The title is not misleading, – this is a very soup-focussed entry. If you do not care for soups, broths, pottages, bisques or chowders, feel free to skip this one!
When planning our trip we made sure that we would be in Tel-Yarridge on the second Thursday of the month so that we could take part in a tradition that can be traced back to the fifteenth century, now known as The Soup.
Tel Yarridge is best described as pile of very large rocks that overlook a beach of dark orange sand. Embedded in the rocks is a village. If you were on a boat on the sea and looked toward shore it would appear as though the houses were squeezed into the nooks and crannies between the boulders, or perhaps that they were survivors of a terrible rockslide, but once you are in the rocks themselves, you can explore the hidden network of narrow streets that winds throughout the village.
Tel-Yarridge now sits outside the Riversouth area, but it was the historical connection between the places that gave us The Soup. The festivities are said to originate from an idea a philanthropic Meyrick who enjoyed the broths and pottages the fisherfolk of Tel-Yarridge survived on throughout the winter months while their boats remained tethered in the harbours, sheltering from the wild storms. This Meyrick often left the White Palace to travel around Riversouth to speak to their people, and they realised how hard winter was for anyone who did not live in a palace. These people had to pray for good harvests, and then store any surplus to see them through the cold months. The Meyrick became fascinated by the winter dishes the people made, each area producing unique food depending on what they grew or reared in their fields and farms. The Meyrick decided to hold an event where everybody could show off and share their winter dishes, and it would be held on the beach at Tel-Yarridge because … well, why not, I suppose? The dishes people brought were simple so that they could be easily transported, and this usually meant they were broths, soups and pottages.
For a few years this was known as the Winter Feast, and usually took place at the end of January. And then they became more frequent, starting in early autumn and occurring regularly until Easter.
There is no need for such a Feast these days, of course, but rather than dying out, the event has become very popular and has been re-purposed as a celebration of the original simple food: soup. It is now a monthly event, attracting visitors from around the world.
You can just show up empty handed, and you can be confident that there will be many soups that you can sample, but to really enter into the spirit of the occasion you should really bring your own soup. Or, at least, ingredients you can use to make a soup, which is what we did.
I already had numerous soup recipes on my phone, but you do not even need to be this prepared. Tel-Yarridge is Soup Central, and they take it very seriously.
The stalls start on the outskirts of the village; lines of tables groaning under the weight of every conceivable ingredient, as well as recipes, ladles, spoons, bowls – everything you would need to make, cook and eat a soup! We counted at least seven stalls that just sold bread: rolls, crusty cast-offs, flatbreads, baguettes. One bakery just sold bags of croutons made from their day-old bread. Another offered only dumplings in various sizes.
You have to have a purpose, we decided. If you just wander in with an open mind and a curious nature you will very quickly succumb and become confused and lost. We encountered several such poor souls, aimlessly meandering through the crowded streets, carrying bags of vegetables, bones for the stock they were convinced by some enterprising stallholder that they needed to make from scratch, four separate cooking pots, and a small bag of fish-heads. The most tragic are those that inadvertently find their way into the Eat Streets. They are drawn there by the delicious smells coming some the many-sized pots bubbling away on the tables of the official stalls, as well as kitchen tables outside open front doors, and on the windowsills of the terraced houses. If you are not strong-willed (and this alone will often not save you) you can be here for hours, sampling concoctions from all over the world. It is not uncommon to see people lying in doorways, their lips stained with tomato, too stuffed with dumplings to move.
Felix and I had already agreed on our plan: we were heading straight for the beach with our ingredients. Nevertheless, and despite our resolute determination, the Eat Streets did delay us for an hour or so.
Progress through the Eat Streets is hampered by people thrusting spoons full of varied coloured and interesting smelling at you as you try to walk briskly past, or trying to stuff bread into your mouth.
I saw a lot of varieties from Farynshire Broth by Irayna Gromer (an ongoing effort to bring together all of the county’s soup-related recipes into one tome, currently on its forty-second edition), including:
- Tiny crab brew, from up the coast in Prydferth,
- Tropsog sludge (a thick grey gloop made from mushrooms)
- Thorn pottages (these can be made from any thorns, and they are often sweet because they include thorns from roses and brambles)
- You can also get root soups, which are lovely and earthy, and can be made from the roots of any vegetable though parsley roots and celeriac are big favourites.
- Honey veg, from Over Pippleford
- Green soup, which can be made of any combination of green vegetables or fruit. We saw – broccoli, carrot tops, and cabbage; cauliflower leaves, peas and kale; green pepper, green apple and rocket; and gooseberries, watercress and celery
The Eat Streets also boast soups from around the world. Some like scotch broth, cawl cennin, and cock-a-leekie are from quite close to home, whereas others such as gumbo and kimchi have come from thousands of miles away. Basically, you can find every kind of soup here, no matter if you prefer them sour, sweet, spicy, hot, cold or bitter. Just don’t try all of them at once.
The Eat Streets are just above the beach, and that is where everywhere makes for, even if some get side-tracked and don’t make it.
The narrow streets end in a pile of rocks, and here the smell of the sea, open fires and cooking hit you. There is another stall once you have clambered down the rocks, and we did make purchases at this one: two small iron cooking pots, a tripod and some firewood and kindling.
The whole beach is filled with groups of people crowded round fires, and over the fires hang the cauldrons. We were escorted through the throng to our piece of sand, in the centre of which was a shallow ditch with a ring of stones around it.
We made our fire and set up one of our small pots. We were making different soups, and I helped Felix with his first. He had chosen a thick cream soup made from scallops, haddock, milk and parsley, and he was going to garnish it with some fried onions, which he made a good attempt at in my unused pot. I washed it out to make my soup which was a simple apple and parsnip, and I was hoping it would be thick and sweet.
It is a fantastic atmosphere on the sands. Everyone is so closed together that you are soon chatting with your neighbours and swapping ingredients (I added a couple of chestnuts to mine at the insistence of the man at the next pot).
The best part of the whole thing is the evening as the sun sets. We all sit on the sand and watch the sun sink below the sea, slurping on the soups we have just made ourselves (or bought in the Eat Streets), and eating warm, stale bread.
By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)