The weather was pitch-perfect for soup-making on Sunday, gray, raw and ceaselessly raining, unfit for venturing out once we rolled in from visiting our friends in the snowy ex-dairylands south of Cooperstown, N.Y.

I'd scored a bunch of long-eared black kale from a bucket at a place called Good Cheap Food in the village of Delhi, not far from the headwaters of the Delaware River.

I'd already stockpiled a few Kennebec baking potatoes from Earl Livengood, the lanky, day-stand farmer at the Reading Terminal Market.

In the freezer - freshly procured from my father-in-law's favorite butcher shop in a Cleveland suburb - were packages of spicy Hungarian kielbasa.

And in a plastic tub right above them were at least four cups of rich, cloudy turkey stock my wife had coaxed (after hours of simmering) from a bountiful pre-Thanksgiving bird.

It didn't take long to realize that, serendipitously, all the ingredients were at hand for a good pot of

caldo verde

, the rustic Portuguese soup.

I was a happy camper, setting about the task - rendering the sausage, tossing in a diced onion and some garlic, then the chunked potatoes, and the dark, shredded kale, the stock, and a secret spoonful of balsamic vinegar.

There is a satisfying concreteness and sensuousness about soup-making - the chopping on the block; the stirring with a long wooden spoon; the bubbling going on long and lazy; the aroma, finally, stretching and rousing itself.

This is what soup was meant to be, the product of gleaning from the pantry, an inventory of real flavors, a pot in the transformative act of becoming something far more than the sum of its parts.

On the same page as a lovely carrot-orange soup recipe in the

Silver Palate Cookbook

you will find a bit of kitchen wisdom: "Soup," it says, "is cuisine's kindest course."

Or so, by rights, it should be.

That my particular pot of

caldo verde

, then, was coming together in the midst of a so-called soup war seemed perverse, bordering on profane. But that is the state things are in; and a sorry state it is.

This year's soup season arrived with an untypical vengeance, more suited to visions not of soothing cups of soup in the kitchen as, well, of soup kitchens.

It's going to be a harder, colder world for a while. And if that boosted the fortunes of soup in general- tomato, potato, or chicken - it had the look of pure windfall for one sector: the makers of Factory Soup.

This did not lead to a share-and-share-alike moment: Campbell's and Progresso started going at it, taking a page from the attack ads and gotcha ethos of the campaign season.

In full-page ads in this newspaper, the New York Times, and other media outlets, they called each other, to borrow a phrase from one candidate, "everything but a child of God."

Campbell's (over a photo of Progresso's chicken noodle): "Made with MSG." Then (over its own brand) "Made with TLC."

Progresso: "Campbell's has 95 soups made with MSG."

Campbell's: "We make more soups


MSG than anyone else even makes soups."

And so on. Did not! Did too! Did not! Yo mama. . . .!

In the trade they call this "comparative advertising," and as much fun as it may be for the shops that get to make the ads, that's a misnomer: "Attack ads" would be closer.

Even better: "Diversionary marketing."

You lag in the polls? Holler that other guy has been "palling around with terrorists." (In the soup wars, MSG - monosodium glutamate - plays the role of Bill Ayers.)

If you fixate on MSG, one of the more-easily maligned flavor enhancers (though that stuff about Chinese-food headaches is apparently unsubstantiated) maybe you'll forget to check (1) the still-shocking sodium contents (most cups of Campell's


Progresso tomato soup weigh in at more than 40 percent of your recommended daily salt intake); (2) the still-surprising levels of high-fructose corn syrup in some soups; (3) what's available in your own cupboard and from your foraging.

The ad campaign is premised, of course, on data that show more Americans nesting; eating more meals at home and, understandably, budget meals to boot.

It's a scenario - and a season - made for soup.

Indeed. My own pot was earthy and steaming and satisfying to the core.

And I didn't need to read a label to find out what was in it. Or for that matter, what wasn't.

Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or Read his recent work at