Rusty Nail Soup in a Pandemic

One of my favourite stories growing up was about a poor old woman making Rusty Nail Soup – sometimes it’s called stone soup. When I tell my children or family this story they look at me in confusion. (that blank but polite look I often get).

A Nordic Village
Photo by Tobias Bjørkli on

A Nordic Folk Tale

I believe that it is an old Nordic folk-story, and as I remember it the woman is very poor and offers to make soup, but has no ingredients. She starts the soup by making a broth with a rusty nail or a stone. The broth, she says is so delicious. As she is making the broth she convinces each villager that it would be much better if she had a carrot, an onion, a potato and so on, until she has the ingredients for a delicious soup. The soup smells more appealing with each new ingredient, and the villagers become more involved and intrigued. The key is the woman’s ability to sell concept of the soup as a delicious creation and her flexibility of creating something with what she had.

The Moral of the Nail Soup Story

The moral or lesson of the story is often said to be that cooperation and sharing benefits those who contribute. The story has been told many different ways, – sometimes a tramp or traveller or soldier cannot get the villagers to share food, and the making of delicious soup with only a nail intrigues everyone so much that they all contribute.

Rusty Nails
Rusty Nails – Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on

I interpret the story to fit our own pandemic circumstances. We don’t need to socialize with the villagers to make soup, and we don’t need to buy more ingredients.

During these days of isolating, we might be tempted to make extravagant dishes and try new recipes as we have been doing at my house. However, we are often missing some key ingredients. Substitutions from the pantry are always OK with me. It’s a much better idea than going to the grocery store for some obscure ingredient when we should be staying at home.

My pantry spices
My pantry

Now I’m sure the rusty nail or the stone would make all the villagers ill, and physical distancing means we can’t gather our ingredients from the villagers, but soup is often made from nothing – leftovers, or something from the pantry.

I make homemade soup many times per week, using ingredients that are on-hand. To make any soup you only need a broth, some vegetables, perhaps some carbs and possibly even some protein. All are NOT required though.

Photo by jenvit keiwalinsarid on

Preparing Nail Soup without the Nail

Begin with a broth or stock.  If you have frozen some broth made from boiling down your latest roast turkey, chicken or beef, or if you have made your own vegetable broth, that’s wonderful. Throw a few cups in a pot. If not, pull a box of broth or dried soup mix out of your cupboard and add some water. You can even grab a can of prepared soup and use it as a base – pretending that your soup is entirely homemade. In a pinch, boullion cubes, even leftover gravy or some gravy starter can begin your soup.

Chop stored root vegetables.  Slice a big carrot into thin rounds, dice an onion, chop some potatoes and throw them in the pot.  Boil them for five minutes or so, until the once firm vegetables are fork tender, but not too soft.  Next add some frozen vegetables, like peas, corn and or beans.  Turn down the heat to low. Chop up any leftover cooked vegetables or meat, and toss them in.  Add canned drained legumes if you like, and possibly canned stewed tomatoes.  If you have fresh or frozen greens (maybe you bought too much salad in that last run around the supermarket) – add in a few chopped leaves of spinach, swiss chard, shredded cabbage, or frozen kale.

Leafy vegetables - baby spinach
Photo by Jacqueline Howell on

Do you have leftover cooked rice, mashed potatoes, or other vegetables. Add these to the soup – but remember that the rice can expand and absorb the soup – so add a little at a time. Leftover brocolli, brussel sprouts and cauliflower are wonderful in soup, but don’t need to stew too long as their odour can be overpowering in a house full of stir crazy quarantined people – so add them in last by all means!

My homemade rusty nail soup
My homemade rusty nail soup

If your soup tastes bland, salt, pepper, thyme, parsley or even curry powder can add some zest.

Finally, pasta can be added to soup – but it will expand so use it sparingly. I sometimes have a jar of alphabet noodles in my pantry, which somehow attracts non-vegetable soup eaters to my table. I also occasionally use bowtie pasta (it seems to make people happy), and frozen tortellini! Like the old woman in the story, the key is selling the concept of delicious homemade soup and the flexibility to work with what you have on hand.

Enjoy using up leftovers and cooking from your pantry instead of travelling to your grocery store. Soup can be made from very little – and you don’t need RUSTY NAILS OR STONES!

Stone stack
Photo by nicollazzi xiong on

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14 thoughts on “Rusty Nail Soup in a Pandemic

    1. Blender soups are wonderful too, but I can’t get my suspicious young adult children to eat it – they want to know exactly what’s in the soup!

  1. Haha! I remember that story about stone soup! Wonderful. I love soup…always have. It’s interesting to hear all of your ideas. And for those who like to start with a recipe, now we have Pinterest. The other day I had a craving for a type of soup I had never had or heard of. I wanted chicken curry soup. But I wasn’t confident enough to attempt it on my own. Sure enough, there was a recipe on Pinterest for chicken curry soup. It really hit the spot! 😁

    1. I love it when there’s a more difficult recipe that people have tried a few times and reviewed. My husband likes to watch Youtube cooking videos for recipes.

  2. I eat hot and spicy chicken soup twice a week, with lots of chili and garlic. Helps to prevent constipation and tastes delicious. 😀

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