Stone Soup, Bouillon Cubes, and Innovation
In my childhood I think it was the fable about Stone Soup that made me start to think about innovation. As I learned to cook and came further into the world of soup-lore I realized that good soups rely on a reduction of some sort, some kind of richly delicious liquid broth. In the food world reducing things to something rich and dense is worthy of gustatorial praise. A brief tour of cookery terms reveal that we have many aspirations to reductions (I am thinking about words like reduction, concentration, syrup, et cetera) and our food science inventions reveal something similar: the bouillon cube. I think beyond a soup stock, the bouillon cube is the pinnacle achievement of reduction. It is an abstraction of flavor from the specificity of the ingredients. But anyway, getting to the point, I don’t like to use bouillon cubes; instead, I make my own soup stocks from scratch in much the same manner as the man who first made stone soup.
For a while now I have been finding myself throwing my vegetable scraps in the freezer so that I can use them to make soup stocks from scratch. I have recently started cycling through the process on a weekly basis. Take a look at this week’s table-scraps:
- pieces of leeks
- old garlic
- 3 ends from a sweet potato
- approximately 1/4 head of wilted cabbage
- the stalk and leaves of a cauliflower
- the seeds and pulp of a spaghetti squash
- 2 olives
- I added a shallot and a few shiitake mushrooms
In terms of spices – I added sweet paprika, 2 allspice berries, black pepper, sea salt, a dash of balsamic vinegar, and a little red wine. I covered the ingredients with water, let it boil, reduced the heat to a simmer, and strained out the pulp/detritus after about 20 minutes. What I have left I froze for using in next week’s meals.
I am vegan but I used to be a sucker for a good handcrafted demi-glace and the best way I can achieve this kind of richness in my own cooking without the use of bones and marrow is to make up my own concoctions like this. I promise you that if you use soup stocks like this you will be able to taste the difference. Also, for those of you too lazy to compost, this offers another way of squeezing out the last bit of stored energy & nutrients and to move in the direction of good stewardship. Yes, you will expend the energy used during the cooking process, but this is at least a start in the right direction of thinking about consumption and maximizing resources.
Great, but what does this have to do with Linguistics? I think it has a lot to do with how we abstract and reduce concepts, we move from complexities to simplicities. For instance, what do you think a pronoun does? It accesses a noun that has already been presented in the discourse situation and identifies that noun as a shortcut pronominal. We remember the fullness of the impact of that noun by getting a little reminder of the original through strategies of reference. My soup stock is a strategy of reference to the richness of the full noun phrases of the original ingredients.
When I think about the idea of a Bouillon Cube I associate it with my notion of word meaning and semantics; meaning is dense and built by layer upon layer of situated usage (ingredients) and solidified through the process of storage.
You might think that this is a stretch. You might think that my soup stock has little to do with linguistics and that I am just trying to make some abstract connection. I encourage you to think about how orthogonal situations can be made sense of in a descriptive linguistic analysis, or at least through analogy. Personally I think that by thinking differently about my everyday reality and relating it back to my professional discipline has enriched my problem-solving capacity. Additionally, it has made me continue to pledge allegiance to innovation…it seems stone soup has taught me that lesson twice.