Last year I read an article in Sunset magazine that inspired me to host a neighborhood soup night. In fact, I had three before "soup season" was over. The main idea is to host a casual meal to get neighbors together. It's so easy to lose track of everyone--we're all busy, and not everyone has kids of bonding age.
Here are some guidelines for a successful Soup Night (most are from the Sunset article):
- Pick a regular day and time, like the 3rd Monday of the month from 6-7:30. Making the time short (with a definite ending) made folks more likely to come on a weeknight, because they weren't commiting to much more than dinner time itself. I also tried to make it clear that drop-ins were welcome--coming from 6:30-7:00 was fine. I even had disposable coffee cups available for "to go" orders. One neighbor came, then drove her son to guitar (leaving another child with us), and came back later. Another dad came with his children then took soup home for his ill wife.
- Deliver invitations and reminders. I wrote the first invitation explaining the concept (and listing three dates), and delivered them in person. Every month I delivered or dropped off a small reminder slip close to the day.
- Invite everyone. I invited every family on our court, plus a few very close-by friends.
- DO NOT REQUIRE AN RSVP. This was a little scary, but I think folks are more likely to come if they don't have to commit far ahead. My initial invitation stated that RSVP's were welcome, but not required. Most of the people who ended up coming did let me know ahead of time. The article says to expect 1/3 to 1/2 of those invited to attend. I added up the possibilities (about 52), and we had about 1/2 that each time.
- DO NOT REQUIRE FAMILIES TO BRING ANYTHING. I provided soup, garnishes, and drinks (water, lemonade, tea--simple, inexpensive). I wrote that no one had to bring anything, but that they could bring bread or fruit if they wanted to. Almost everyone brought something. This is definitely hospitality rather than entertaining. It's a simple welcome and sharing, and the casualness and simplicity I think made folks more willing to come.
- I always had 2 soups, but not the same amount of each. For our last evening I made a lot of taco soup (served with chips, cheese, sour cream, and sweet onions) and a smaller amount of cream of fresh asparagus. I love the asparagus soup (my children DO NOT), and I knew some adults would too, so it was a great chance for me to have that treat. I always made one of the soups vegetarian, but that might not be important for your neighborhood. As it turned out, I don't think my neighbors cared. :-) I brainstormed a list of possible soups (some in my repetoire, some from book browsing), and used that to inpire each month's choices.
- Work ahead. Many soups can be made a day or two early (at least part way) or even made way ahead and frozen. Garnishes can also be prepped ahead. This does not have to be hours of last minute work, and if it were, how would you survive more than one Soup Night?
- Keep the soups warm on the stove, label them, and let people help themselves. I used disposable paper bowls, but found we needed to double them because soup is hot!
We've had a beautiful but complicated life this fall and winter, and one of my biggest regrets is that we haven't been able to have Soup Night this season. I know some of my neighbors have missed it, too. A year off is a long time, but I'm hoping to start up again in the fall. It's not too late for you, though. Last year I read about Soup Night in January and hosted my first in February.
I haven't figured out how to upload a word document, so if anyone is interested in samples of my invitations or reminder slips, please send me an email. My address is LRice31 spam at cox dot net (take out the spam).
Tonight on my cooking blog I'm posting two of the simplest recipes I used (beef barley soup and taco soup). If I get ambitious later, I'll add the cream of asparagus and a yummy (and more popular than I expected) creamy clam chowder.
UPDATE (8/09): Some folks are still finding this post. FYI, there's a short follow-up here.