There are many versions of this story. This one is mine.
Not so long ago in a village not so far from here the people had fallen into despair. Once the village had been prosperous and the villagers joyous and generous. But now times were hard and belts were tightened. No one felt as though there was enough.
One beautiful morning a stranger came striding into town pulling a small cart. He was singing a happy tune but when the villagers looked out their doors and windows and saw the stranger, they closed their doors and shuttered their windows. As he neared the center of the village someone called out to him, “Better move on stranger, there is nothing for you here.”
“Oh, no,” the stranger called back, “I ask nothing of you good people. I have come to prepare for you a magnificent meal of Stone Soup.” And saying that he resumed his song and pulled his cart toward the town square.
In the square he found the fire circle and moved the stones into position and then pulled from his cart a huge pot. No, not so much a pot as a cauldron. With care he set the pot on the stones and then began to fill it with water from the village well. When it was about two-thirds full he looked about at the half dozen villagers who had gathered to watch and said, “Oh, not so many as I thought. Perhaps this is enough.” And then pulled wood from his cart to start a fire beneath the soup pot.
Once the fire was burning well he stepped back and smiled broadly and began by saying, “I know this only looks like a pot of water warming but the secret is in this stone.” Pulling a pouch from his belt he poured out a small smooth stone. “This stone makes the most exquisite soup I have ever tasted and I assure you, you will be astounded by its flavor and aroma.” And with that he dropped the stone into the water.
Stepping back he again smiled broadly and looked around pleasantly at the villagers. Finally one of them spoke into the silence. “Good sir, how can the soup have flavor if it has no salt”?
“Ah, yes,” the stranger replied, “There is that. It is true that the flavor would be better with some salt. But, alas, I have none.” Then, after waiting a moment he turned to the villager and said, “Perhaps you may know where we might find a bit of salt for our soup?”
The villager gave a surprised shake of his head and then brightened. “Why yes,” he said, “I think I do know where we can get some salt,” and he scurried off only to return a few minutes later with a fistful of salt.
The stranger was delighted and was so enthusiastic in his gratitude that the villager beamed. The stranger said again and again how much this would improve the quality of our soup. And standing beside the villager who had brought the salt he looked about with his satisfied smile and waited for the soup to boil.
Shortly another villager spoke up. “How can the soup be thick if there are no potatoes to thicken it?”
“Ah, yes,” the stranger replied, “There is that. It is true that the soup would be richer with a few potatoes, but, alas, I have none.” Then, after waiting a moment he turned to the villager and said, “Perhaps you may know where we might find a potato or two for our soup?”
The villager gave a surprised shake of her head and then brightened. “Why yes,” she said, “I think I do know where we can get some potatoes,” and she scurried off only to return a few minutes later with a half dozen potatoes in her apron.
The stranger was delighted and was so enthusiastic in his gratitude that the villager beamed. The stranger said again and again how much this would improve the quality of our soup. And standing beside the villager who had brought the potatoes he looked about with his satisfied smile and waited for the soup to boil.
One by one the villagers made suggestions about how the soup might be improved and one by one the stranger greeted their suggestions with enthusiasm and gratitude. A bunch of carrots. A hunk of salt pork. A cabbage. It was a good thing the stranger had not filled the pot to its brim with water because it was by now almost overflowing. They all shared in the excitement as it began to boil.
Well, not quite all. Over to one side the stranger saw a young man standing dejectedly. The stranger went over to him and greeted him, “Be of good cheer, my friend, we are all about to partake of the most exquisite soup any of us has ever tasted.”
But the man remained disconsolate. “Everyone else has brought something to improve the soup but I have nothing. I have nothing to give.”
“Oh my,” said the stranger, “I am sure there is something. Do you have a chair we can use? Perhaps a table? We will need a place to sit as we enjoy our soup.”
The man brightened. “Oh, yes, I can offer those.” And he hurried off and soon returned with a small table and two chairs. Others seeing him bring them went to get theirs as well. Soon there was a long line of tables and chairs set up in the town square just as they had done so many years ago when the town was prosperous and had festivals.
A piper began to play and a girl brought out her guitar and joined along. Children danced and chased each other as the square filled. Bowls appeared and the baker brought loaves of bread. Several bottles of wine were set out and finally the stranger announced that the soup was ready and began to ladle it out.
Everyone agreed that this was a most amazing soup. It has so much flavor, was so rich, and warmed them as they ate of it.
When the last of the soup was ladled from the bottom of the pot, the stranger picked up the stone, rinsed it at the well and returned it to his pouch. A couple of villagers approached him.
“Dear Sir, you are right that this stone makes exquisite soup. You have been so generous to share it with us. We would like to buy this stone from you.”
“Oh my goodness, no,” said the stranger, “I have carried this stone a long time and each soup it makes is better than the last. I could never part with it. But let me tell you this. When I first found this stone I thought it was magic; that there was no other stone like it. But I have come to suspect that such stones are not rare. Indeed, they may even be common. If you keep a sharp eye out, you may be able to find your own stone.”
And with that he touched each of the villagers on the shoulder lovingly, hoisted the pot back onto his cart and started out of the square. They called to him to at least spend the night as it would be dark soon. But he graciously thanked them and said, “I must be on my way for there is another village down the road that is in need of the Stone Soup.”
These stones are not magic, are not so rare as we might think, indeed, they may be common. If you keep a keen eye out, you may be able to find your own stone.
[as told by Rev. Dr.Mark Lee Robinson at the Service of installation for him as Minister or Reconciliation and Evangelism at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ]