The protagonist of Knut Hamsun’s 1890 semi-autobiographical novel Hunger wanders the streets of Kristiania (now Oslo) in search of love and bread. But he neither attracts women nor manages to scrape together enough money to purchase a crust. Instead, he wanders aimlessly, stopping now and then to rest on a park bench and in order to hastily write an article for the local newspaper that he hopes will earn him an øre or two.
Yet his hunger is such that it impedes even these few scattered thoughts. Hamsun’s protagonist more often than not merely wanders distractedly, watching people pass him in the street — people who, he thinks, seem as delirious with dreams of food as he is himself. At one point he passes a butcher’s stall where “a woman stood speculating on sausage for dinner.” When she looks up at him he sees a mouth adorned with a single tooth, a “long yellow snag,” her gaze “still full of sausage.”
Hunger‘s protagonist reaches his lowest point when he begs a bone off a butcher, but finds he cannot eat the scant few pieces of meat that cling to it. “There was no light to be seen anywhere,” he says, “only blessed darkness all around me; and I began to gnaw at the bone [but] [i]t had no taste; a rank smell of blood oozed from it, and I was forced to vomit almost immediately.”
But as much as his hunger torments him, it also fuels his creative energies. Once after being arrested for vagrancy, Hamsun’s protagonist sits in the dark of his jail cell meditating, faint from inanition. Out of the darkness comes a word: Kuboa. This word, he claims, is of “profound import”; only his incessant, gnawing hunger allows him to recognize it. “I sit with open eyes, amazed at my own find, and laugh for joy,” he proclaims. “I intended to keep my discovery a secret. I entered into the joyous frenzy of hunger. I was empty and free from pain, and I gave free reign to my thoughts.”
Creative inspiration sometimes comes from surprising places. The protagonist of Hamsun’s Hunger shows us that strangest visions do not necessarily come from bellies well fed. But should you wish for a belly full of soup instead of a mind full of visions , try this recipe for soup stock from the 1909 Mendelssohn Club Cook Book — and make sure the soup bones you use bear ample chunks of meat.
Exactness in cooking removes the danger of failure. Recipes should be exactly copied. The skeleton of soups must be accurate, but more seasoning or more thickening may be added to suit the individual taste.
Soups should be brought to the boiling point and then pushed back on the stove to simmer, as boiled soups are greasy and muddy. Seasonings are important. Winter vegetables, such as turnips, carrots, celery and onions should be kept on hand for soup; also sweet herbs, including thyme, savory, marjoram, bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves, all spice berries, stick cinnamon, dry tarragon leaves, browning, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, with, additions of salt, pepper and parsley are essentials for soup stocks. Flour, cornstarch, arrowroot, fine tapioca, sago, pearl barley, rice, bread or eggs are added to give consistency and nourishment to the soups.
Vegetables and seasonings should be added the last hour.
In getting meat from the market, have bone and meat cut into small pieces. When ready to start soup, put meat and bone in soup kettle, cover well with cold water. Let stand 1 hour to draw out juices; heat gradually to boiling point; set on back of stove and let simmer 6 to 7 hours. This will form stock for many kinds of soup.
To clear soup stock: Add white of an egg or washed egg shells (2 or 3) to cold strained stock and bring to a boil slowly. Then remove from fire and strain through flannel cloth.