Poor Mary, Sneaky Saul, And The Best Kettle Of Soup Mary Ever Made
Many years ago, there was a couple that lived way up on a hill down in Hardin county. It really took a while to get to their house since the road ended at the bottom of the hill, and a person had to walk about a quarter of a mile along a curvy, stoney path to get to the house. I’m calling it a house, but it was more like a shack covered in tar paper, and a rusty tin roof covered the rickety walls with a gnarly stove pipe coming out of the top about three quarters of the way up near the roof’s peak. The front porch was leaning a little to one side with the wooden steps coming up the center of the porch onto floor boards that were curled, and popping up in places. Just the creaks and groans of the floor boards was enough to send a shiver up your spine.
The couple that lived in the house did odds and ends jobs for the people around them. She, Mary, cleaned houses, and did laundry for money to buy groceries. Every penny she made went towards food and necessities. The soil around the house was so rocky, it was impossible to garden or care for any chickens. Her husband, Saul, worked tobacco for farmers around the area. He was a hard worker, but the farmers didn’t like to use him because he ran around with their daughters, and some say that he had flings with a few wives too. Poor Mary had heard the rumors, and knew they were probably true because there were many a night when sneaky Saul didn’t come home. When he did come home, she never quite knew what to expect. Sometimes, he came home during the day with a little gift, and a whole bunch of excuses. Sometime, he came sneakin’ in during the night, but those creaky floor boards gave him away. She’d open the door, and the excuses would start flyin’. She couldn’t get a word in edge-wise with all the excuses flying around. She just gave in, and put some soup on the old wood stove to cook. She figured if she fed him, he’d finally shut up.
This went on for years, sneaky Saul runnin’ around, and poor Mary working her fingers to the bone trying to make enough to keep them fed and under roof. All the while, she was getting madder and madder about the whole affair. One night she had put on soup for herself when she heard those floor boards popping and groaning. She had a big cast iron skillet in her hand getting ready to saute some onions, and grabbed the door knob to fling open the door. Sneaky Saul came stumbling through the door having tripped on a curled up floor board. She whacked him across the side of his head with that heavy skillet, and he fell like a sack of potatoes to the floor! Dadgummit, look what he had made her do! She was so mad she could hardly think straight! All these years of putting up with his shenanigans, and now he lay dead on the floor a little trickle of blood starting to come out his ear!
‘Well’, she thought, ‘I need to come up with a plan!’ ‘I’m not goin’ to jail for this lowlife sneak!’ She looked around the kitchen, a meager collection of pots, pans, and kitchen utensils hanging from the walls. She spied the big kitchen cleaver, and a plan started forming in her mind. She knew how to take care of him once and for all.
The sheriff, and a couple deputies showed up the next day. Apparently, Saul was supposed to have taken a wagonload of tobacco to the auction house. When he didn’t show up, the farmer he was working for contacted the cops not so much for worrying about Saul, but to find him so his tobacco could get to market. Poor Mary heard their footsteps on the rocky foot path. She stopped stirring her big rendering kettle that she set up before the dawn’s light had even burned the frost off of the rusty tin roof. The crackling fire underneath kept the pot simmering, and sputtering.
‘Don’t mean to bother you, Mary, but did Saul make it home last night?’
‘Nope, haven’t seen him,’ she replied.
‘Mind if we take a look around?’
‘Help yourself,’ she said ‘I need to keep stirrin’ my kettle.’
‘Gosh, Mary, whatever you’ve got in there sure smells good.’
‘I’m fixin’ to can some tomato soup for when it gets cold around here.’
The sheriff, and the deputies split up and went to check inside, out back, and around the house. It didn’t take long, and they were back around the kettle. ‘Well, we didn’t see any sign of him just like you said, Mary,’ stated the sheriff. All the while, he was eyeing the soup and licking his lips. Mary noticed, and offered, ‘why don’t you boys have a bowl of soup, and a slice of the warm loaf that I baked up earlier before you head back down the hill?’ She didn’t have to ask twice. So she grabbed some bowls from the house, served up steaming bowls of soup, and they parked themselves on the porch and dug in. She looked on with a satisfied smile on her face.
‘Won’t you have some too?’ asked the sheriff.
‘Oh lordy, I’ve just about had my fill of this.’ ‘When you chop up the ingredients, and smell it cookin’ for hours, you kinda’ lose your appetite for it.’ she replied. ‘I’ll be hungry for it in a couple months.’
Once they had a round of seconds, they put their bowls aside. ‘Thanks so much, Mary, for the delicious soup.’ ‘We’ll be on our way.’ ‘If Saul shows up today, tell him Mr. James was madder than a wet hen about him not taking that tobacco wagon to auction,’ the sheriff stated.
‘Yessir, I will,’ Mary replied knowing full well she’d never see Saul again and neither would they. They headed down the hill, and into their car to drive back to town. All the while, Mary kept stirring her simmering kettle. She whispered at one point, “Saul, you might be the most worthless husband in the history of this earth, but you sure make up a good kettle of soup.”
The sheriff and their deputies couldn’t forget that memorable soup and told their wives about it. Soon Mary was making tomato soup, and selling it by the quarts to the people in town. She had a little bit of sneaky in herself, and sometimes just to stretch the soup out and get an extra quart from a batch, she’d stir in some odd ingredients like spider eggs, frog lips, and squirrel’s nuts. It didn’t really matter, her soup was so delicious the townspeople bought up the jars as quick as she could make it.
As it was, sneaky Saul was never seen around the area again. People just wrote him off as having ticked off the wrong person at some point probably some husband who caught him pandering with a wayward wife. Of course, as stories go, it just came to be that Mary’s name got caught up in the rumor mill. A rumor started about Mary and how she probably just got tired of his running around, and ended his life up on the hill down in Hardin county. After a few years, some kids started calling her Bloody Mary having heard the stories going around while sitting down to a hot bowl of soup in their family’s kitchens. So next time you enjoy a steaming bowl of tomato soup, think about this story of sneaky Saul, Bloody Mary, and how she turned a loser into a winner of a soup.
Bloody Mary’s Spider Egg Soup (Tomato Gnocchi Soup)
1 TB olive oil
1-1/2 cups finely chopped onion
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes, not drained
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 cups vegetable stock or tomato juice
4 TB unsalted butter
4 TB all purpose flour
1/2 cup water
1 cup three cheese blend Italian cheese, or grated parmesan cheese
1 16 oz package plain or potato gnocchi, cooked according to package directions
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil, optional
plastic spiders to garnish the sides of the bowls
In a large heavy soup pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Once it shimmers, add onions and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Add garlic, cook another 3 minutes until fragrant. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, and vegetable stock. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cover, and cook for 1 hour. Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender or a regular blender, process soup (in batches if using a regular blender, *see note) until smooth. Pour soup back into pot.
In a large skillet set over medium high heat, melt the butter then whisk in the flour. Cook for 5 minutes to remove floury taste. Whisk in the water. Pour into soup whisking briskly to incorporate. Cook soup over medium high heat for about 15 minutes or until thickened. Add cheese, cook until melted about 3-5 minutes. Stir in gnocchi, and basil if using. Serve hot and garnish with a plastic spider for fun.
Stir together olive oil, onions, and garlic in the bottom of a large slow cooker insert. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar, salt,pepper, and vegetable stock. Cover, and cook on High for 4 hours or on Low for 6-8 hours. Make the roux according to instructions above. Whisk into soup. Leave uncovered, and cook another 30 minutes to thicken. Stir in cheese, gnocchi, and basil. Cook just until cheese melts, about 10 minutes or so.
To Make Ahead: Prepare soup all the way through the addition of cheese. Cool and keep refrigerated until needed up to 3 days. Freeze for a month. Add the cheese, cooked gnocchi, and basil after soup has been reheated. Do not store gnocchi in soup because they will disintegrate.
NOTE: Cover a regular blender lid with a towel to hold the lid on while processing hot soup. Always hold the lid. If you don’t, it will pop off due to the steam build up. That would be a terrible trick when you are in a hurry to eat.