Tag Archives: stone soup

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.

Soup on a Nail

Folk Piece

“This story is called Soup on a Nail. It’s an old Norwegian folk story. OK, so the story goes that there’s this village and there’s this woman in the village that’s known as being very miserly. She doesn’t give at all to the poor, she’s very very selfish, um, and things like that.

So one night a man comes and knocks on her door and he’s a beggar. He’s really really poor. And he says “Um, excuse me, is there any way you can spare me maybe just a pot of soup or something. I’m so so hungry,” and she says, “Absolutely not, I hate beggars. Just please go away.” And he says, “Oh, well, could I possibly just have some water. Maybe you don’t even have any water but that’s OK.” She says, “Oh, of course I have water” and he says “Ok let me come in and just boil the water,” and she says “Ok fine”.

So she lets him come in and he boils the water and he says “Now this soup tastes pretty incredible if you just have some bone marrow but you probably don’t have any bone marrow or anything like that.” And she says, “Of course I do, what are you talking about?” and gives him the bone marrow.

So he takes the bone marrow and he mixes it in —

OH and I forgot to mention earlier the point of this story is that he says “I can make soup on a nail; all you need for this soup is one nail,” and she says “Ok, I have a nail, take it.” Not like a fingernail, like a nail for the wall. So he puts the nail at the bottom of a pan then boils the water and then adds the bone marrow.

Then he’s like “You know what works really well with this whole mixture? If you just have some vegetables. I know you might not have some vegetables and they’re hard to come by, not many people have them.” She says, “Well of course *I* have vegetables.” So she gives him the vegetables and he mixes this in.

And this goes on and on, like he adds meat, all these different things and flavors to this soup, and makes this really delicious soup, and in the end he says “There! I’ve made soup on a nail!” And he takes it away, and she’s given him a meal without realizing it. It’s about, like, it’s not that hard to give to people, and it’s bad to miserly and selfish and not give to the poor.


Background information

“It was taught to me by my grandmother, and i haven’t heard it since I was maybe five.” The informant said she doesn’t know why she remembers the tale so well, but it always stuck with her. Her grandmother told a lot of tales to them when they were kids, and always tried to impart wisdom through fun stories. She likes the story because charity is something she’s believed in her entire life.



Informant: “This story would probably be told to a small child. Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of a simple story and isn’t too long or anything, and um, like teaches good lessons, so yeah. I know my grandma is the one that taught me it, but I wouldn’t tell the story to my friend or something, yeah.”



Tales are often told to children to teach them lessons, and there’s no lesson more important than the golden rule: treat people the way you would like to be treated. The informant comes from a family that is generally wealthy, but she says that her grandmother did not grow up with as much. In telling this story, her grandmother is teaching her that not only is it important to help those less fortunate than you, but also that it is not that difficult.

In the story itself, the rich woman is described as selfish and rude. She also can’t see what the beggar is doing despite the listener being able to pick up on it fairly quickly. It was interesting hearing the voices that the informant gave the characters in the story, which can not be translated over text. The tone of the woman was snobby and rude, while the beggar was cunning and shifty. Without this intonation, one might read this story as the woman acting like a complete and total fool for no reason, but with the tone that the informant used, it’s revealed that it is the need to display her wealth and capabilities that makes the woman susceptible to the trap.

Hearing tales like this are always interesting to me, because I was never told many tales as a kid. However, my mom would use folklore to instill the values of being kind to others, and helping those less fortunate than I am, but it was typically done through proverbs.

I researched this story a little bit further, and found out that I actually had known this tale all along, despite thinking it was brand new. The variation that I am used to is called ‘Stone Soup’, and I believe I learned it in school growing up. Other than its title, the story is almost exactly the same. It’s interesting that even a change as simple as one word can lead to such different recollections of stories and tales.

For one of the most popular variants, which includes a group of tricksters gathering ingredients for a soup that does not even exist, you can check out the book Stone Soup by Marcia Brown.

Brown, Marcia. Stone Soup: An Old Tale. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1947. Print.