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The Schmaltz of a Gazillion Bubbes

Being my mother's daughter, there are many soups in my repertoire. Being my daughters' mother, there are many soups in theirs as well. Because this is how the soup witches pass along their spells. And at the heart of all the good soups there is one that stands above, a healing elixir. Jewish Chicken Soup. Its a recipe seasoned with the tears of a hundred-hundred-hundred generations and the schmaltz of a gazillion Bubbes. The soup of survival. I made a batch the other day and will head out this afternoon to fetch another chicken for the pot.

We've all had bronchitis at our house. My mom too, we're guessing we caught this bug from her. She probably caught it from the daycare kids she likes to visit with at the Y. Yesterday I brought her a jar of chicken soup. I left the peppercorns in it for her, a little spicy surprise that she taught me to appreciate. The four of us at home inhaled the rest of it, letting the goodness flow into our bones. We've all been so careful about covid that none of us has had a cold in 3 years. We were sitting ducks for this one and it took us down hard. I am hoping the upside of being sick from a run of the mill virus is that it boosts our immune systems a bit. It did bring home with stark clarity how easily we'll give each other covid if any one of us gets it. We'll be keeping the masks up in public.

Meanwhile I've had a long ramble through the chicken soup rooms of my memory palace. Like the first time a chicken I'd been collecting eggs from became a chicken in the pot. And the pot my friend Lesley brought over when I was recovering from a spine surgery. That soup pulled me out of a lingering anesthesia fog and brought color back to my heart. A soup I made on the old Chambers gas stove not long after moving in with the boyfriend-who-became-the-husband. I was 21 and had bronchitis. And simmering a batch in the dutch oven on the wood stove that winter we hadn't had money yet to insulate the house we were building and living in. A jar left for a neighbor recovering from childbirth and another for friends grieving their dog. And the cautionary tale of store bought soups with labels promising a touch of home. They never fail to disappoint. Nu?

My favorite roomful of chicken soup memories is steeped in the goodness passed between mothers and children, the proof in the kugel (pudding) of our DNA. My mother teaching me how to confidently wash a raw bird, entrusting a peeler and parsnips to the hands of a 4 year old. Climbing onto a kitchen stool so I could peer into the pot, learning what a simmer looks like. And then at my own stove, my three littles sharing two chairs to stand on so they can learn to simmer too. Their small hands, their giggles. Snacking on celery and deciding together which shapes the carrots will have. Getting old enough to cut the onions and leeks on their own. Mame-loshn, the language of food and the healing Bubbe magic passed from one generation to the next and the next, infused with a fresh burst of chopped dill.

If you find yourself ailing, or just hungry, or you have a friend in need, try this remedy. This is the good stuff.

best medicine ~ chicken soup

1 whole chicken, rinsed well (brining optional)




yellow onion

celery ~ celeriac

a knob of ginger

parsley & dill

peppercorns & salt

whole cloves of garlic (optional)

1 inch piece of lemon zest (optional)

Put the chicken in the pot with enough cold water to cover the chicken by 2-3 inches. Add the rest of the ingredients. Keep heat low under the pot and bring to a gentle simmer. DO NOT BOIL. Let it simmer for 2-3 hours. Pull the chicken out, it may fall apart, go slow. Let it cool enough to handle, separate the meat from the bones/skin and set aside. Skim fat that has risen to the top of the broth, you may or may not want to strain. Add all the elements together again (broth, veg, meat). Heat it all up, whisper a blessing over the bowl and serve (kiss on the keppie, optional).

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