Experiment #6: Before Dinner Soup

Let’s set the stage.

You’re two courses into your Fancy Dinner Party for Fancy Ladies Who Have Never, Ever Licked Mayonnaise from a Fast-Food Wrapper and working on the third—the soup course—when your nemesis, Rhodelia Gobnoggle, chokes on a spoonful and adjusts her live peacock hat in horror.

“Is something wrong?” you ask. You taste the soup. It seems fine.

"Oh, nothing’s wrong,” she sneers. “Provided you’re comfortable eating a dinner soup before dinner.”

The ladies gasp. The string quartet stalls. The peacock molts contemptuously.

You swallow your mortal shame and know—you should have listened to Eugenia.

This week’s recipe comes to us courtesy of Eugenia Reid Gudger. It’s a soup with that sophisticated, Ladies’-Aid touch that only a dash of Pepsi can bring. It’s a soup that’s chock full of tomato-y goodness and green peaness.

It’s a soup that knows its place in the culinary canon. Prepare ye the way of the BEFORE DINNER SOUP.

As always, we must first encounter the man behind the woman behind the soup, the incomparably named Vonno Lamar Gudger Jr. (D-NC) who is sadly a Congressman and not a second-generation evil magician.

He’s also low-key adorable. Lamar looks almost exactly like cartoon Ed Asner from Disney’s Up! Just look at that side-by-side comparison:

Disney®: super chill about copyright and fair use since 1923.

Born in Asheville, NC, in 1919, Lamar (may I call you Vonno?) served North Carolina’s 11th congressional district from 1977 to 1981. As did so many other men of his (Certified Greatest) generation, the Gudge served in the Army Air Corps during WWII and returned home with a Meat-Ration-calibrated taste for his sweetheart's atomic-age food. He served a single term in the North Carolina house in 1951–52, then worked as a lawyer until his second stint in the state senate in the 1970s.

Once elected to the House of Representatives, Von the Mon sponsored a hefty slate of environmental legislation, including bills to designate the Trail of Tears as a National Historic Trail and to establish a Mountain Experience Center in western North Carolina.

...okay, so The Gudge sponsored 20 bills in total, none of which became law. But he did co-sponsor an awful lot of bills (also conservation-focused) including one that designated September 18, 1980, "Constantino Brumidi Day” (ironically, this became law on September 19, leading us to wonder if Constantino Brumidi, a Capitol-favored fresco painter, was ever duly celebrated).

"I came here to paint cherubs and drop the cheddar biscuits off at Table 12, and I'm all out of cheddar biscuits." 
—Constantino Brumidi

Gudger also sponsored H.J.Res.109 to amend the Constitution to mandate balanced budgets and eliminate the national debt, because Gudger knew that the largest economy in the world requires exactly the same approach as an Asheville law firm.

After losing his 1980 reelection campaign, V. Lamar settled down in Buncombe County as a special superior court judge and started a law firm with his son, Vonno Lamar “Butch” Gudger III, in 1998.

As you might expect from a man who chose to call himself "Butch" with the given name VONNO LAMAR, L'il Gudge was disbarred for embezzlement (among other minor infractions) in 2016.

Eugenia was spared the embarrassment, as she died in 2013. But we like to think of Butch Gudger whipping up his mom's canned aperitif whenever he's in the mood for some liquid nostalgia.

Just not for dinner. He may be an embezzler, but he's not a philistine.

Step 1. Gather your concentrated beef water

Ceci n'est pas une Hamm's. 

This soup has four ingredients, and all of them are shelf-stable. If you're willing to go without the lemon [froot points!], they're bomb-shelter-stable.

This was one of the first recipes we made from the cookbook, so we hadn't yet realized the Hamm's was necessary. But Liz is a real whiz with Microsoft Paint, so it's kind of like they were there all along. 

Step 2. Open your cans and—wait, green pea soup?

In addition to beef consommé and canned vegetal tears, Eugenia's recipe calls for "green pea soup." We’d never heard of this soup before, and it was nearly impossible to find. None of the grocery stores in the metro proper carried it. Luckily, Campbell’s has an Arcane Soup Locator on their website.

...We know what you’re thinking, and no, Campbell’s isn’t sponsoring us. Based on the number of recipes in this book that call for unfashionable condensed soups, I think it’s safe to say we’re sponsoring them.

But we'll save you some clicks: this soup is literally only available at Wal-Mart.

The color of a Great Value® 

Horror-film lighting aside (thanks, LED bike lamps!), this soup has exactly the texture and color of supermarket wasabi paste. And somehow over 500 calories per can.

BONUS: once you factor in the Other Cans, the soup has a whopping 7,410 miligrams of sodium (7.4 grams! We moved the decimal so you don’t have to!), so it doubles as an organ brine.

Step 3. Add Pepsi because reasons

We suspect we should be making a Kendall Jenner joke here, but we're not entirely sure who he is. Write in and supply one of your own. 

The final step of this recipe—recipe being a generous term for "open some cans and pour them in a feeding trough"—is to add some Pepsi "to cut tart taste."

We’re not entirely sure what Eugenia was going for here. While this soup certainly has a…taste, we’re not sure we’d go for “tart” first. If it weren’t for the green pea (and the Pepsi), this would just be an exceptionally thin, salty Bloody Mary. Even the consommé fits—a friend of Liz’s used to bartend at a TGIFriday’s and insists beef boullion is key to a good Mary.

We kept adding Pepsi to the pot, hoping naively that it would be the catalyst for some pre-meal magic, but it wasn't really discernible. We recommend pouring the Pepsi into an elegant ceramic carafe instead so your guests can add more at the table.

Final verdict: This is by no means the worst thing we've made, but it's also not terribly appetizing. The pea soup is the only interesting part of the dish, and it's "interesting" in the vein of a bad piece of performance art. The pea lends an underappreciated note of quiet desperation. It's a pulsing, vaguely unsettling funk, like the bass player in a middle-school garage band.

Gross admission: We made this back in March and stuffed a Tupperware of leftovers in the back of our fridge…and promptly forgot about it. It is now May, and said Tupperware is still in our fridge, unmolded and unmolested. If you’re planning on spending months at sea traversing the Northwest Passage in an ancient frigate, this is the soup for you. No preservatives necessary: it’s pre-salt cured.

Before Dinner Soup
By Mrs. Lamar (Eugenia) Gudger
Adapted from the 1982 Congressional Club Cook Book

2 cans beef consommé
2 cups V-8 juice
½ lemon, juice only
½ can green pea soup
dash of Pepsi Cola to cut tart taste (optional)

Heat consommé, V-8 juice, and lemon juice and slowly stir in green pea soup. Heat through and add dash Pepsi Cola. Serve cup of soup before dinner. Makes 8 servings.


  1. I'm impressed that there have been three people in the world named Vonno.

  2. The real hero of this episode may be Constantino Brumidi, who made the dish more palatable with a pocketful of oyster crackers artfully sprinkled on top. As usual, brilliant. Someday I will explain the religious necessity of Pepsi in Southern Cuisine.

  3. Kendall Jenner definitely adds to a "tart" taste.

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