marmalade!).
There is no Dutcher soup than Erwtensoep (pronounced ur-teh soup), which is a thick, stewy blend of split peas, pork and vegetables, served with a smoked sausage. I have to admit that I have never really fancied this soup, given that I hate peas, and I did try a really horrible version when I come here on a trip as a student. But, I knew that it would be exactly the right soup for my neighbour, so I decided it was the right soup for the challenge.
Since I had no idea what a really traditional erwtensoep should contain, I had to go digging for a recipe. I stumbled across this one, which seemed like it was as good a place as any to start.
I remained pretty loyal to the proportions given in the recipe, but I had purchased a half kilo of split peas, and couldn’t see any other use for them, so I added all of it, and adjusted up the meat and water accordingly. I stuck with the amounts of the various vegetables, but I used larger ones than suggested too. So the actual proportions were:
500 g Split peas
2.5 l Water
1 Dried bay leaf. I would normally use 2 fresh, but I only have a small bay tree, which I am trying to be really kind to, having lost another one last winter.
500 g belly pork
3 large leeks
1 medium celariac
1 large carrot
Handful celery leaves. It is common to find ‘leaf celery’ sold as a pot herb in the Netherlands. If you can’t find this, you can use the celeriac leaves, lovage, or flat leaved parsley, as a suitable substitute.
1 smoked sausage.
Because this is a really common dish here, I was able to find this sausage in my organic butcher’s shop. I have never seen it in a butcher’s in the UK, but it is basically the same as the smoked sausages you can get in the chiller cabinet – e.g. this one from Matteson’s, although I am sure there must be others available.
I followed the recipe, and found that it took about an hour on a low simmer for the pork to be cooked so that you could easily shred the meat. The original recipe does not make that clear, but I guess it depends on the cut of the meat you use (should be fatty meat, that benefits from slow cooking).
I did not want to reintroduce a lot of the fat and the rind back to the soup. Of course, hating waste as I do, that is currently in my freezer to wait until I have a ham bone to make stock with.
I would have put a ham bone in the pot with this lot, to enrich the soup, but it was -14°C this weekend, so I guess many Netherlanders were making the same soup, so the butcher had run out.
This amount made LOADS of soup, and it filled about two thirds of my huge stock pot. It was enough for quite a few batches, so I gave soup out to four elderly neighbours, and still had enough left over for us to have some too. Much to my surprise, I actually really enjoyed it. I hope that my neighbours also decide it is Lekker (tasty)!
It was brilliant to go and chat to people and practice my broken Dutch with them. People were very happy to receive their random soup of kindness. It gave me more of a warm glow than the soup itself did.
Unfortunately, my Dutch is not good enough to explain what a blog is to these elderly neighbours, so I gave up on the idea of trying to ask if they minded me taking a photo of them with said soup. You’ll have to imagine the look of joy on their faces.
So, I hope that you decide to join in the random soup of kindness. You don’t even have to have a blog to write about it on. You needn’t spend much money or time on a soup, but the sense of having contributed something really good to your community will be worth it in spades.
I am certain that you will get much more out of the experience than the time you put in. I have repaid kindness shown to me; met a few new people; been able to practice my Dutch; found out that I have been closed-minded to the delights of a pea soup; and have been glowing brighter than the readybrek kid because I did something nice for other people. I am already thinking about what soup I can do next that will be acceptable to my neighbours. I am thinking a pumpkin one, which I can also give to neighbours for whom pork may not be an option
Like with most voluntary acts, it really was a case of give a little, gain a lot!