Mt. Airy's 'Souperbowl' helping feed area's needy

by Len Lear
Posted 3/11/21

West Mt. Airy attorney, songwriter and civic activist Debra Wolf Goldstein and her husband, Jay, former president of Valley Green Bank, have a unique way of fighting the winter doldrums.

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Mt. Airy's 'Souperbowl' helping feed area's needy

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West Mt. Airy attorney, songwriter and civic activist Debra Wolf Goldstein and her husband, Jay, former president of Valley Green Bank, have a unique way of fighting the winter doldrums. Every February for the past seven years, they have hosted the “Souperbowl.” Goldstein, who is also co-founder (with Alexandra Diagne) of the non-profit Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival, insists that “it’s a fun way to throw a lively party, feed a crowd and create a little friendly competition. A dozen or so guests sign up to bring homemade pots of soup to our house and set them up in crockpots in the dining room or on burners on the stove.”

Chefs label their soups with creative names like Get Your Freek On, A Fungus Amongus or Hell of a Himalayan, but labels don’t indicate chefs’ identities; it’s a blind tasting. Other guests bring appetizers, breads or desserts, and the hosts supply wine, beer and ample tequila. After an hour of mingling in front of a fire, eating and drinking, everyone present gets down to souper business. 

Ballots in hand, guests crowd around the soups, trying bowlfuls of each soup and selecting their top three. “Jay then gathers the ballots and calculates scores,” Debra said, “like Price Waterhouse at the Oscars.” Prizes such as kitchen gadgets or cookbooks are awarded for “Most Creative Name” and second and third place soups. The winning soup-maker gets a round of applause, a gift certificate to a local restaurant and a big bronze trophy (with his/her name eventually engraved on a plaque on the front). In addition to bragging rights, the winner gets to keep the trophy cup on his/her mantel until the following year’s potluck. 

“We’ve had a few repeat top chefs who said they experiment all year to perfect their recipes,” said Debra, “duplicate soup entries (one year we had three lentil soups), some grousing (is it really fair to offer fancy extras such as truffle oil for drizzling?) and even had to change the party’s original name from 'What A Crock' after controversy erupted when the top-scoring dish, although indeed made in a crockpot, was disqualified because it wasn’t 'soup.' It was pulled pork!”

Last year, Mark Perry of Wyndmoor won with his tasty “Kicken Chicken Caliente.” Little did those present realize that this party in late February of 2020 would be the last big social gathering most of them would be able to attend for over a year.

Although this year a big party obviously was out of the question, the Goldsteins came up with a clever way for the show to go on, albeit with a pandemic-aware twist. They would still make soup, but instead of gathering to slurp and make merry, they would donate it all to a local non-profit that welcomes homemade prepared foods, Caring for Friends.

Formerly known as Aid for Friends, the Northeast Philadelphia-based organization is a food bank and delivery service that provides food and friendship to homebound, disabled and medically needy residents of the entire five-county region.

The call to action went out on Evite, and a dozen soup-makers volunteered. Others chose to donate money directly to the non-profit. “I dropped off plastic pint containers, lids and labels supplied by the food bank and picked up soups a week later,” said Debra. “People contributed almost 50 pints of hearty winter soups, such as lentil, white bean and kale, and Greek lemon chicken. For some folks, this will be their only hot meal of the day. This year’s soup donation drive turned out to be the perfect recipe to stave off the winter doldrums.”

Colleen Christian of Chestnut Hill, one of the souper contributors, told us, “The variety of contributed soups was inspiring, as was the chance to compare notes with other chefs, but the real gift was for all of us to reach out of the narrow worlds we are living in during these Covid times and to give soup to others. My whole family was involved in preparing and packaging our contribution.”

Lesley Seitchik of Mt. Airy, another souper contributor, said, “Who could refuse this creative, resourceful idea? Plastic containers and labels delivered by Debra (to Caring for Friends) were filled with different kinds of soup. I was thrilled to be a part of this initiative.”

John Broderick, a spokesman for Caring for Friends, told us, “Debra is fantastic! We are so appreciative. It's great to have people like this in the world.”

For more information, visit caringforfriends.org or call 215-464-2224. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com.

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