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Vegetables in soup -- ah, so fine

Just when we thought summer had arrived, record-breaking rains hit much of the Northeast. My own garden received 9 inches of precipitation in 72 hours, far more than either I or the plants wanted.

One consolation, of course, is that it did fill the reservoirs. It also provided ideal weather for hearty, warming soup - and my wife responded accordingly.

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We enjoy soup and occasionally make a meal of the more hearty types (some might call them vegetable stews), particularly when accompanied by home-baked bread that has just come out of the oven.

We grew to appreciate soups and stews as our garden progressed. Most food gardeners feel the same way for the simple reason that they accommodate the excesses and the shortfalls of harvest the way no others do.

How often does the garden produce more than enough for one meal but too little for two? The excess can go into that section of the refrigerator that's reserved for ''soup greens.'' In the food gardener's lexicon, ''soup greens'' include carrots, parsnips, potatoes, turnips, broccoli, onions, green beans, tomatoes, zucchini -- indeed, every vegetable that comes in from the garden.

Last year we grew more lettuce than summer salads could accommodate, so some of the excess was added to the soup. Sacrilege! you say. Not when the alternative is the compost heap.

So long as the vine squash borer is kept in check, there isn't a garden I know of that doesn't produce an excess of summer squash. It fits into any soup recipe and, when blended, the squash turns into a liquid of substance that makes a great base for soup or stew.

And who doesn't produce more tomatoes than can be readily consumed fresh?

Recently, I reread ''A Feast of Soups,'' by Jacqueline Heriteau (Dial Press, New York), and again felt the warm glow of comfort that comes to any gardener who knows that full use of the garden's produce is assured.

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How many folks make use of the thinnings that come from the garden - the beets, carrots, turnips, lettuce, kohlrabi, etc., that have to be removed because they are crowding the row? Few people do anything more than discard them. To Ms. Heriteau they belong - where else? - in that most accommodating pot in the kitchen, the soup pot.

In her 12-chapter book, Ms. Heriteau has devoted the seventh chapter to ''soups my garden taught me.'' As a gardener herself she knows all about the problems of overproductivity and underproductivity which seem to be a regular part of home gardening. As she puts it: ''The vegetable soups in this chapter are different, quite able to accommodate the garden's plan, productivity, and season. Most of the recipes can take quite a bit of creative adjustment.''

Creative adjustment is the term I like best. In my experience these everything-goes-into-the-pot soups are generally the most flavorful.

Ms. Heriteau suggests that folks always go out into the garden with two pails: one to collect the weeds that go on the compost heap; the other to accept the thinnings, trimmings, etc., that are destined for the soup pot.

The story is told of the housewife who made the best-tasting gravy in town. The reason was readily detected if you went into her kitchen around dinnertime. All the vegetables would boil furiously for much longer than the recipe books suggested. The results were some pretty ''blah'' vegetables, but some of the greatest-tasting cooking water you could find anywhere. Some of that water went into the gravy.

That story hints at why soup is such a delectable dish. All the goodness and flavor the vegetables lose when they're boiled stay around for the diner to enjoy.

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