Tova Boehm created Short Winter Soups as a locally sourced, sustainable business for comfort food connoisseurs
By Anna-Rhesa Versola | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Not all soups are created equal, according to Tova Boehm, who sources locally grown, seasonally available produce to make her scratch-made soups, soothing the body and soul for both the consumer and the chef.
After graduating in 2008 from Earlham College in Indiana with a bachelor’s degree in Jewish studies, Tova returned home to North Carolina and worked at a couple of farms north of Hillsborough. She also rose early to bake bread at Weaver Street Market, doing the 2 a.m. shifts.
Two years later, Tova began exploring ideas for her own enterprise. “I wanted to start my own thing,” she says, looking for possible business opportunities that didn’t require upfront capital and kept her connected to the local agricultural community. “I settled on soup as the medium, the vehicle for celebrating produce,” Tova says. “It’s something enjoyed by all ages and enjoyed all around the world. It doesn’t need a lot of explanation. It comes with, you know, comfort.”
In 2010, she launched Short Winter Soups and began making, packaging and selling soups for 50 families who subscribed to her service. “At first, I was making all the soup,” Tova says, remembering how she worked alone in her rental apartment in Carrboro.
“I spent Sundays and Mondays preparing, cooking and packaging the soup alone, then delivering to pickup locations around Chapel Hill, Durham and Carrboro on Tuesdays. I was doing all the deliveries in my sedan.”
Today, the subscription list has grown to 100 families in addition to the pints and quarts sold at farmers markets. “Now, I have a full-time, salaried manager [and] four part time folks who work in the kitchen or at three farmers markets year-round – Fearrington on Tuesdays, plus Carrboro and Durham on Saturdays.”
Over the years, Tova has worked out of four different kitchens and is currently based at the Piedmont Food Processing Center, a commercial kitchen in Hillsborough. Production has swelled from 15 gallons to 60 gallons a week with 45-50 different soups made throughout the year.
Tova says every soup recipe begins with water, simple ingredients and seasonings. In 2021, 65% of her total ingredient purchases came from local growers in Orange, Chatham and Durham counties, such as Sugar Hill Produce, Transplanting Traditions Community Farm and Cates Corner Farm. “We don’t use commercially available vegetable broth in our soup,” she says about their process. “It’s something I think sets our soups apart from other soups – it’s that process of building that depth of flavor the way home cooks typically cook.”
“So we make them and we cool them, chill them, package them and freeze them the same day,” Tova says. Short Winter Soups has a big freezer in the Piedmont Food Processing Center to store the soups until it’s time to distribute them for delivery or drop them off at one of the eight pickup locations in Orange and Durham counties, including Southern Village, Lake Forest and downtown Hillsborough. Once the soups are frozen, they stay frozen until the consumer defrosts the soup. Summer soups, like the watermelon gazpacho, don’t ever go in the freezer. “They’re just made and sold ready to eat,” she says.
In North Carolina, vegetables like beets, carrots, sweet potatoes and some greens are available year-round while some seasonally grown produce, like corn, can be shucked and frozen until ready for use. “Watermelon gazpacho is available in July, August and a little bit of September,” Tova says. “There’s broccoli soup and a cauliflower soup for fall and spring. There are soups that are even shorter, like asparagus soup because there’s three weeks that we can get asparagus.”
Long or short, Tova wants to do more than make soup. She is thoughtful about the way the soups are packaged and delivered. “We have some cool initiatives in place around waste diversion,” she says, explaining that Short Winter Soups is certified as plastic neutral through a global company called rePurpose Global. And, she is considering ideas about a nonplastic option where a customer comes to a market location with their own container and is given a 2-cup cube of soup to carry home.
Tova lives in Chapel Hill with her builder husband, Carlos Martinez-Carpinteyro, whom she met while contra dancing at the Carrboro Century Center in 2008, and their two daughters, Dahlia Boehm, 4, and Rio Boehm, 2. Tova says the girls’ favorite soup is Moroccan vegetable because they love seeing the color and textures of this soup – a small dice of sweet potatoes, carrots and beets, alongside golden chickpeas and green lentils, with flecks of parsley as a garnish.