Dad's Garbage Soup

Dear Reader,

I love the following story because it shows that nothing is ever quite as easy as you think it ought to be and yet, it’s not that hard either. It also shows that timing is everything. I smile every time I think of Garbage Soup.

When I was a little girl, my Mom’s stove had a built-in stock-pot instead of a fourth back burner. It looked something like this one.1 While she was preparing our meals, Mom would put the leftover bits into the pot. Dad watched and marveled at how she “just threw everything in there along with some water and out would come a wonderful soup!” His eyes sparkling at the wonder hunger of it.

Came the fateful night Mom left us alone and went to the hospital to birth my baby sister. These were the 60’s when Daddys were not welcome in delivery rooms and Mommys could expect to be away for a week. We stayed mostly at home and Dad decided he’d just go ahead and make some soup. That looked easy enough. Hmmmm.

When the pot was about half full, he took it from the fridge and put it in the hole in the stove, added water, stirred vigorously and went outside to do some heavy lifting. He wanted to be sure he’d be good and hungry. When he came back a couple of hours later, he said the house smelled, “a little bit strange”. He got a spoon and tasted his creation. “It was terrible! Gooey, slimy! Arrgh!”

I was a teenager when he was telling me this story and I asked him what he put in that pot. He shrugged and said, “Leftovers.”

What kind of leftovers, Dad?

“Oh, I dunno, whatever we didn’t eat.”

And that is exactly what he scraped off into the soup pot: Cheesburgers and buns and oatmeal and condiments and tomato sandwiches, you name it. Whatever we didn’t eat were the leftovers. We laughed together and dubbed it “Garbage Soup”.

The memory of Dad telling me about it warms my heart. He was acting in good faith and it does seem a shame somehow that you can’t put yummy leftover cheeseburgers and buns and oatmeal and lettuce and ketchup into a pot of water and get something at least equally good back out again.

Dad looked baffled when he recounted the story, “All that stuff is good by itself. Shouldn’t it have tasted even better together?”

It occurs to me that a lot of times there are little bits of missing information standing between you and a heavenly bowl of soup. I don’t mean recipes per se but more a kind of abstract or meta knowledge about the relationships between ingredients; which foods come together and throw a party and which ones well, do not. All a person really needs are a few no-fail combinations under their belt, all the rest is personal preference.


  1. Yo Miele, if you are listening, I’d buy a new stove with this feature in an instant.