Preschoolers give thanks with 'Stone Soup'

MIDDLEBURY — “Stone soup is what you need, when you’ve got some friends to feed.” 

A chorus of 3- and 4-year-old voices sweetly sings this Pete Seeger verse while crowded around a big pot on the floor. One of them holds an immersion blender. 

“I’ll do it myself!” exclaims Bea before carefully pureeing the cooked veggies within. When the song is done, she passes the pot and blender to the next eager preschooler, and the soup-making, and singing, continues.

November at Middlebury’s Quarry Hill School is all about Stone Soup. In lieu of a conventional Thanksgiving curriculum — old-school pilgrim hats and traced-hand turkeys — the teachers and students spend the whole month immersing themselves in the classic folk tale and preparing for a big feast.  

TEACHER SU WHITE reads “Stone Soup” to the kids. All month they have been reading different version of the class folk tale, in which a clever traveler convinces an entire village to help him cook a magical soup using just one stone.

Independent photo/Megan James

The story, which has been told for centuries around the world, goes something like this: A clever but hungry traveler arrives in a village, where townsfolk are skeptical of foreigners. Each time he knocks on a door to ask for food, villagers tell him no.

So he tells them he has a recipe for a magical delicacy called “stone soup.” All he needs is a big pot and he can make some for the whole village. Intrigued, the villagers get him a pot. He tosses in a stone and some water and begins heating it over a fire. 

The soup would be even better with a carrot, he tells the villagers. Someone brings a carrot. This smells great, but what it really needs is some salt, he says. Someone brings salt. And so on and so on until the entire village has contributed something — and the resulting stone soup is enough to feed everyone. 

At Quarry Hill, kids are asked in early November to bring in one vegetable to add to their school stone soup. Then they spend the next few weeks preparing to host their families and friends at the school for a big soup party before Thanksgiving break.

JASIU MURPHY WHISPERS to Vonn Daly while he purees cooked veggies to make soup for Quarry Hill School’s annual Stone Soup party.

Independent photo/Megan James

Longtime teacher Su White can’t recall precisely when the Stone Soup tradition started at Quarry Hill. 

“We used to do classic Thanksgiving,” she says. “Not with the turkey. But we used to have a feast, and we called it a Thanksgiving feast.” 

And then one year, after reading “Stone Soup” to the kids, the teachers came across a big spoon and a big pot. 

“We realized that ‘Stone Soup’ really speaks to what these kids are learning about,” White says. “Which is sharing, helping each other out, and being part of a larger community.” 

Over the years, the curriculum has grown. This year kids spent the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving chopping vegetables, baking bread, churning butter, grinding corn for cornmeal, and pureeing their soup. 

They also read every version of the “Stone Soup” story they could find — including stories that take place in China, Mexico and other places around the world. They honed writing skills by creating hand-drawn menus and soup party invitations for their parents. They put on puppet shows, adorned stones with glitter, and painted other party decorations.

MANY LITTLE HANDS make light work of kneading this bread dough, which will become rolls for Quarry Hill’s annual Stone Soup party.

Independent photo/Megan James 

When the big day arrived, they got to show off their work to the people they love. Parents and friends crowded into the little red schoolhouse, sat in a circle that spanned the whole classroom, and sang songs together before digging into the feast. 

“It’s really, really fun, and it culminates with everyone being here together,” says White. “What could be better?”

Click here to watch our video about Quarry Hill's Stone Soup tradition.


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