BOLIVAR — It all started with a dream.
Harpers Ferry chiropractor Alissa Harris keeps track of her nightly visions in a dream journal. Recently, she had a dream that inspired her to act.
“From this dream, I figured out that part of my role is giving good food to people,” Harris said.
What resulted is a program that supports local agriculture, teaches healthy cooking, offers tasty meals and nourishes needy families.
Souper Natural Kitchen, which is held on the last Tuesday of each month at the Bolivar Community Center, offers instruction on everything from gathering wild foods to cooking staple meals, then serves a dinner accompanied by music, all for a $15 fee that goes toward provisioning needy families with foods that are locally grown and raised.
The simple meals of soup and bread are conceived by chef Elizabeth Gallery, who previously owned Stone Soup Bistro in Shepherdstown.
“Soup and bread is like a childhood memory,” Gallery said. “I look at food as nurturing.”
Additionally, it’s a menu that works year-round, with warm, hearty soups sustaining diners in the chilly months, and cold, brisk soups bringing refreshment when it’s warm.
“I’ve been cooking for 12 years,” Gallery said. “I have a portfolio of soups. Then I just follow the seasons.”
That means that when tomatoes are bountiful in August, the meal will center on gazpacho. In spring, when early wild foods sneak into the undergrowth, foragers like Gallery will collect ramps.
“West Virginia is bountiful with ramps,” she said. “I’ll go out and get them myself. I’ve got a couple of secret spots.”
The first event was in January, and involved making broth from bones, a time-honored method of getting every drop of nutrition from a cut of meat. Afterward, the meal centered on butternut squash soup that was built on a base of beef broth, accompanied by textural, sprouted grain bread made by local baker, Joan Douglas.
About 40 people attended, and most of the $500 raised will go toward buying beef for local families in need. Harris said her group is working with regional social services agencies and schools to determine recipients.
Grass-fed beef will come from Roxley Farm in Kearneysville. Potatoes come from Blue Morning Farm in Shepherdstown. All of the ingredients will be locally sourced. “It’s not coming from big business,” Harris said.
“I focus on the seasons and try to make it fun,” Gallery said. The 45-minute cooking classes will be as entertaining as they are informational, she said.
At this month’s dinner, set for Feb. 28, Gallery will explain how sprouting beans increases their nutrition by making them more digestible. In March, she aims to dispel the myth that all fats are bad, with a class in good fats that concludes with chicken gumbo cooked from poultry raised at Back Creek Bend Farm in Kearneysville.
Other classes will concentrate on folk remedies, preserving foods and even composting with worm beds.
Once Souper Natural Kitchen is established in Bolivar, Gallery said the plan is to build a model and spread the program to other communities..
Classes are limited to 30 participants, and tickets are available at Dish Restaurant in Charles Town; Grapes and Grains and Mellow Moods in Shepherdstown; and Canal House and Harpers Ferry Chiropractic in Harpers Ferry.
Or, visitors can access Souper Natural Kitchen’s Facebook page and order tickets using PayPal, Harris said.
As a medical professional, Harris sees nutrition as a vehicle for preventing disease. “People get sick and a big part of that is they’re not eating real food,” she said. A diet based on processed foods, refined sugars and preservatives isn’t healthy.
Harris said she sees patients whose discomforts are based as much on what they’re trying to digest as on any musculoskeletal problem that she can adjust.
Gallery said she hopes the classes will inspire cooks to get in the kitchen. Soup is such a flexible vehicle, allowing nearly any assortment of ingredients, and that can be started in the morning and nearly forgotten about all day.
“Put it on in the morning, and come back to it in the evening,” she said.