I’m not quite as down on January as most others seem to be. Perversely, I eat and drink less in December because — being a shop boy — work is so busy that I rather forget to cook, and the idea of a hangover whilst trying to maintain Christmas cheer behind the counter is pretty unappealing. Come the New Year I’m ready to carb-load and hit the bottle; I’ve had a month of detoxing already, thanks very much.
No, January’s okay if you’re not vegan and sober. It’s February when I find that the misery really descends; February is to the calendar what slugs are to the garden — utterly pointless, and a damned nuisance. Obviously during the first month of the year things are pretty quiet in the shop, but it comes as no great surprise, so we’re prepared for it. We clean a lot, we get the paperwork done, we drink all the Bailey’s, and we make loads of soup.
As much as we slash the price of our Christmas puddings and Stilton, people don’t want that any more. What they want is soup, and it’s understandable. Soup should at once be two things; comforting and delicious. And, as is the way with such things (think of a Sunday roast, a fry-up, or even a cup of tea), soup is always unquestionably better when it’s made by someone else.
The soup we make at the shop is made in exactly the same way we would make it at home — just bigger. It’s no secret that there’s a fair bit of profit margin in a dish that’s predominantly water, but I’d like to think that the soups we serve up here contain a lot less margin and considerably more joy than most that you’ll find hereabouts.
To start with there’s the stock. Most — but not all (off the top of my head: leek and potato, and the Portuguese caldo verde. Don’t ask me why, that’s just how it is) — soups should start with stock. We make our own here, either chicken or veg and in big batches that we carefully reduce down, and freeze for a rainy day. I’m not going to tell you how to make stock, but my two golden rules are: don’t use your stock pot as a dustbin (in fact, here at the deli we actually buy fresh veg / chicken for stock), and don’t let it boil hard – it’ll go murky and bitter.
Soup, when made properly is a gesture of generosity and warmth. Like bread, it is made for sharing, and it has nourished the world’s population for millennia. In times of trouble, soup that someone else has made for you should offer succour. Agreed, the soup we make here ends up being exchanged for cash, and is often devoured by hungry local workers rather than being consumed at the family table; nevertheless we prepare it with the same degree of love as if we were making it for our own loved ones. We can’t offer much more than that.