Dine like a Charlestonian Highlights on local traditions and foods

A soup bunch is a strung-together collection of herbs and vegetables for making soup. This one was made at the Meeting Street Bi-Lo.

Long before the contemporary wave of convenience foods overwhelmed supermarket aisles, Charlestonians could rely on the soup bunch.

The strung-together collection of herbs and vegetables, sold throughout the 20th century, was an instant soup kit. All home cooks had to add to the garland of celery, carrots, collards, turnips, parsnips, onions and thyme was water, salt and pork. Of course, the pig flesh was omitted if the household kept kosher.

"Every Jewish cookbook has a chicken soup recipe, but the one in 'Historically Cooking' is unique," Jewish cooking authority Joan Nathan wrote in her "Jewish Holiday Cookbook," referring to a commemorative cookbook published in 1977 by Congregation Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in honor of its earlier bicentennial.

"In addition to the chicken, the recipe included a 'soup bunch,' " she continued, enumerating its contents. "The clear sieved broth was then served with matzah balls."

In her book, "Matzah Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South," culinary historian Marcie Cohen Ferris charts the relationship between Charleston's African-American produce peddlers and Jewish customers, confirming, "The Alterman family in Charleston used a 'soup bunch' to make chicken and matzah ball soup."

Passover, which begins Monday at sundown, is the holiday most associated with matzah ball soup. And fortunately for modern Charlestonians hosting Seders, soup bunches are still for sale. Local food writer Jeff Allen recently spotted an unbound collection, including cabbages, onions, carrots and rutabagas at Doscher's IGA. And, the Meeting Street Bi-Lo frequently keeps cellophane-wrapped bunches in its vegetable cooler.