Behind the Song
In support of the song Stone Soup from Hard Times on the CD Room for Roots, I retold the “Stone Soup” story my way for those who didn’t already know the tale. Andy included his reading of my version of the tale as a bonus track on the CD. – LM
Andy May: Vocal
The young man with the pack on his back had been a soldier in the long, long war. It was over at last, and though he had no money and no food for the journey back to his distant home, he was happy to be on his way. He had walked for several weeks, living almost entirely on what he was able to scavenge from the woods and the fallow fields. He found few who would feed him, for winter was upon the land, and the people were war-weary– and wary of strangers.
One day, the young man came to a tiny village. This village was no more than a few huts clustered around a rough commons and a well, and it seemed to him to be as tired and ragged as he was himself. Finding no one who would take him in, the young man took himself to the well on the commons. There, he busied himself building a fire. When it was blazing cheerfully, he pulled a large black pot from his pack, filled it with water from the well, and hung it over the fire. Then he sat down, watching his pot and waiting.
One by one, bubbles appeared in the water, and one by one the village children gathered to watch the young man watch his pot. After a time, he got up, rummaged in his pack and drew out stone the size and shape of a small turnip. He polished it lovingly with his kerchief, and – to the children’s astonishment – dropped it in the pot. Word of this odd behavior quickly spread, and, by the time the water was boiling, every child in the village was there, watching and waiting. For, though their parents were war-weary — and wary of strangers, the children were curious.
After a while, the boldest child among them called out, “What are you doing, Mister?” The young man started, as though he had not known anyone was there, watching and waiting. “Why, making soup for my dinner, of course,” said the young man, recovering himself.
“But,” asked the wisest child, “why did you put a stone in the pot?”
“Well,” he replied, “it wouldn’t be much like soup if it had nothing in it but water. You need a soup stone to make stone soup!” The children looked at each other in amazement. “Soup from a stone,” they said. “Fancy that!” More curious than ever, they moved closer to watch and wait.
After a time, the young man drew a large spoon from his pack, stirred the soup, and tasted it. The children crowded around him, peering in the pot then looking to him for his verdict. “It’s coming along,” said he. “But,” he added wistfully, “it would be so much better with a little salt.”
Everyone sat down again to watch and wait – except the kindest child, who ran off. When he returned a few minutes later, he brought with him a packet of salt and his mother, who said, “We have no food to spare, but I doubt we’ll miss a little salt.” The young man thanked them politely and stirred the salt into the soup. Then, they all sat down again to watch and wait.
“Soup from a stone,” said the kindest child’s mother to all the children. “Fancy that!”
By and by, the young man got up and stirred and tasted the soup again, with the children crowding around the pot. This time he said, “It’s much better, but it would benefit greatly from some onions.” They all sat down once more to watch and wait – except the shyest child, who ran off. She returned a short time later with a bunch of onions and her father, who said, “We have no food to spare, but we had a good crop of onions this year, and I doubt we’ll miss a few.” The young man thanked them politely, chopped up the onions, and stirred them into the soup. Then, they all sat down again to watch and wait.
“Soup from a stone,” said the shyest child’s father to them all. “Fancy that!”
And so it went. Child by child and parent by parent, they brought carrots, cabbage and kale; potatoes, parsnips, and peas; barley, beets, and bunches of herbs. Each time the young man thanked them politely for their contribution and added it to his big black pot. By evening, the air was filled with the wonderful aroma of soup and the equally wonderful sound of laughter. Everyone in the village was there, watching and waiting and warming themselves by the young man’s fire. And, they forgot they were war-weary — and wary of strangers.
At last, the young man declared the soup ready to eat, and he invited the villagers to join him for dinner. “Soup from a stone,” they said to him as he filled their bowls one by one. “Fancy that!”
That night, everyone in the tiny village went to bed well-fed and warmed by stone soup. The young man was invited to sleep in the finest barn in the village. Nestled deep in the clean straw, and more comfortable than he had been in a very long time, he smiled to himself as he drifted off to sleep. “Soup from a stone,” he murmured. “Fancy that!”
- Track 15 on Room for Roots, SRM CD-118