Soothed by Soups by Vanessa Couchman

Food becomes a metaphor for comfort during the dark days of lockdown. Even more so because it is a trial to go out and get it, and then someone else has usually got there before you. It’s not only toilet paper and flour. Suddenly, there’s a run on eggs, a paucity of pasta, a scarcity of rice.
What’s left? Onions? A few softening spheres with green shoots germinating from one end. Potatoes? Pocked and carbuncled like a smallpox victim (why is it that only plague similes spring to mind?). Carrots? Huge, woody roots that defy an hour’s boiling.
All is not lost. Cut off the sprouting bits, peel away the warts, boil those roots until they bend to your will, add a touch of cumin for kick, and you have a serviceable soup. Swirl in a spoonful of crême fraîche, and those superannuated vegetables are transformed to Michelin star status. Well, maybe not, but we’re allowed a bit of hyperbole these days.
The kitchen becomes a testing ground for tastes, a laboratory for flavours. Broccoli and blue cheese. Green lentil and leek. Celeriac with frizzled bacon. The walls ring to the sound of chopping. The range spits and crackles while pots bubble and seethe, and the windows run with seasoned condensation.
Lunch is no meal without soup.
“What’s on the menu today?”
“Butternut squash.”
You’ve peeled off the butternut’s bullet-proof casing, and a bit of your finger with it, exhumed the seeds, slashed and sliced and cubed.
“There may be a piece of my finger in yours.”
Winter spring gives way to summer spring and then to summertime itself. Lockdown eases here in France, and we all breathe a little, even behind a mask. What the body craved in March, the heart no longer desires in June. Lighter soups with bright colours to welcome the sun are the order of the day.
Courgette and parmesan. If you can get the parmesan. You can usually find a substitute, but melted Dairylea doesn’t quite cut the mustard. Not all the experiments are a success.
Tomato and yellow pepper. Fiddly, that one. You pour boiling water over the tomatoes, peel off the skin and evict the seeds, char the pepper, strip the rind, and expel the seeds that lurk inside the ridged interior. Maybe just tomato next time.
Pea and mint. The cheat’s soup to make up for the previous one. Frozen peas, mint sauce (if you’ve got it – you haven’t, so lemon balm stands in, which grows like a weed in your garden. You knew you’d find a use for it one day).
On your radar screen: almond and garlic gazpacho, for when the weather turns really hot.
“Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.” Thank you, Ludwig van Beethoven. You’ll accept the compliment.
Vanessa Couchman is a self-confessed history nut who has lived in Southwest France since 1997. She writes short stories and historical novels, set mostly in France and on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. She is an unashamed foodie but does a lot of walking to make up for it.


  1. Wonderful ‘pandemic’ imagery and all through humble soup. However, your culinary skills seem not so humble in this fabulous piece of writing, Vanessa.

    1. Thank you, Chris. It was fun to write and a bit different from my normal style. I’m pleased you enjoyed it.

  2. Wonderful, enjoyable piece. My compliments.

  3. Thank you for your kind words.

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