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I was surprised by the added stone in the soup of this question:

"Also, for irony, a large (cleaned) stone is always left in the pot"

What would be the reason for this? For the minerals in the stone? As far as I know, minerals do not infuse water directly out of a stone.

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In Denmark we have a fairy tale/folklore telling the story of a woman being fooled by a salesman showing how to cook soup on a stone. My guess is that - it is - for the irony. – Henrik Hansen Feb 8 '12 at 9:25
I guess it's customary and of no nutritional value, unless you're a lithovore – Mischa Arefiev Feb 8 '12 at 9:32
Your education must have been lacking, the story of the stone soup is one the many classics young children are meant to have read to them by their parents so as to understand life. It appears in most cultures. A quick internet search will enlighten you! – TFD Feb 8 '12 at 10:26
The 'for irony' bit suggests it's tradition, based on the children's story Henrik Hansen mentions. – ElendilTheTall Feb 8 '12 at 11:57
The answer is in the text of your question -- "for irony." – Sean Hart Feb 8 '12 at 18:26
up vote 30 down vote accepted

There's an old children's story about making Stone Soup. In it, a penniless begger offers to teach people how to make his favorite recipe: soup, made from a stone! He boils some water and drops a stone in, and while it's "cooking", keeps mentioning offhand things like "It'd go great with some carrots" or "Celery would be lovely in this". The townspeople rush off and get celery, carrots, potatoes, onions, and the like to add to the soup, until eventually, they've made proper soup in his pot along with the stone. So basically, the whole "stone soup" thing was a clever con game by which the begger can eat for free (or, in kinder versions than the one I recall, to trick the townspeople into learning a lesson about sharing).

The stone adds nothing to the soup.

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I didn't know the story, so it's clear now. – BaffledCook Feb 8 '12 at 14:45
-1 Your summary is VERY wrong, it is not about a clever con, it about sharing and caring – TFD Feb 8 '12 at 20:17
@TFD There are apparently many versions of the story. – Yamikuronue Feb 8 '12 at 20:18
"The stone adds nothing to the soup." Unless it's rock salt! – Spice Sherpa Feb 9 '12 at 16:59
I also heard this story - but in that version the beggar only visited one house, eating soup, then selling the stone for its great soup-making properties and moving along. (So yes, it's definitely about a clever con. TFD is VERY wrong. :P ) – ver Feb 14 '12 at 6:25

The version of the story that many Americans know comes from the book Stone Soup, in which three weary soldiers enter a village and convince the suspicious villagers to share their supplies by showing them how to make soup from stones. A big pot, some water, and three smooth stones is all you need for the soup, but it's much better if you add vegetables, meat, some milk, salt and pepper, etc. In the book, the villagers end up putting on a great feast and having a wonderful time, and the implied lesson for children is that it's more fun to share what you have for everybody's benefit than to keep your cabbages and barley hidden in the cellar.

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I learned this trick from an old friend of my Grandmother more than 50 years ago. She put three rounded stones in the pot when cooking soup so they would move about and stop the vegetables and grains from settling and burning on the bottom of the pot. Molly did all of her cooking on a wood/coal fired oven. Many people of my Mother's generation used to put glass marbles in the pan when making Jams or conserves for the same reason.

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I've heard of people heating stones to put into the soup to heat the water. Thanks for the input Jerome. – BaffledCook Feb 9 '12 at 8:54
+1 for the only practical answer that doesn't involve a parable. – Carey Gregory Sep 7 '12 at 19:33

There is also a french dish called "potée" that take a stone in the pot, this is suppose to mash ingredients with the boiling movement and provide a particular texture. So maybe it's the original mixer

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I imagine it comes from this.

Parable of Stone Soup

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I grew up being told a stone was used in the soup or stew while the food was being cooked. This was a method used to keep the food in the pot hot for a while longer.

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I came to the question from trying to find the best kinds of soup stones to add minerals to stews etc. I know that Italians have a tradition of putting marble into their wells to add minerals to the water, and I know that cooking vegetables releases acids from the old habit of putting bicarbonate of soda in with peas etc. I have observed the disintegration of bones used to add body to stews. It is plausible that sea shells would perform this function, and I know that granite dust is used to provide trace elements in agriculture. So stones may do more than tell you when your pot has gone dry.

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