Saturday, May 27, 2017

Spring Soup

Today they would be making Spring Soup, and it was a perfect day indeed to forage for what it would require.  The shining sun and the clear, cool air beckoned them to venture into the Woods and take advantage of the very small window of opportunity propitious for some delicious ingredients.  To make a day of it, they packed in a basket freshly baked brown herbed bread, along with some cheese and beer, for refreshment along the way.  Then, stroking Smoke's sleek grey fur and reminding her to watch the mice in their absence, Remember closed the door, and she and Goody Prymm set out for what promised to be a lovely day.

As they trekked, they talked about nature's bounty, some of which could be gathered and used for dyeing wool and linen.  The Black Walnut's green sticky hulls, dried too, although not found in the woods, always promised a rich, colorfast brown dye, along with the Butternut's bark, its diamond-shaped furrows of white ash, and its"white walnuts" that could make a range of hues, even a deep black-brown.  Oh, yes! and there was the Staghorn Sumac with its twisty trunks growing along sunny streambanks, providing pigments ranging from beige to yellow to reddish pink and even black, Goody Prymm telling her of the Indians who used all parts of the Staghorn Sumac for their dyeing.  As for Imagination, she preferred to cut small branches, scrape off the bark, and then boil it for dyeing wool the colors of yellows and tans.  Remember was particularly charmed by the name of the Staghorn Sumac, noting that the fuzzy thin bark on new growth resembled the emerging antlers of a young stag, which then led their discussion to plant names such as Goldthread which grew under Hemlocks and spread, mat-like, tiny star-shaped flowers.  While the flowers were truly lovely, the potent pigment of that plant lay in the roots, one only needing to boil them in water for a rich golden dye, as its name suggested.  Why, even certain lichens growing on great and shady stones could yield a beautiful royal shade of purple, though it would require soaking the wool in it for quite some time.  And oh! the Webcap Mushrooms, which would be at their peak in midsummer, growing along pine tree roots and on decaying logs, providing their deep red dye...

On and on they chattered gaily at the possibilities of what colors and shades could be produced from these things...but they did not come to the Woods for this reason.  Not today.  Rather, today they would be seeking Fiddleheads, the tightly curled tips of ferns which lent a grassy, springlike flavor to their soup, and Morel Mushrooms, Wild Mint, and Dandelion Greens to be added to the base of Stinging Nettle Soup.  This soup was a special recipe of Goody Prymm's for, as she was a healer, she greatly valued its cleansing tonic properties, as well as its tender springlike tastiness.   And so began the gathering of their Spring Soup ingredients.  Fiddleheads and early nettle greens were favored at this narrow time of the year, and they could not pass them by!

After having gathered all they needed, they came upon the familiar black pool and sat down to enjoy their fare of bread, cheese and beer.  Here the talking ceased for them, as each now centered on the other senses around them...those of tastes, sounds, smells, textures, each closing her eyes and taking in what she experienced in that moment.  The external world of looming trees and birdsong soon dissipated, and Remember, breathing softly and deeply, saw herself standing terribly alone, blackness all around her, a deep and sad emptiness...

Goody Prymm, in her simultaneous dream, also saw Remember standing alone, but with a blue-black Raven flying high above her.

And then, they both opened their eyes at quite the same time and simply looked at one another for one long moment, neither wishing to share what she envisioned.  And they stood to go, gathered up their delicacies, and headed home to prepare Spring Soup.

***With a nod to Allaire Diamond's "Local Color:  Finding Wild Sources for Dye in the Forest" (Autumn  2009).

© 2017 Nancy Duncan


  1. My grandmother used to call a variation of this soup her "spring tonic." Lovely images!

  2. I really never knew about stinging nettle soup and was fascinated by my research. I would love to try it! Thank you regarding the photos. Ninety-nine percent of them I have personally taken. I enjoy photography (although I should just call it "taking pictures").