A Brief History of Chicken Soup

My former husband Byard and I have disagreed about a multitude of things over the past thirty something years we have known each other, but none so vehemently as the proper way to prepare chicken soup. My mother’s recipe required simmering the chicken and vegetables in seasoned water to make a stock, then removing everything from the pot, skimming off the fat, clarifying the broth, and then cooking thin egg noodles in a separate pot. She would then place some noodles, vegetables and meat in each bowl, and pour the broth over all. In this manner, she would not compromise the integrity of the broth, which should be as clear as you can possibly make it. I use a technique where I put some lightly beaten egg whites and crumbled egg shells into the broth after I’ve strained out the other ingredients. I bring the broth back to a gentle simmer over medium heat, for about 10 minutes, and then strain it again through cheesecloth. The eggs and egg shells will be left behind, along with any impurities, and you will have the most crystal clear broth.

As a child, this was a delightful way to enjoy chicken soup. I could help myself to as many noodles as I wanted, then a couple of carrots, a bit of meat, then pour the simmering broth over all. But while I was growing up on clear chicken stock, my husband was diving into a big bowl of thick and creamy chicken, corn and noodle soup, prepared by his own mother, Rose, and yes, this was how her own mother, Gran Thomas, showed her how to make chicken soup.

Rose altered the original chicken, corn and noodle soup recipe, however, by using store bought egg noodles instead of the homemade “rivells” that her mother added to the soup. Rivells are a Pennsylvania Dutch invention, and they’re kind of like tiny dumplings. Gran Thomas would mix eggs with flour, and then rub the mixture between her hands so little pieces of dough would drop into the soup. Rose exclaimed that she grew to hate those rivells, though, so she added extra wide egg noodles instead, and her chicken, corn and noodle soup became their family tradition.

Chicken soup has acquired the reputation of a being folk remedy for colds and other ailments, and in many countries is considered a comfort food, just like here in the United States. In fact, chicken soup has been around so long that it’s impossible to even document who made the first chicken soup. But you can find versions of this beloved dish in nearly every country, continent, and cookbook.

Both my mother’s chicken soup and Rose’s chicken soup are actually quite good, but I refused to make my husband’s family soup for years, based on some stupid principle that I would be disloyal to my own family traditions. Plus, I really liked my mother’s chicken soup – that clear, salty broth and yummy, skinny noodles. Hogwash, I realize now, as I love Rose’s soup just as well. So, on a recent rainy day, I decided to make a pot of chicken, corn and noodle soup, just as Rose prepares it, for a special luncheon I was hosting. In just a few minutes my guests ate every bite, even going into my kitchen to scrape up the dregs from the pot. Obviously everyone loved it, and I can now put the chicken soup wars to rest, at last.

I do love my mother’s chicken soup, though, as it has cured numerous aches, pains, colds, flus, and even a couple a broken hearts throughout the years. But as I sat down to a bowl of Rose’s chicken, corn and noodle soup, I found it warmed my heart, and brought me comfort on a chilly winter afternoon.

 

Music credit: “Once Tomorrow (Instrumental Version)” by Josh Woodward is used under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Photo credit: “chicken soup” by stu_spivack is used under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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