In Canada growing up poor is shotgun soup. Anyone who is living paycheck to paycheck or grew up in a household that lived paycheck to paycheck might have an idea to what I am referring. In their home it might be called “casserole surprise!” or “mishmash hash” but whatever you call it there is no mistaking the ungodly union of yesterday’s leftovers with the leftovers from last week. My Mom liked to add water to the mix and because we weren’t quite sure what was in it, it was christened “shotgun soup” because it truly was a shotgun blast of unidentifiable food leftovers. There is nothing like eating a twice cooked piece of pasta while pondering if the orange mush clinging to it is sweet potato or carrots.
When you are a kid running home from school, hungry to devour whatever tasty snacks are to be found in the fridge, disappointment doesn’t come much harsher than shotgun soup. As soon as you saw the chilled vat sitting in the fridge you knew payday was two days away and there wasn’t a fresh piece of fruit to be found. Forget cereal: the milk was all gone and you had tried Corn Flakes with water before and it sucked. Toast? Ha, in your dreams. The peanut butter and jam were gone too. The next day of school you were getting crackers stuck together with margarine and some carrot sticks that had lost their crunch 5 days ago. You just needed to survive to Friday when Mom got paid. Until then, you decided it was a better idea to play over at your friend’s house where they had an ample supply of Cheez Whiz.
I wish shotgun soup was the worst thing I’ve ever eaten but poverty has end members of feast and famine. We never starved but I contemplated not eating for a few days so I could avoid tofu pie. This was the era before YouTube and the Food Network so even though today tofu pie might exist somewhere out there on the website of a vegan hipster promoting local organic food with gourmet twists on once unpalatable food, my Mom took a stab at this sometime in the early 90s. It did not go well. There were two things left in the kitchen that week, besides the flour and lard which never went anywhere: tofu and jars of mincemeat. I wish I could say the mincemeat was bought at a farmer’s market or a trendy boutique food store but sadly it was the clearance jars of mincemeat found in bins at the grocery store after Christmas. For some reason my Mom had decided to stockpile several jars – I can only assume she knew this day was coming. Except on that day there was tofu in the fridge and my Mom, wanting to be sure we didn’t sugar crash on mincemeat pie, added the tofu to satisfy our protein requirements for the remainder of the week. Tofu mincemeat pie is a sickly grey color. There is nothing that can prepare you for the first bites of this horrendous combination and I was hungry for several days before I attempted it again. Hunger can render anything palatable. By the end of the week, we were onto pie #3 and by then my mind and taste buds had decided tofu mincemeat pie was just fine.
Three days ago, I decided it would be a great idea to throw some leftovers into the remaining vegetable soup. There was steamed kale and carrots, bits of steak and the zingy background of canned soup. I toasted slices of multigrain bread, spread ample butter to melt on top of it, and then we dipped it into the newly conceptualized melange. It was good. Really good. Though my family is blessed to have a surplus of food, shotgun soup leaves a mark. Wasting food is not an option but creative reinvention is definitely on the menu.