Expiration Date Soup

Many of my family and friends have gifts for foraging–recognizing all the funky greens, vegetables, mushrooms, and so forth in their habitats, and knowing when and how to harvest. I don’t have the gift–or rather, my repertoire is rather limited. I know cress, dandelions, and other basics, and most of the Rocky Mountain region edible berries, but that’s about it. I think I recognize some mushrooms, but then I remember the great care with which my biologist mother examines mushrooms (spore patterns and all), the most recent headlines about mushroom poisonings flood in, and I let braver souls have the harvest.

I do, however, have a gift for pantry and refrigerator scrounging. I remember with pride an ex remarking, “Wow. You’re really good at making whole meals out of nothing.” Where she saw an empty refrigerator, I saw enough odds and ends for a soup, a funky salad, a crossover stir-fry, or whatever.
Today’s lunch is a good example. I’m calling it “Expiration date soup.” I just threw together several quarts of a hearty, yummy miso soup using almost nothing but food that was supposedly due for the dump:
  • several quarts of water (nearly the only ingredient that was not expired)
  • two packets of bonito stock powder dating back to the Clinton administration (I also have ancient konbu and hana katsuo and I am not afraid to use them, but starting my dashi from scratch adds twenty minutes and some risk, which is not ideal for a quick lunch break from work)
  • the bottom of an ancient bag of wakame
  • the bottom of an ancient bag of black fungus
  • a tub of tofu that expired three months ago (but was unopened and fine), diced
  • a few sad cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • the dried-out sludge at the bottom of an ancient tub of red miso (I had to mince it and whisk it inside a strainer to get it to dissolve into my broth)
  • a slug of semi-ancient sesame oil
  • three eggs from an urban farmer friend of who knows what age, lightly mixed and stirred into the soup, off the flame (egg-drop soup style)
  • several shakes of sesame seed/bonito flakes/mystery ingredients “rice topping” stuff that I think I bought when I lived in Chicago, which is to say before 1994
I prepared the soup by dumping these things into a pot over a medium-high flame roughly in the order listed above, as I found them, and by the time I had everything in the pot, it was ready to eat.
Yummy. Probably not something any self-respecting Japanese chef would acknowledge as food, but I liked it, and I’m going to enjoy it for several more lunches.


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  • Comments (2)
    • Tina Fields
    • Apr 21st. 2010 11:54am

    This sounds delicious, Erin! I bow to your ingenuity and bravery.

    The oldest food I ever dared eat was freeze-dried backpacking chow found deep in my folks' cupboard, left over from my *childhood* – est. age 35. Took it on a 10-day backpack in the Escalante and survived to tell the tale.

    BTW, I totally agree with you about taking spore prints to determine mushroom edibility. Your mom raised you well in that way too.

    • Erin Vang
    • Apr 21st. 2010 12:07pm

    Funny you should mention ancient, freeze-dried backpacking chow! (Does Purina make Hiker Chow?) It wasn't long ago that I glared at the Ziploc bag full of dehydrated whatnot that was to become a chili-like concoction somewhere along the banks of the Wild and Scenic section of the Missouri River in Montana in 2003 and decided that after seven years, it had to be stale and disgusting.

    I tossed it.

    Had I found it at the bottom of a backpack at the end of a tiring day with rain pounding down around me, though, I probably would have filtered some water, fired up the wee stove, and been grateful to have it, in all its stale glory.

    "Bravery"? Let's save that word for the first to partake of your garlic-butter sauteed linoleum!

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