Princess Stew

    “Princess Stew,” Friend, Apr. 1987, 20

    Princess Stew

    (A fable)

    “The princess is here!” cried the innkeeper. “We’ll soon be rich!”

    “The princess is here!” cried the innkeeper’s wife. “We’ll soon be famous!”

    And at that instant, into the inn walked the princess followed by four of her servants.

    Days before, it had been announced that the princess, who was traveling between her castles, would be stopping at this particular inn for her noonday meal.

    So now, as the wife scuttled to the kitchen, the innkeeper stepped briskly toward the door.

    “Your Highness,” he said, bowing deeply, “what an honor this is to have you stop at our humble inn. Please follow me. Your meal is ready.”

    With practiced charm, the innkeeper seated the princess. He scowled, however, when her four servants sat down at the same table.

    The innkeeper’s wife whisked into the room, carrying a bowl of steaming stew.

    “A rich, thick, savory stew, Your Highness,” she announced, setting the bowl before the princess, “prepared especially for you.”

    The princess nodded graciously, picking up her spoon.

    The innkeeper and his wife watched anxiously. Everyone knows what delicate and refined tastebuds a real princess has. One kind word from her about their stew, and people would come from far and wide to taste their famous fare.

    But the princess paused before even tasting it. “And what about my servants?” she asked. “What are they to eat?”

    “What’s this? The servants?” muttered the innkeeper to his wife as they exchanged angry glances. They hardly wanted to serve mere servants.

    “Please understand, Your Highness,” replied the innkeeper in sugary tones. “We are poor. It would be a great hardship on us to feed everyone here.”

    The princess made no reply. Instead, she raised her spoon and took a taste of the stew. The innkeeper and his wife leaned forward to catch any complimentary word that she might utter.

    Slowly the princess licked her lips with the tip of her tongue. “This stew,” she said, at length, “needs salt.”

    Salt? “We’ll add salt at once, Your Highness,” said the innkeeper, clicking his heels together. Retrieving the bowl, he and his wife rushed to the kitchen.

    A moment later they returned with the salted stew.

    “Oh, dear. Oh, my,” the princess said, puckering her lips. “I’m afraid that it’s too salty now.”

    Too salty? Adding salt was easy. But removing salt was impossible. The innkeeper and his wife could do only one thing. Taking the stew back into the kitchen, they poured it into a large pot. Quickly they added carrots, onions, potatoes, and broth.

    “That will dilute the saltiness,” said the innkeeper. “Yes, the stew will be perfect,” said his wife, tasting it. Both of them smiled at the thought of the fame that the stew would bring them.

    When the stew was set once more before the princess, she took another taste. “It’s better, much better now. But,” she added, “a tad more salt would make it perfect!”

    The innkeeper and his wife were delighted. Surely they were close now! In the kitchen they added the smallest dash of salt to the stew.

    But, alas, when the princess tasted it this time, she wrinkled her nose. “Oh, my!” she said, reaching for a water goblet. “What have you done! This stew is far too salty.”

    Back into the kitchen rushed the innkeeper and his wife. They poured the stew into an even larger pot and added more carrots, onions, potatoes, and broth.

    “Oh, how famous and rich we’ll soon be!” the wife and the innkeeper whispered happily to each other.

    Soon the princess was tasting the stew again. “Almost,” she said, taking her fifth delicate taste. “It needs more salt, however. Just a touch perhaps.”

    Ten grains of salt were all the innkeeper and his wife added to the stew this time. But as before, the princess took one tiny taste and said, “Too salty. Much, much too salty.”

    “This princess and her fickle taste buds are going to drive me crazy!” cried the exasperated innkeeper as he added more carrots and potatoes to the pot.

    “But once we get the combination right,” replied his wife, “we’ll be rich and famous. We’ll call it ‘Princess Stew,’ and everyone will come to our inn to eat it!”

    Once more the princess tried the stew, … took a second taste, … then another! The innkeeper and his wife were overjoyed. Breathlessly they waited for her to speak.

    “Innkeeper,” the princess said, after another spoonful, “I believe that by now there should be enough stew in your pot to feed my servants.”

    The innkeeper and his wife exchanged glances. These were not the words that they had expected to hear! But after all the vegetables that they had added to the stew to dilute its saltiness, they couldn’t claim that there wasn’t enough to serve the servants, after all.

    As everyone ate, the innkeeper and his wife waited and waited for a good word from the princess. But the princess finished her bowl of stew without saying another word!

    Illustrated by Shauna Mooney