Many of us grew up on homemade soup, be it chicken noodle, vegetable, split pea or beef and barley, and those of us who lived in cold weather climates welcomed a hot bowl lovingly served by mom, along with bread or crackers. A simple yet hearty food which has fed hungry people for centuries, no kitchen was complete without a big pot of soup gurgling and bubbling all day. But by the end of the 19th century, the Campbell Soup Company changed the way Americans ate with their introduction of condensed canned soup. and didn't we love that new convenience.
Every country has its traditional trademark soup, be it Vichyssoise (the French chefs can duke it out as to who created it), Asian Pho, Russian borscht or all-American chicken noodle. Commercial soups made their appearance with the invention of canning in the late 19th century,. Dr. John T. Dorrance, a chemist with the Campbell Soup Company, created condensed soup in 1897, changing the way Americans viewed soup and its convenience. Still the largest manufacturer of ready-to-eat and canned soups, founder Joseph A. Campbell, a fruit merchant from New Jersey, and his partner Abraham Anderson, an early icebox manufacturer, started the company in 1869 producing canned tomatoes, vegetables, jellies, soups, minced meats and condiments. It wasn't until nearly 30 years later that they first introduced condensed soups to the American public, which met with enthusiastic success as homemakers could add to the new concoction or simply try to pass it off as homemade.
Currently, Campbell's Tomato (the first soup introduced in 1897), Cream of Mushroom, and Chicken Noodle (introduced in 1934) are the most popular soups in the U.S. Americans consume a whopping 2.5 billion bowls of these three soups alone each year, not to mention the popular Cream of Mushroom used in a variety of casseroles, especially during the holiday season. The most popular ready-to-eat soups (no water added) are made by Progresso, founded in 1925, which offers their consumers a variety of choices to accommodate any lifestyle, and Lipton (best known for their teas) offers dry soup mixes which can be made into soup, added to meat loaf or mixed into dips and dressings. And of course matzo ball soup is a staple of Jewish cuisine, filling and hearty.
While Americans have never really embraced cold soups, like gazpacho (a tomato-based concoction) or Vichyssoise (cold French potato soup), other countries enjoy them especially in the warmer months. Scandinavian countries love their fruit soups, served cold as an appetizer or at the end of a meal. Across Europe, thick hearty soups, frequently called potage, have made a filling meal for large families throughout history and are an economical supper, making good
use of leftover meat scraps and veggies.
Vietnamese enjoy Pho, made primarily with beef or chicken, vegetables and noodles. A popular street food in Vietnam, many restaurants are popping up around the world featuring this simple but delicious soup as a starter or a main course. Other Asian soups are also popular, including miso, hot and sour or egg drop, and they often provide a soothing first course to a meal out. Noodles, rice and veggies can easily be used up by dropping them in a hot kettle of soup, and a few handfuls of chicken or beef make it a meal. Virtually anyone can open a can of condensed soup, add milk or water, maybe a bit of sour cream or a handful of veggies or pasta and heat. And nothing quite compares to good old Campbell's Tomato Soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, harkening back to our youth and still a favorite lunch for kids of all ages.
Whether it's a thick concoction of beans and ham hocks, a rich seafood bisque, a bowl of tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich or good old chicken noodle, nothing beats a big bowl of soup to ease pain, clear sinuses and make us feel cozy and loved. No one is judging if you raid the canned soup aisle, so go ahead and fill up your cart and keep a supply on hand. After all, it's a way of American life. Soup's on.