by Rev. Dustin Bartlett
Revised: February 18, 2017
by Rev. Dustin Bartlett
What follows is my own version of an old folk tale. It’s an old story, but like all old stories that have been told and retold throughout the centuries, it has stuck around because it’s a story that we still need to hear today.
Once upon a time, a poor family found that their country had become a war zone. They were no longer safe in their homeland; to stay meant death. And so, they had no choice; they were forced to flee their home.
Mother and Father packed up the things they could carry, the things they would need to survive, took their children by the hand, and fled their home on foot. For some time they wandered around from place to place. The little money they brought with them quickly ran out, and their situation grew desperate.
One night, as the family walked along, Brother and Sister began to complain.
“We’re hungry. Can’t we stop and eat? Can’t we sleep in beds again like we used to back home?”
Mother and Father felt sorry for their children, because it had been weeks since they had slept in a bed, and it had been two days since they had eaten. But they had no food. They had no money.
Then, up ahead, they saw the lights of a small village.
“Can we stay there?” asked Sister. “Maybe they’ll have something to eat.”
“It can’t hurt to ask,” replied Father, but his hopes were not high. They had stopped and asked for help at many such villages since they’d fled their home, and most had refused to help them. Still, Father was right – it couldn’t hurt to ask.
As the small family of refugees approached the village, a few of the townspeople saw them coming up the road.
“Oh, no,” they said. “Here comes another poor family, looking for a handout, no doubt. If we share our food with them, then they’ll tell others, and before long many poor people will come to our village looking for food and a place to stay. It’s best that we tell them what we have told all the others – that we don’t have enough food to share or room for them in our village.”
So the villagers quickly went about hiding all the food in the village. They pushed the sacks of barley under the hay in the lofts. They lowered buckets of cream down their wells. They spread old quilts over the carrot bins. They hid their cabbages and potatoes under the beds. They hung their meat in the cellars. They hid all the food in the village. Then, they waited.
Soon, Mother, Father, Sister, and Brother arrived in the village. They went to the first house they reached, knocked on the door, and explained their situation.
“We’re sorry to disturb you, and we know it’s getting late, but we fled from the war in our home country. We are very tired, and very hungry, and have no food or money of our own. Please, could you spare a bit of food to feed us, or to feed our children at least?”
“I’m sorry,” came the reply, “but we had such a bad harvest this year that we don’t even have enough food for ourselves.”
Not giving up, the family went to the next house. Again, they explained their situation. Again, the reply: “If we share with you, we won’t have enough for ourselves.”
They came to the third house. Again, they stopped and asked. Again, they were told there was not enough food to spare. This time Brother spoke up and said, “Could you at least give us beds to sleep on for the night?”
“No,” they said. “I’m sorry, but there isn’t room.”
House after house it was the same. Finally, the family gave up and resigned themselves to go to sleep, hungry, on the banks of a little stream just outside of town. As they all sat down and prepared to rest for the night, Mother had an idea. She told her plan to Father, Sister, and Brother, and they all agreed.
Brother and Sister ran back into the village, and once again they went from house to house, door to door, and spoke with the people inside. Only this time, they were smiling. They seemed excited.
“Good news!” the children said to the villagers. “You have a little creek on the edge of your town!”
“Yes, we know.”
“Well, then, we don’t need to borrow your food. We can use the water from the creek, and cobblestones from the bottom, and make stone soup. And since you told us that you don’t have enough food for yourselves, we wanted to invite you to come and eat some of our stone soup with us.”
“You can’t make soup from just water and stones,” the villagers scoffed.
“Sure you can,” said the children. “Come and see.”
So Brother and Sister led the villagers to their campsite near the creek. And, sure enough, Mother and Father had built a fire, placed their pot over the fire, and filled the pot with water and smooth stones from the bottom of the stream.
“What is this?” asked the villagers. “You can’t make soup with only water and stones!”
“Certainly you can!” replied Mother, “and we’re happy to share our stone soup with you, since you told us you barely have enough food of your own. Although, with so many of you, we’re going to need a bigger pot.”
“I have a large pot back at my home!” said one of the villagers, who was intrigued to see if stones could really be made into soup. “Let me fetch it for you!” And off he ran to get his extra-large pot.
When he returned, the contents of Mother and Father’s pot were poured inside, and they gathered even more water and even more stones from the creek until the enormous pot was full. Soon, the water began to boil.
“When will the stone soup be ready?” asked one of the villagers.
“Very soon,” said Father as he stirred the pot. “And it’s quite tasty. Of course it would be much better with a little salt and pepper, but it will taste okay without it.”
“Well, I have some salt and pepper at home,” said another villager who, like the rest, was very excited to try soup made from stones. “Let me run home and fetch it for you.”
“That would be great. Thank you,” said Father.
Soon the villager was back, and salt and pepper were added to the stone soup. Father offered Mother a sip to taste. “It’s good,” Mother said, “but it could be sweeter. If only we had some carrots!”
“I think a have a few carrots I could spare,” said one of the villagers. “I’d be happy to share them.” And off she ran to take the quilt off the carrot bin.
When the carrots were added, the soup was sampled again. “Much better. Almost too sweet, actually. Maybe some cabbage would balance it out. It’s too bad we don’t have any.”
“I have some cabbage I could spare.” And soon cabbage was added to the stone soup.
“This is shaping up to be one of our best batches of stone soup ever!” exclaimed Father. “In fact, I once made a batch of stone soup very much like this one for a rich man back in my home country. The only difference was that it had potatoes and cream. It’s too bad we don’t have any.”
The villagers discussed this among themselves. They had to admit that this stone soup was starting to smell quite good. And imagine if they could learn to make a soup good enough to serve a rich man with only stones! Wouldn’t that be something! So, some of the villagers went off to pull the potatoes from under their beds, and to raise their buckets of cream from out of the wells.
These, too, were added. “Excellent!” said Mother. “Why, if only we had some beef and some barley, this stone soup would be good enough for a king! But it’s no use wishing for what you don’t have.”
Imagine that! A soup, good enough for a king, made with only a few stones! It seemed like magic! So of course, one of the villagers went to get some beef from out of the cellar as another pulled some barley from underneath the hay.
Finally, Mother and Father agreed that their stone soup was ready. The villagers produced bowls and spoons, tables and chairs. And the stone soup smelled so good, it seemed like it would be a crime to serve it without bread, and without wine, and without some pie for dessert, so these things, too, were brought out by the villagers.
Soon, they all sat down to eat – these wandering strangers from a strange land and the citizens of the village – together. The stone soup, the villagers agreed, was one of the best and heartiest soups they’d ever tasted. And to think, such an amazing soup made with only the water and stones from their little creek.
The mayor of the village stood up, toasted the strangers who had taught them the secret of making stone soup, and said, “We can find a spare bed for you here and there, and you can stay in our homes as our guests until you are able to build a home of your own. Please, stay here with us, because you have taught us the secret of making soup from nothing but a few stones, and now that we know how to make stone soup, no one in our village will ever be hungry again.”