Grandma Bess’ Chicken Soup / By Jimmy Sollisch
My grandmother’s chicken soup contains,
besides chicken: the salt of six million tears,
the weight of a pound of pureed parsnips and of history,
not to mention all the love and joy she never showed.
1. Grandma Bess always started with a chicken.
But humans evolve and so do recipes,
So I use a capon or two Cornish hens
Plus several chicken pieces/parts: backs and necks.
Add them to a pot of water and bring to a boil.
Now watch as the chicken’s wrath darkens the pot.
A blackish, brackish foam forms in the boil.
Skim it out several times until the foam gurgles clear.
2. Now add the following:
Kosher salt, pepper, 7 or 8 stalks of fresh tarragon,
Ten sturdy carrots, a small butternut squash skinned and de-seeded,
Or, if you prefer, a large yam,
A pound of parsnips, a very large onion, 8 cloves of garlic,
2 small zucchinis and a partridge in a. . . . sorry.
3. Bring back to a boil, reduce to simmer and cover.
You have just lit the world’s most potent incense.
Breathe deep the smell of Hope.
Behold what is possible:
To transform a bunch of gnarly roots and
An ugly bird into this.
Chicken soup, not life, is God’s miracle.
But, please, get your head out of the clouds.
We’ve still got work to do.
4. Simmer for three hours and then lift
the veggies and the bird out of the stock.
While the chicken cools,
Let’s talk about my grandmother’s genius:
The pureeing of the vegetables.
She used a Foley Mill, essentially a wire screen
That you push the mushy vegetables through.
You’ll use a food processor or even a blender.
You’ll add back every atom of flavor
That makers of ordinary chicken soup throw away.
I never got to ask my grandma why she did it.
She died before I cared about the why or the how of food.
My guess– because her mother did it.
But she might have wanted her sons to eat their veggies.
Or she might have been pureeing every nickel out of her budget.
We’ll never know.
But we do know this:
The soup gets richer and thicker.
If it were a violin solo before,
It’s a full string section now.
Pull the cooled chicken off the bones and add back to the pot.
Now we are connected, you and I,
By what we share: An inheritance.