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A Bowl of Bread Soup

La Tailleuse de Soupe” by François Barraud, 1933

I’ve been asking Happy Monk customers what they like to do with their bread. The answers thus far have been tummy-warming. They never fail to make my stomach rumble. To hurry home and try whatever they’ve described for using their Happy Monk loaf.

Some pick up their bread and tell me their immediate plans. Commonly, they are taking their loaf straight home for lunch and pairing it with soup. All kinds: tomato, split pea, barley, french onion. Perhaps a bowl of chili.

How do you use your bread?

In the summer, someone posted a picture on Facebook of a slice of Salish Sourdough, spread with mayonnaise and layered with a juicy, salt-and-peppered tomato slice. It looked glorious!

Another Facebook picture showed a poached egg on top of a slice of toasted sourdough and a generous dollop of nettle pesto!

One woman, a U.S. resident and regular Pender visitor, told me she’d served a loaf for breakfast to her family: French toast, with butter and maple syrup. She pronounced it, “Awesome!”

Another fellow told me he loved to spread peanut butter on his olive bread, a unique combination, and not the first time I’ve heard it!

It will sing inside you …

Nothing, however, prepared me for this use for rye bread I recently stumbled upon:

 Bread Soup: An Old Icelandic Recipe
By Bill Holm

Start with the square heavy loaf 
steamed a whole day in a hot spring 
until the coarse rye, sugar, yeast 
grow dense as a black hole of bread. 
Let it age and dry a little, 
then soak the old loaf for a day 
in warm water flavored 
with raisins and lemon slices. 
Boil it until it is thick as molasses. 
Pour it in a flat white bowl. 
Ladle a good dollop of whipped cream 
to melt in its brown belly. 
This soup is alive as any animal, 
and the yeast and cream and rye 
will sing inside you after eating 
for a long time.
1

The poem was part of a section on poetryfoundation.org, called Poetry and Food. It was originally from Bill Holm’s 2004 collection, Playing the Black Piano, Milkweed Editions, 2004.

To be clear, no one on Pender, to my knowledge, has made bread soup with a Happy Monk loaf. If you’ve made any kind of bread soup, I’d love to hear about it. Along with a picture.

But what an eye-popping, heart-warming, sumptuous example of a way to see bread and use it. I found the poem startling!

Brauðsúpa

I’ve baked Scandinavian-style rye loaves. I’ve heard of tomato-based Tuscan bread soups, like Pappa al Pomodoro, Pancotto, and Ribolita. But have not heard of anything like this.

And this is no figment of the poet’s imagination! It’s called Brauðsúpa 2, or Sweet Rye Bread soup, a legitimate Icelandic bread soup!

Bill Holm

Bill Holm was an American poet who lived most of his life in Minnesota. Enthusiasts of the NPR radio program, “A Prairie Home Companion,” might remember Holm as an occasional guest.

He was the grandson of Icelandic immigrants. He owned a home in Hofsós, Iceland. Holm spent a part of every year in the village, between terms at Southwest Minnesota State University, where he was professor emeritus of English.

He died in 2009.

Search for Sweet Rye Bread Soup online, and you will find a recipe, published here. It is Icelandic, a little different than Holm’s take, but it carries the same spirit.

A Recipe: Sweet Rye Bread Soup

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 slices light rye bread, chopped
  • 3 slices dark rye bread, chopped
  • 1/2 cup lingonberry jam, or sour cherry jam
  • 1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup raisins, if desired
  •  water, as needed

Instructions

  1. Add the cubed bread to a pot and cover with water. Stir in jam and bring to a simmer.
  2. Puree with an immersion blender until smooth.
  3. Add raisins and sugar to taste while continuing to simmer until the bread thickens up, about 10 minutes. 
  4. Serve hot or chilled, garnish with raisins and/or whipped cream.

If you have half a loaf of last week’s Rye and Buttermilk bread, use seven or eight slices of it, instead of the combination of ryes. Or follow Holm’s poem, as if it were a set of precise instructions. And listen for the singing inside you!

Please report your results. Bonus points if you include a poem describing its taste!

And let Bill Holm’s sparkling poem guide your imagination for new ways to use your bread!


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  1. “Bread Soup: An Old Icelandic Recipe” from Playing the Black Piano: Poems by Bill Holm (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2004). Copyright © 2004 by Bill Holm. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org

  2. The letter ð is used in the Icelandic language and pronounced as “th,” as in “that”. It originated in Anglo Saxon, and was included in Old English and Middle English letters).

5 thoughts on “A Bowl of Bread Soup

  1. It’s always a joy to read your weekly missive, Happy Monk!

    1. Thank you, Susan!

  2. Always informative as well. The sweet rye bread soup brings to mind bread pudding. It’s such an amazing way to use left over bread. I grew up enjoying my grandmother’s bread pudding made with her homemade brioche – heavenly! Thanks David.

    1. I was waiting for someone to mention bread pudding! I wooed my wife on an early date, when I made two different versions of bread pudding!

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