Monday, January 12, 2015


‘He scream'd out--'
Take the soup away!
O take the nasty soup away!
I won't have any soup to-day.'
- Heinrich Hoffmann, Der Struwwelpeter

 Ladle as noun: a long-handled utensil with a cup-shaped bowl for dipping, conveying and serving liquids.

 Ladle as verb: to dip, convey or serve with or as if with a ladle; to lift out or serve with a long-handled spoon.

 Potage, bisque, broth, soup, consommé ladled carefully into bowls or cups or mugs cradled between hands for warmth against a bone-chilling day. Soup, liquid clear, thick and creamy, smooth or chunks of vegetables and meat floating carefully in a sea of soup. Soup, yes, even chilled, even sweet. Dip, scoop, convey, leaving trails of drips and drops across the stovetop, the countertop, soup plopping and splattering from the curved bottom, the bowl of the ladle, in an annoying, self-proclaiming trajectory. Impossible to do otherwise, to ladle soup into bowls cleanly and efficiently without that telltale trace of soup.

 Goulash, stew, not quite a soup but more a liquid meal, a mishmash of ingredients sliced and chunked and chopped and simmered together in a big Dutch oven, a meal for a winter’s day. Not a soup but a ladle is definitely called for, required under the circumstances. Much better than a serving spoon, a ladle will scoop up what we used to call a he-man portion, one ladle, two into the bowl, onto the plate, always accompanied by a hunk of bread for dipping, sopping up the sauce which must come with the meat and veg. Thus the need for the ladle.

 Sangria. Punch (is it spiked?). From college parties to office parties, from weddings to fancy do’s at the house, punch bowls and ladles, somehow more elegant than a soup ladle but a ladle all the same, for dipping, conveying, pouring quantities of ruby red sangria, floating slices of oranges like islands in the sea, or punch, pale and watery, sugary sweet but oh what a punch! An elegant crystal ladle to match the cut glass bowl, or sterling silver shined until one can see one’s reflection, delicately ladling shimmering, jewel-like iridescence, of something sweet and boozy into delicate, tiny cups. Pinkies out, pretty paper napkins dabbing discreetly at lips. Or clumsy ladles, jerry-rigged, makeshift ladles, big plastic cups, dipping scooping up, sloshing something sweet and boozy, something wild and spirited across the table, dumping great quantities of punch into more plastic cups. Hootch dribbled as gulped, splatted as guzzled, wiped sloppily off of chins with the sleeve.

“Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!”
- Lewis Carroll

 Runny cake batter, pancake batter, cupcake batter scooped up and ladled out. My father made us pancakes for breakfast on the occasional Sunday. Giddily, we would run to the kitchen, scootching chairs up to the table happily, leaving games behind, leaving our age-old bickering behind. He would have the old griddle set up on the work surface in the corner of the L of the countertop. Plates and forks at the ready, we would sit at the table, jiggling and wriggling in impatient anticipation, and watch him carefully, precisely measure up a ladle of pancake batter and meticulously pour it onto the hot griddle, a sizzle and a perfect circle, a row of perfect rounds of batter. Bubbling, browning, flipping and passed around. And a second series of ladles of batter on that hot griddle.

 So many years later, sitting at a different table, children lined up and down the two sides, parallel, jiggling and wiggling in their chairs in impatient anticipation while we adults, the parents, smiled and waited no less impatiently. My father-in-law sat at one end of the long table, hot crêpe griddle on the table in front of him, a swirl of butter would sizzle and steam and he would carefully, precisely measure up a ladle of crêpe batter and pour it into the center of the circle, the round, crêpe-sized, crêpe-shaped griddle. One ladle of batter, one crêpe for one person, one at a time, rather than six or eight pancakes in two rows on my own dad’s griddle. Sizzle, brown and flip and passed around the table to one lucky person. And another ladle of batter on the hot griddle for another child.

“Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
– Ludwig van Beethoven

 Rainwater, river water, remember those old cowboy movies? There always seemed to be a ladle handy, sometimes that ladle was attached by a long string to the well, the rain barrel. Sometimes that ladle seemed to appear out of nowhere, riverside, around the campfire. A fire built in a pit, a big pot, a kettle set atop a frame, stew ladled out and slopped onto battered metal plates. That ladle used as a cup when the horses were stopped at some body of water. Refreshment.

 Scoop and dish out.

"Please, sir," replied Oliver, "I want some more."
The master aimed a blow at Oliver's head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arms; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.
- Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist 

 Gruel ladled out, slopped onto the plate, into a bowl, grudgingly.

 Mussels, clams, a big pot of seafood steaming in a slug of wine, a handful of shallots chopped and minced. Parsley. Huge, hearty ladles of seafood in their shells, ticking against each other as they are ladled up, claws and antennae poking out and hanging over the edges of the ladle willy-nilly. Add a ladle of the broth.

 "I live on good soup, not on fine words."
- Moliere

 Runny cake batter, pancake batter, cupcake batter scooped up and ladled out. I love my ladle. That’s an odd thing to say, I know, but my whisk, my wooden spoon and my ladle are practically fetish items, one or the other always in my hand when I am in the kitchen. It is one of my necessary baking tools. A ladle? you ask, a ladle for baking? A ladle for pastry?

 When I find myself before a bowl of cake batter, thick and unctuous, yes, but runny, gooey, loose to the point of incivility and misbehavior, with a set of cupcake tins, I can’t imagine decanting, transferring this batter into those numerous, tiny cupcake indentations, or mini little bundt forms each with a tiny tube in the center that must not be covered, without my ladle. Lift up the bowl and pour and I invariably lose control, batter running out every which way, too much too soon as if that batter was rushing to get out of the bowl no matter what and I suddenly find myself with batter dribbled and dripped all over the tin, in between the cups, heading out and onto the counter with no way to get it back into the bowl, cups overfloweth.

 This is when I turn to my ladle, baking tool extraordinaire! Dip, scoop, let the excess drip back into the bowl, scrape the bottom across the bowl’s edge, and pour, slowly, regularly into those indentations.

 Big Dipper, Small Dipper, ladles in the sky. Do we make a wish?

 Ladling custard into custard cups, panna cotta into glasses, pudding into ramekins.

  Before we met, my husband spent two years living and working in Morocco, spending much of his free time hanging around the kitchens of the houses where he roomed and observing the women cooking. He brought back what he had learned and mastered of this exotic, spice-filled cuisine and has been sharing his knowledge and recipes with me since. Harira is a rich, fragrant, spicy soup of chickpeas, tomato and lamb, spiced up and then flavored with lemon and fresh coriander, traditionally eaten during the month of Ramadan each night to break the day’s fast. JP explained that vendors ladle out bowls of this soup from huge vats in the marketplaces around the city. It is a rather easy soup to put together, then simply simmered, lemon and coriander added just before serving. It has long been a family favorite, a meal in itself and perfect to warm and spice these chilly winter months.


Vegetable oil
13 oz (400 g) lean lamb, shoulder or leg, cubed
1 onion, cut in half or quarters and thinly sliced
2 tsps ground coriander
½ tsp ground turmeric
¼ tsp cayenne
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cumin
8 oz (250 g) ripe tomatoes (about 3), peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 – 14 oz (440 g) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
Handful chopped fresh coriander

 To peel tomatoes, make a cross in the bottom of each with a sharp knife, dunk for just one minute or so in simmering water, scoop out and peel. Measure out the spices, slice the onion, crush the garlic, drain, rinse and mash the chickpeas.

 Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large pot and add the cubed lamb. Fry very quickly over high heat until evenly browned all over. Add the sliced onions, lower the heat and continue cooking, stirring continuously, for 5 minutes until the onions are soft. Stir in the spices and toss, making sure that the lamb cubes are coated and the spices blended in well, and cook for 1 minute.

 Add the chopped tomatoes, the crushed garlic and the mashed chickpeas. Add 2 ½ cups (625 ml) water. Bring just to the boil, cover, lower heat and allow to simmer for 40 minutes. If you would like to thicken the soup up a bit, uncover the pot for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

 Chop the fresh coriander and squeeze the lemon and add to the Harira, stir, and allow to simmer for 2 minutes before serving. Serve hot.

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  1. I truly needed this ladle of stunning words and photo. Now I just need to make the soup for my empty bowl.

  2. What a wonderful post! I find my ladle awkward to use. Maybe its handle is too long for short little me. I usually end up using an ice cream scoop for portioning. I'd look much more elegant using a ladle though.

    JP's soup sounds fantastic. I shall put it On My List!

  3. Spicy lamb and chickpea soup is lovely. Your photos are also impressive. Thanks.