BETHEL — The aromas of chowder, turkey, beef and curried soups wafted through the fellowship hall of the Bethel Congregational Church.
On one long table, more than a half-dozen crockpots were filled with simmering soup. On the other side of the hall, another long table held stacked containers of frozen soup, all with labels and some with recipes.
Thursday night was the third annual Soup Swap held by the Western Mountains Senior College. It coincided with the group’s annual membership sign-up.
Carol Campbell brought a winter squash and white bean soup. It was her first time.
“I like the idea,” she said. “It helps with the variety. I get tired of cooking the same soup. And soup is healthy.”
Peter Gartner, the program chairman of Senior College and the person who introduced the idea locally, said he was browsing the Web three years ago and learned about a group in Seattle that was launching the plan. At that soup swap, it was mostly younger, career people who got together, made soups, and swapped them so there would be a variety of meals for their families.
“I thought, ‘Let’s do this!’” Gartner said Thursday.
Usually, 10 to 12 types of soup turn up at the Senior College events.
National Soup Day is in January, but various groups have adapted the date to better suit their schedules.
Among the soups often prepared by the local group are the traditional turkey and beef, along with salmon chowder, seafood bisque, beet borscht and an unusual soup called mulligatawny, a favorite of Marvin Ouwinga, chairman of this year’s soup swap.
“I like soup,” he said. “It’s a wonderful communal experience.”
For Thursday’s soup swap, Western Mountains Senior College Co-Chairwoman Bonnie Pooley prepared the fragrant soup from India that includes curry, chicken, vegetables and apples.
The local soup swap works in many ways around the country. In Bethel, members bring a pot of hot soup along with four quarts of frozen soup. Those who bring frozen soup can swap theirs for an equal number of other frozen soups.
Some people brought desserts Thursday night. And everyone brought a nonperishable food item for the local food pantry.
Rosabelle Tifft was one who brought a dessert. She planned to buy the soups no one swapped, stash them in her freezer, then have a meal almost ready whenever she needs it. She also would try the recipes some soup-makers included with their hot or frozen soups, she said.
Western Mountains Senior College is open to anyone age 50 and over, and to those who are younger if they are a presenter for one of the many courses offered by the group. They can be reached at www.maineseniorcollege.org.