Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Mother of All Soups

    Long ago, when I was fresh out of nursing school, I  began  to develop the recipe I am going to share with you today.  I worked in an ICU and was caring for an elderly Jewish  man whose wife came faithfully everyday with a small tupperware jar of food for him.  It was usually chicken soup.  She insisted that her homemade chicken soup was instrumental in his recovery and dismissed the  efforts of the doctors and nurses as tangential.

    One day I asked her why she revered chicken soup as a panacea.  She shared her recipe with me which was similar to my mother's but contained carrots, something my mother did not use.  I mentioned this and she exclaimed,"Oh good chicken soup MUST have carrots in it.  They are part of the medicine." She added,"and don't skim off the fat. Leave it in ."

   Several years later, I found myself in a similar circumstance.  This time the tiny older woman was Italian and in sharing HER recipe with me, she said, "Don't forget to use lots of garlic.  That is the most important ingredient."

  Sometime later, I read a newspaper article with a variety of ethnic recipes for chicken soup.  It revealed what I had begun to suspect.  Everywhere in the world there were women making some version of chicken soup for healing purposes.

  The Asian recipe called ginger , the Indian, for  hot chili pepper.   In Greece, the addition of lemon juice is essential.  Everyone, it seems, uses onions and a variety of other vegetables and a grain or starch like barley, rice or noodles ...oh and lots of salt!

   My own mother, whose mother was Irish, added thyme and rosemary, sage  and a bay leaf.

    A careful reading of any herbal will reveal what all of these women the world over knew in their feminine bones.  Ginger, garlic, thyme, bay, sage and  hot pepper are among the herbs that warm the body, chase away germs, are anti-inflammatory and anti viral and/or bacterial.  In other words, healing and soothing.

Every Mother's Chicken Soup

Take a whole, cleaned chicken , place in a large soup pot, cover with water (about 6-7 cups), add a bay leaf, a drop or two of vinegar and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for an hour or so until the chicken begins to fall apart.  Remove the chicken and all bones etc from the broth and let cool. 

 While it cools, cut up lots of garlic, ginger, onions, carrots, celery and red pepper. You can roast the cut up veggies, saute them briefly or add them to the pot directly, your choice.  

Add  the following herbs and spices to taste(I tend to use  large amounts of these ingredients)  sage, thyme, rosemary, cayenne pepper,  black pepper and salt. Reheat the soup and cook for about 10 minutes until vegetables are just cooked.  Puree about 3 or 4 cups of the mixture and return it to the pot.

 Remove all the bones, skin and non-meat parts of the chicken and add the meat back into the soup.  Adjust seasoning, especially salt.  This soup requires more salt than I normally use in a recipe. Remove bay leaf.  

  Prior to serving, choose your grain (barley, rice or noodles) and cook according to directions, adding it to the soup when you serve it.  

   After observing the magical  effect of this soup for many years, I've come to recognize that the true healing ingredient is love.  That is the one essential thing  mothers and caregivers everywhere add to their soup!  Oh, and don't forget to freeze a batch in case the cook gets sick.  It will be ready to heat!




  1. Good food is so key to good health. My naturopath said that a good bone broth is very healing.

    Thanks for sharing this recipe ~ can't wait to try it out!

    1. The purpose of the vinegar is to draw out the healing qualities of the bone marrow, so I've read! Barley ( which my mother used) is said to be easy to digest and healing too!

  2. Oh Barbara! What a great post! I bought a chicken today thinking that a pot of chicken soup with lemon will be coming down the pike soon! There has been flu in our house and I have done such a good job of dodging it, but I keep waiting for the shoe to drop, so to speak!

  3. Yum, yum! It sounds wonderful Barbara and bursting with heathy, healing ingredients although I would have to go easy on the salt. I think soup in general is very comforting.

    I loved the photos of your snowy garden in the previous post, we had similar scenes here but it has all gone now.

  4. Hi Barbara! Love is the key ingredient--I had a friend who would not eat out because he said there wasn't enough love in the food :-) Thank you for this yummy recipe


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