INTERVIEW – Sharon Hapton (Soup Sisters)

Interview conducted & written by

Sharon Hapton is the founder of Soup Sisters and Broth Brothers, a non-profit charitable social enterprise dedicated to providing comfort to women, children and youth through the making, sharing and donating of soup. Hapton’s belief in soup as a nurturing and nourishing gift for those in crisis has led to over 60,000 containers of soup delivered to women’s shelters across Canada. 

The Soup Sisters Cookbook (published by Appetite by Random House, $22.95 CDN) is a compilation of the project’s favourite recipes edited by Sharon Hapton and Calgary-based cookbook author Pierre Lamielle.  

Although at first glance this looks like a regular cookbook, the story behind it is heart warming and inspirational. Can you please give our readers a brief history of Soup Sisters?
I first started Soup Sisters in Calgary (AB) back in March of 2009, after I celebrated a milestone birthday by inviting 30 girlfriends over to my house to make soup. I asked that their only contribution be a soup recipe that I subsequently posted on the Soup Sisters website. That night we made an enormous amount of absolutely amazing soup for the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter. The results of our efforts became the inaugural batch of soup going to women and children in crisis, and I’m happy to say the project took off from there (mostly via word of mouth).

What inspired you to publish a cookbook?
Radom House emailed me! Honestly, I had no intention of ever putting together a cookbook. I had been collecting soup recipes for the website, so when Random House approached me about the possibility of publishing a book it was such a pleasant surprise!

Can you tell us about your experience putting together this book? Did you have a vision in place or was this something that evolved over time?
This book really evolved over time and with the help of some fantastic people. It was such an incredible experience! And with over 100 contributors providing recipes, The Soup Sisters Cookbook truly exemplifies the idea of a compilation. People from all over coming together for the greater good – that’s what Soup Sisters is all about! The whole process has been amazing. 

I know there were a LOT of contributors to this book, including volunteers as well as over 50 celebrity chefs and food professionals. How many recipes did you end up with and how did you narrow this list and choose the ones that would appear in the book?
We ended up with well over 100 recipes, and narrowing this list down to what appears in the book was a really difficult process. Dividing the book into seasons helped us flesh out a final list of creative and really dynamic recipes.

Including Dill Pickle Soup!
Yes indeed!

Was there a particular type of soup that large numbers of people submitted?
Squash – lots of squash! I’d have to say we received more recipes for squash soup than anything else. Chicken soups were also popular, and in the book we have included a wide variety of recipes such as Matzoh Ball, Mom’s Chicken, and a lovely Jewish Penicillin. Each of these soups are in their own rights unique and special, but what I love most about them is the multicultural element. Very indicative of the overall tone of the book.

I love the illustrations provided by Pierre (Lamielle). What a fun touch! How did he become involved in this project?
Pierre has been a volunteer chef for Soup Sisters for quite some time now, and after talking to him about the project I just knew he had to be involved in the development of this cookbook. His illustrations add whimsy and wit to every page!

Soup is often referred to as food for the soul. Were the nourishing qualities (physical, spiritual, emotional) of soup a connection you immediately made for this charity?
About a year before launching Soup Sisters I attended a fundraiser for the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, and I was so profoundly impacted by the realization that there were women and children fleeing their homes with nothing. Literally nothing. All I could think about was that maybe the night before they left they had served their family a home cooked, nourishing meal. I wanted to be there to help them nourish their family in the same way they might have done in the past. Providing these women with the opportunity to serve their family a nourishing meal allows them to know that they are still able to take care of themselves and their children, despite the turmoil going on in their lives.

Soup Sisters is now in 10 cities across the country, we hold 15 events and make approximately 8,000 bowls of soup per month. It’s incredibly inspiring to see community coming together – strangers – taking a stand against family violence and domestic abuse. Soup provides such comfort and healing warmth it really is the ultimate, tangible gift that goes so far beyond writing a cheque.

Have you always enjoyed soup? What is your favourite?
Honestly, I love making soup more than I enjoy eating it! As for my favourite, the recipe I contributed to the book (Bonnie Stern’s Mushroom, Bean & Barley) is the one I tend to make and consume the most. It’s the one I deliver regularly to friends and family, and is just so warming and nourishing. Such a comforting soup.

The book also contains some tips and useful techniques for making and storing soups. I was surprised to learn that if you stir chilling soup in the same direction it cools faster, and when freezing soup you need to leave out cream and pasta ingredients. What are you top tips for soup success?
Soup is a tasting process, so be sure to taste it while it simmers away on your stove as the flavours will mellow and deepen over time. What I love about soup is that you don’t really have to stick closely to a recipe – you can wing a batch of soup with whatever you happen to have in your fridge! 

Look at all that has transpired after your most recent milestone birthday! What will happen on your next significant day of birth?!
Honestly, I don’t know! Good thing I won’t be having any birthdays ending in a ‘0’ for a little bit so I have some time to figure it out! 

Is it true that Soup Sisters is planning an expansion into the US? Is this initiative something that you would like to see spread worldwide?
There’s a great possibility of expansion into the US and I’m currently working on the logistics of trying to make this happen. Bottom line? Every city has a shelter and so I believe the Soup Sisters concept has infinite growth potential. I love the idea of people taking care of each other this way.

For readers wanting to get more involved, what can they do? I know that events are booked up until next year!
The fact that our events across the country are fully booked until next year just goes to show that people want to help and that they believe in the idea behind Soup Sisters. For people looking to get involved, we can always use volunteers! Visit our website for more information and opportunities in your area. 

With the holiday season upon us, what are some good soup options to serve this time of year?
Keith’s Turkey Soup is the simplest, greatest soup to make over the holidays (and a good way to use up leftover turkey). Any of the puréed sweet soups are always nice to serve this time of year, such as our Butternut Squash & Apple, or Curried Squash & Coconut. Delicious! 

The Soup Sisters Cookbook is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this cookbook please visit Appetite by Random House of Canada

To read more of our interviews with professional and celebrity chefs, please visit the Sound Bites section.