Every package bears a hint of its contents. The clue lies in the container's shape.

Remember the gifts you opened on Christmas Day? Not hard to tell the ties from the videos, the casserole dishes from the pajamas.The shape of the box announces the surprise inside.

It's no surprise to identify food containers either. Could you miss an unlabeled tuna fish can, a box of Jell-O or cereal? An egg carton, whether Styrofoam or cardboard, contains only one product.

And what about a 10-ounce can with a red-and-white label? It's Campbell's soup, of course. The familiar can sits on every pantry shelf in America. A simple can of soup satisfies winter-weary diners at lunch or supper.

No wonder January is designated as National Soup Month. After all, Americans consume more than 10 billion bowls of soup each year, 57 million gallons this month alone.

When the thermometer plummets outdoors, a cup of soup warms throughout. And whether you open a handy can or brew a stock for hours, soup softens the briskness of winter.

Simmered stock sweetens with the addition of herbs and spices. Alta Hall, a Recipe Exchange reader from Helper, brightens her recipes with a tang of lemon pepper. The blended spice enlivens both chicken and ham stocks.

Hall also suggests the use of "Grandma's Noodles," a wonderful discovery in the frozen food section. The thick, wide noodles clearly resemble the product of grandma's years-old kitchen and maintain their original shape and texture when reheated.

Kielbasa, a large, garlic-flavored Polish sausage made with pork, veal or beef, is another interesting soup ingredient. Traditionally served with sauerkraut, the precooked sausage brings a distinctive flavor to a pot of soup.

A pot of soup is an integral part of every ethnic cuisine. Foreign favorites include minestrone, Scotch barley broth, bouillabaisse, Hungarian goulash or Chinese wonton. Each recipe has been regionalized with American taste, but an international touch lingers.

An international flair also flavors soups that are clearly American, like vichyssoise and cioppino, for example. Vichyssoise was invented in 1910 to celebrate the opening of the roof garden at the old Ritz Carlton Hotel in New York City.

Cioppino, a fish stew or soup, was developed by the Italian and Portugese fishermen of San Francisco. The name came from the Italian-American patois for "chip-in," because every returning fisherman threw some of his catch into the pot. Cioppino contains up to a dozen kinds of fish and shellfish, as well as garlic, tomatoes, green peppers, parsley, celery and onion.

The American taste for soup is verified when you consider the following bites of trivia suggested by Campbell:

- If placed end to end, total yearly sales for the company would circle the equator six times.

- Alphabet soups use more than 11 billion letters a year.

- President Bush prefers clam chowder, while former President Reagan likes a beef stock coupled with onions, garlic, carrots, honey, celery and tomatoes. For the Roosevelts, peanut soup topped the list.

- The grand dames of the court of Louis XI subsisted on broth because they believed that chewing would cause them to develop wrinkles.

- British and French literature of the 1600s carried warnings that "women who cannot make soup should not be allowed to marry."

- Serving soup was civilized in 1695 with the invention of the ladle. Prior to this time, soup bowls were filled directly in the pot, then placed between two people. The pair took turns, either drinking the soup of dunking bread in the bowl.

Take a turn with soupmaking.

Open a quick, easily identifiable can or simmer a stock and stuff it full of vegetables and meat.

Then you will recognize the winter warmth of a cup of soup.


Recipes listed:

Bean Soup

Low-Fat Clam Chowder

Hamburger Soup

Confetti Corn Chowder

Manhattan Tuna Chowder

Danish Barley and Cheese Soup

Broccoli Bisque

Zucchini Soup