Flu season is upon us, and me and baby were not spared. I bought a whole organic chicken for the first time in years, and set about making an old familiar soup in hopes that we both might eat it and feel better.
My years spent working in a Soup Restaurant saw to me making upwards to probably 1,000 quarts of chicken soup in my lifetime. The chicken soup was served every day, and it was the heart and soul of our kitchen. We would begin with roasting the whole (free range, hormone free, air chilled) chickens in the oven with some sea salt over the top. Usually about 20 at a time. Once baked we would pick all the chicken from the carcasses, and keep them for use in the fresh stock we made daily. The stock pots were the size of me, with a spout on the bottom to drain it all once it was done. In my 4 years there, we got more customer comments about that giant stock pot (and its’ size relative to me) than any other thing in that kitchen.
The mirepoix, the fresh thyme, sage and rosemary, the chicken stock and freshly pulled chicken all came together to make the most lovely blonde chicken soup that I practically survived off of for all those years. The thing about working at a soup counter… it’s an awful lot like being a bartender. Every day, our regular or not so regular customers would come through to pick up a pint or quart of these masterpieces we lovingly crafted, and they would share with us a little bit about themselves. We were usually the first in town to know when a woman was newly pregnant – she would come and ask us to skim only the broth off the top of the container for her, and she would tell us with her greenish complexion how she used to be a vegetarian. Later their babies would come with them too, “soup” joining their limited vocabulary early on. “Your mommy used to eat this soup when you were inside of her” we would smile at them, and they would nod knowingly. People who caught a cold would come in with red noses and wave in the direction of the chicken soup, cautious not to get to close to us. The chronically ill would come in daily for a dose of “medicine” and fill us in on their condition or share a story about their past, rather than talk about the sad state of their health. Even angry old men would come in day after day with a gruff face and try their best not to acknowledge us or our effort… but as the years went by, they would begin to greet us with a hidden sparkle in their eyes. Marriages, divorces, losses, achievements, surgeries, pregnancies, graduations, dinner parties – the stories of the people in my community unfolded over that magical chicken soup. We shared with them our love and our food, and they shared with us their lives.
Nowadays, I don’t work in a commercial kitchen anymore. My soups are made in 8 quart batches instead of 30. I don’t get to hear the stories of the members of my community. I don’t get to bring joy into their lives as I once did, and I sometimes miss the validation. I sit instead across from my little girl, and watch her munch happily on the organic chicken breast I lovingly picked from a whole chicken carcass for her. I watch her dribble broth down her neck, all over her clothes, with a spoon almost the size of her face. I see her trying to pick out the carrots I knowingly diced nearly into oblivion – but ultimately giving up and deciding to eat them anyway. She sees me watching her, a dumb smile on my face. I’m reminiscing about all the babies I used to cook chicken soup for. I’m thinking about the gallons of chicken broth I likely drank when she was growing inside me. I’m marveling at the present time, and the fact that my daughter can hold a spoon to feed herself soup with. “Yummy soup mama” she says to me. I smile and kiss her sticky face. I feel better now.