From the swamp lands of old Mobile come many things and in today’s time, the area once known as Wragg Swamp has a couple of indoor malls, corridors of commercial buildings, parking lots and strip malls, the new Red Cross building and a softball complex scattered among many neighborhoods. Being flat, the land once was a fertile place to grow vegetables and crops year round, long before ‘civilization’ arrived into the area. And before it was first plowed, before the swamp and bog-like area filled in with vegetation and soil, it was a haven for outlaws, bandits and misguided folks. The land dubbed its name for George Wragg, a native of Manchester, England who established himself in Mobile by 1840. He built a series of water driven mills in the marshy lands west of Mobile, hence, Wragg Swamp. It is also recorded in the 1869 Mobile City Directory that he was in the wholesale grocery business at 61 N. Water Street.
The recipe today honors this rich, swamp land and pays homage to the folklore of peasant style soups known as stone, rock or in this case rag. As folklore goes, a soup of this caliber is nothing more than a potluck version of homemade goodness. Because of the varying of ingredients, the pot takes on the flavor of whatever one fancies in giving. My soup today, despite the photos, should be titled Dirty Wragg Soup, as that is really its true color, but I thought that a bit much.
Now if you do not know the folklore of this soup, it varies from country and custom and is the oldest form of self-preservation I know. The jest of it goes something like this: Nearly at starvation, a family (or trio) comes upon a village begging for food. Turned away, they resort to making a soup using nothing but a rag (stone or rock). After awhile, they delightfully acclaim how wonderful their soup taste, but it seems missing something. Overhearing this, one villager then offers a piece of meat. Later, another offers carrots. And sometime later another passerby throws in a few potatoes. Before long, the pot is filled to the top with the best soup the village has ever tasted. Of course, the lesson of this tale is when times are tough, we must live with what we have and sharing certainly goes a long way.
4 to 6 servings
4 to 6 boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite size pieces
Creole or kitchen seasoning mix
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
2 potatoes, diced
1 -15 ounce can great northern beans
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed thyme
1 tablespoon dried parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Coat the chicken as desired with the Creole seasoning. We like a lot and I think that is what gave the soup a dirty look. Add the oil to a large saucepan and when hot, sauté the chicken until seared on all sides. Add the celery, onion and carrots and cook until the onions are soft. Add the chicken stock and bring to a low simmer. Add the potatoes, beans and seasonings. When simmer returns, reduced heat to low and cook about 20 minutes.
Ladle soup into bowls over a little cooked rice.