Swedish expression: to make soup from a nail

In Swedish there is an expression ‘att koka soppa på en spik’ (to make soup from a nail). This is used to mean that somebody has the ability to accomplish or produce something through minimal means; to produce something with no or very little available material. It can be used to describe inventiveness and perseverance.

Where does the expression come from?

It originates in a traditional Swedish fairy tale about a tramp who tricks a miserly old woman into giving him soup. The tramp has only a saucepan and a nail which he begins to boil to make soup. He then asks the old woman for some herbs to add flavour. By gradually asking for more and more ingredients, he succeeds in the end to make an edible soup from the nail.

The fairy tale exists in many European countries and has actually been dramatized in film and theatre. If you’re interested in reading the Swedish version, here it is: http://www.berattarverkstan.se/net/soup.htm