In the heart of a bustling city, an extraordinary event was taking place. People from various corners of the world had gathered to celebrate their shared love for stories and the rich mosaic of their diverse cultures. The sun dipped below the city’s skyline, casting a warm glow upon the gathering, and the air buzzed with anticipation.
Amidst the vibrant crowd, a French storyteller named Jacques stepped forward, carrying an empty cooking pot. He began to speak, his words weaving a captivating tale of a clever soldier returning home, carrying nothing more than an empty pot just like his. The soldier arrived at a village, much like the one where they stood, and knocked on door after door asking for something to eat. The villagers were unwilling to share any of their food with the starving traveller, though. Used to being ignored and unattended in this way in several towns he had passed through on his way back from war, the soldier decided to resort to a trick he had successfully used before.
Jacques then filled the pot with water from a nearby stream and dropped a small stone into it. He continued his story telling of how the soldier deceived the villagers into believing he was making “stone soup”, assuring them that it tasted wonderful and that he would be delighted to share it with them. However, the soldier explained, it still needed a little bit of garnish to improve the flavour. On and on the story went, in Jacques’ enthralling voice, with the villagers in the soldier’s story providing each a carrot, a turnip, a chunk of meat, all out of curiosity to eventually try this so-called stone soup, rather than because they felt for the starving soldier and were willing to help him.
A Hungarian woman named Eszter nodded knowingly as she recognized the narrative. In her version, a crafty soldier from her homeland had outwitted villagers to create a feast from a mere axe. The crowd listened intently, captivated by the familiar storyline.
Heinrich, a German storyteller, couldn’t resist sharing his own rendition of the tale. He spoke of a cunning pilgrim who, allegedly on his way to Jerusalem, tricked a hostess step-by-step into adding rich soup ingredients to his pebble stones. The crowd marvelled at the cleverness of the protagonist and the variations each culture brought to the story.
Marek, from Poland, unable to contain his excitement, contributed his own take on the story, in which a resourceful tramp persuaded an old woman to add garnishes to his “nail soup”. The gathering erupted in laughter at the ingenuity of the character and the playful twist on the narrative.
A Portuguese man shared his astonishment at the universality of this story, which, in his homeland, featured a monk. He told of how convinced he had been that this was a genuinely Portuguese tale, closely linked to a city in Portugal, Almeirim, that had stone soup as its most traditional dish.
As the stories flowed, the crowd found common threads in their narratives despite the distinct cultural flavours. It astonished them how such a simple story could transcend borders, connecting people from across Europe through their shared love for the art of storytelling and the universality of the human experience.
Underneath the bustling city lights, these individuals from different cultural backgrounds realised that while their stories may have different flavours, they all simmered in the same pot of shared humanity. And in that moment, they celebrated not only their narratives, but also the beautiful tapestry of cultures that had brought them together, enriching their lives through the power of telling stories.
As the evening wore on, the storytellers decided to bring their narratives to life. Each of them contributed an ingredient to the pot Jacques had brought, creating their version of “stone soup”. They stirred the pot together, symbolising the unity of their diverse backgrounds in the shared joy of storytelling.
As the soup simmered and its fragrance filled the air, the crowd sat down together, eager to taste the culmination of their collaborative effort. The first spoonfuls were savoured with delight, smiles and shared laughter. The “stone soup” not only warmed their bodies but also nourished their souls, reminding them of the power of stories to connect people from all walks of life.
This European folktale is a staple in many countries and it depicts the value of sharing what little you may have, while also raising discussion on issues such as deceit. It is unclear whether it originated in oral tradition or as the product of a writer’s imagination.
In Eastern European countries, it is sometimes called “axe soup”, with the axe being the catalyst, while in Northern Europe and Scandinavia it is “nail soup”.
Its first version dates back to the early 18th century and is set in France, but it also appears in English, Portuguese and Scandinavian folk literature and it has even crossed the pond to the United States. In different versions of this tale, the main character appears as either a pilgrim (Germany), a tramp (Northern Europe, Poland and Scandinavia), a monk (Portugal), or soldiers returning home from war (France, Hungary, Russia).