Stone Soup

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For other uses, see Stone Soup (disambiguation).

Stone Soup is an old folk story in which hungry strangers compel the local people of a town into sharing their food. In varying traditions, the stone has been replaced with other common inedible objects, and therefore the fable is also known as button soup, wood soup, nail soup, and axe soup. It is Aarne-Thompson tale type 1548.[1]


Some travelers come to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty cooking pot. Upon their arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travellers. Then the travelers go to a stream and fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire. One of the villagers becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travelers answer that they are making "stone soup", which tastes wonderful, although it still needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavor, which they are missing. The villager does not mind parting with a few carrots to help them out, so that gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot, and the travelers again mention their stone soup which has not reached its full potential yet. The villager hands them a little bit of seasoning to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all.


Statue of a monk and stone soup (sopa da pedra) in Almeirim, Portugal.

In the Portuguese tradition, the traveller is a monk and the story takes place around Almeirim, Portugal. Nowadays many restaurants in Almeirim serve stone soup, or sopa de pedra. Almeirim is considered the capital of stone soup.[citation needed]

In the French and Hungarian versions of the tale, the travelers are soldiers returning home. In the French version, three soldiers are returning home from the Napoleonic Wars. In the Hungarian version, a single starving soldier encounters several hardships on his journey back to his homeland.

The story is most commonly known as nail soup in Scandinavian and Northern European countries. In these versions, the main character is typically a tramp looking for food and lodgings, who convinces an old woman that he will make nail soup for the both of them if she would just add a few ingredients for the garnish.[2] In Eastern Europe the variation of the story (having more in common with the Northern European rendition) is called axe soup, with an axe being the catalyst. In Russian tradition a soldier eats axe kasha (Каша из топора).

A German version is "Der schlaue Pilgrim" by Johann Peter Hebel in 1811.[1] The cunning pilgrim, allegedly on his way to Jerusalem, is tricking a hostess step by step into adding a rich soup to his pebble stones, leaving the stones uneaten.[3]

Historical references[edit]

U.S. Army General George S. Patton, Jr. referred to the "rock soup method" of acquiring resources for attacks in the face of official disapproval by his superiors for offensive operations. In the military context, he sent units forward ostensibly on reconnaissance missions, to later reinforce them when resistance was met and eventually turned small scale probes into all out attacks; he notably did this during the Battle of Sicily in the advance on Palermo and again in the campaign in northwest Europe, notably near Metz when his 3rd US Army was officially halted during Operation Market Garden.[4]

There are many examples of projects referencing the Stone Soup story's theme of making something significant by accumulating lots of small contributions. Examples include the Stone Soup the magazine by children, the Stone Soupercomputer, the Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup computer game which expanded on an abandoned project using contributions from many different coders and the Stone Soup Theater presenting one act plays.[5]

Oddly enough, a modern twist on "Nail Soup" may help relieve iron deficiency anemia in Cambodia. "The Lucky Iron Fish"[6] is a cast iron fish in the shape of the 'Try Kantrop' fish that many of the villagers consider lucky. Used in a simmering pot of soup, enough of the iron dissolves into the liquid to add the critical amounts of the metal needed to prevent that type of anemia.


William Butler Yeats' 1904 play The Pot of Broth tells a version of the story in which a clever Irish tramp uses his wits to swindle a shrewish medieval housewife out of her dinner.[7]

The story was the basis of a 1947 children's book, Stone Soup (ISBN 9780689878367), by Marcia Brown, which featured soldiers tricking miserly villages into cooking them a feast. The book was a Caldecott Honor book in 1948.[8] The book was read aloud by the Captain (played by Bob Keeshan) on an early episode of Captain Kangaroo in the 1950s, as well as at least once in the 1960s or early 1970s.[9][10]

In 1968 Scholastic Book Services published "Stone Soup" (ISBN 978-0590416023) by Ann McGovern with Pictures by Nola Langner. It tells the story of a little old lady and a hungry young man at the door asking for food and he tricks her into making stone soup.

Another children's book based on the story, also called Stone Soup (ISBN 978-0439339094), written by Jon J. Muth and set in China, was published in 2003.

Shel Silverstein's song, "The Wonderful Soup Stone" tells a version of this story. Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show included the song on their 1973 album Belly Up!. Bobby Bare included the song on his 1973 album Lullabys, Legends and Lies.[11]

The 1985 film Fandango contains a wedding sequence towards the end which builds on the Stone Soup theme. The heroes of the movie need to hold a wedding ceremony, but they lack any funds to do so. They set up a folding card table by the main street of a sleepy Texas town, dust it off, and invite passersby to come to the wedding. As they concoct stories of delinquent caterers and crashed champagne trucks, the friendly townspeople contribute their time and resources, the result being a magical wedding ceremony.

Jim Henson's The Storyteller series contains one tale called 'A Story Short' in which the Storyteller himself (played by John Hurt) is the main character. In the beginning, he arrives at a castle where a man is thrown out for begging for food. He proceeds to trick the King's cook into making 'Stone Soup'. After they are happily fed, the cook realizes what has happened and pleads with the King to let him boil the Storyteller in oil; but the King instead offers a way out — to tell him a story every day for a year instead.

Canadian children's author Aubrey Davis adapted the story to a Jewish context in his 1996 book Bone Button Borscht. According to Davis, he wrote the story when he was unable to find a story that he liked for a Hanukkah reading.[12] A narration of Bone Button Borscht by Barbara Budd traditionally airs across Canada on CBC Radio One's As It Happens on the first day of Hanukkah.

The big pool at Karl Johan street in Oslo is nicknamed Spikersuppa ('The Nail Soup') as a humorous reference to the story.


  1. ^ a b "Stone Soup: folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 1548". D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  2. ^ "Nail Soup - traditional swedish folk-tale". Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  3. ^ "Der schlaue Pilgrim – Wikisource". Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  4. ^ Farago, Ladislas Patton: Ordeal and Triumph (Ballantyne, 1970)
  5. ^ Stone Soup
  6. ^
  7. ^ Yeats, W. B. The Pot of Broth. In The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats, Volume II: The Plays. David R. Clark and Rosalind E. Clark, eds. New York, NY: Scribner, 2001, pg. 109-119.
  8. ^ "Stone Soup, 1948 Honor". Association for Library Service to Children. Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  9. ^ Susan Spicer; Paula Disbrowe (3 June 2009). Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer's New Orleans. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. pp. 9–. ISBN 978-0-307-51827-9. Retrieved 4 September 2013. 
  10. ^ Ray Bradbury (2010). Bound to Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book. Da Capo Press. pp. 66–. ISBN 978-0-306-81939-1. Retrieved 4 September 2013. 
  11. ^ "Bobby Bare Sings Lullabies Legends & Lies". Retrieved 1 Oct 2013. 
  12. ^ Bone Button Borscht at Google Books.

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