Nail Soup

Basically, it’s about this homeless man, who, all he has in his pocket is a nail, right? So he’s walking around trying to get help from people and like ask them for food, cause he’s like all out on the street it’s like nighttime he’s hungry and he’s alone. So he goes to, door to door, and is just like “Hi can I have something to eat, Hi can I have something to eat,” and everybody shuts him out and then he get sup to this woman, and he knocks on her door and she wants him to get away, and then he tells her, um  … “I bet I can cook you the most delicious soup you’ve ever had with just this nail,” it’s just a metal nail, right? And she’s like, like “I don’t believe you” and he’s like “just let me try,” and so she does. So he walks inside, and he goes into her kitchen, and he gets a pot and fills it up with water, and he puts it in and it’s boiling, and he puts the nail in, and she sits down and they just start talking a little bit about themselves, but she’s still a little wary cause she doesn’t know, and as he’s cooking he’s just smelling it, and tasting it, and he’s like “mmm, this is really coming together”, and then he’s just like “ but you know what would go really good with this if you really wanna make this a great nail soup is some carrots.” And, so she’s like, “I have some carrots,” and so she pulls out the carrots and they cook it together and chop it up, put some carrots in the soup with the um, nail, and as he goes through he’s like, “You know, some celery would just make this great,” and after adding a couple more vegetables, potatoes, celery, obvious, all that stuff, um, he… talks to her and he’s just like, “You know, I’m getting really hungry. The best thing that you can do is just to like, dip some bread in the soup, and then it’s so good.” And so she pulls out this big loaf of bread, she’s like, “I have bread here,” and so she breaks the bread with him and they eat, dippin’ in together, and he, um … and they’re like having this great time, and he’s just like, “This always remind me of the times I used to eat nail soup and just have a nice glass of red wine,” so she pulls out the red wine, she pours them some glasses and she’s having a wonderful time with him, and they’re just talking about their history together and he’s like “Ok, soup is done!” And he slips the nail out, puts it back in his pocket, and then he brings the soup down, and they share the meal, and she’s like “I had such a lovely dinner with you, and it was just such a lovely meal, you should come back some time to make me nail soup,” and then they leave.

Background: This informant recalls being told this story as a child by her mother, who is Lebanese. She remembers not being able to spend much time with her mother, but each night hearing a children’s story before bed. She cites it as a Polish folk story. For them, it is a story about compassion and sharing, and the joy that comes with it. This informant has previously related to me that the sharing of food is very important to them, as well as important in Lebanese culture.

Context: This piece was collected during a conversation about childhood stories had on the inflatable mattress in our apartment living room.

My thoughts: When I was told this story, I half-remembered hearing a similar tale during my own childhood. Upon further research, I realized that the version I had been told was the “Stone Soup” oikotype, in which a stone takes the place of the nail. I agree very much with my informant’s assessment of the meaning of this tale. I’d be interested in learning more about why the soup in each version of the story starts with the ingredient it starts with.

For another version of this tale, see the following:

Yeats, William Butler (2010). The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats Vol II: The Plays. New York City: Simon & Schuster. pp. 109–119. ISBN 978-1439105764.