There’s always a need for a bowl of hot stockpot soup no matter what the hour, be it the Eventide meal or for a break from watching the ewes during lambing season all night long (a task I gratefully now leave to the much younger staff). A bowl of that exhilarating warmth along with a slice of just-baked bread slathered in butter does wonders for a cold, tired staff member.
The stockpots themselves are immense thirty-gallon affairs made of thick gauge copper. I’ve been told that these cost four hundred pounds thirty years ago and would easily be double that today. One always has either a chicken- or turkey-based concoction in it, the other has a similar one with beef and other stuff in it.
The chicken one usually has just vegetables in it (well aside from bacon ends for an added smokiness) with carrots, potatoes, onions, dried mushrooms and spicing as need be. However, Mrs. Ware, our Head Cook, has offered up everything from the same soup but with dumplings to curried chicken with rice and lentils, or on rare occasions, one of the Several Annies gets to cook a pot of whatever from their regional or national culture, such such as Swedish chicken and noodles.
Though we do raise our own chickens, we don’t raise beef. Instead we trade for it from one of the neighbouring farming Estates, say Riverrun or High Meadow. We buy it already butchered and frozen for later use though we do get a side aged and unfrozen for immediate use. We trade cider, ale and slots in our various apprentice programmes for it.
Our most common beef soup’s simply beef, bacon and vegetables with salt, pepper and garlic. That stockpot starts happening well before Samhain and doesn’t end ’til after Beltaine. If the Kitchen decides to do something different with beef, it goes into yet a third copper stockpot, so it doesn’t stop the main beef concoction from continuing.
The favourite one here is Gulyás, the Hungarian paprika-spiked beef soup that gets served up with a dark bread which may or may not be traditional. Béla, our resident Hungarian violinist, gets tears in his eyes when we serve it (and always with several bottles of Szekszárd, a full-bodied Hungarian red wine, to drink with it).
I don’t know about you, but I’m now ravenous so I’m heading down to see what’s in those stockpots. Care to join me?