Arts & Culture

Chicken Soup for the Black, White and Jewish Soul

Can we talk about chicken soup? I know it’s cliche, but I just suffered the indignity of having to ask my ex-Christian, decidedly Buddhist husband how to make chicken soup. The whole two hour experience invited all kinds of reflection. … Read More

By / November 10, 2008

Can we talk about chicken soup?

I know it’s cliche, but I just suffered the indignity of having to ask my ex-Christian, decidedly Buddhist husband how to make chicken soup. The whole two hour experience invited all kinds of reflection.

When he told me we shouldn’t boil the chicken too much, I thought of my grandmother, who greeted me at the door after school with chicken so boiled it could have been, I don’t know, hay? I mentioned this to the husband and he said it was probably a disease thing. Back in the shetl, boiling the chicken beyond recognition was health insurance. "God forbid my boychiks get sick because of my chicken."

I didn’t eat much of it as kid, ditto those weird cheese blintzes from the freezer she served me on the tv trays in front of the Ten Thousand Dollar Pyramid, I just couldn’t. But I suddenly feel better about my grandma’s intentions.

I also thought about how many times I’ve eaten my stepmother’s chicken soup, and how many times I asked for the recipe. She always said she would give it to me, but didn’t. It’s like a state secret, and I’m not sure she thought I, the half-goyim stepdaughter should have the code. God forbid I used it to preserve the health of the enemy.

Surely I exaggerate, right? It’s probably just that I didn’t stand over her watching. Do Jewish mothers even do chicken soup recipes on paper? I think it’s an osmosis kind of thing: you know the ingredients, you’ve eaten it a jillion times, you should know how to cook it already. It’s kind of like honey and lemon tea on the black side of the familiy. You’re supposed to know it’s ready by the smell.

This morning I also learned there are some serious differences between Jewish and non-Jewish chicken soup:

1. Potatoes. Do Jews do potatoes in the soup? I don’t think so.

2. Beet greens. Ditto the above, but this could be in the original slavic version–as we know there were plenty of beets in the old country.

3. Serving with the chicken in the soup. I don’t think we ever did this at our house. It was the broth, carrots, celery, maybe a little onion. But the chicken was later, wasn’t it? Now that I think of it, where did that chicken even go?

4. Negatory on the matzoh balls. Just, like, none of those. No mention, no reference, nada. Zip.

5. Rice! Good gracious. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I made some on the side for people to add to taste. Felt blasphemous. Is it me?

And of course the most obvious: we made the soup TODAY, on Sunday. Not Friday. Not Thursday night. Sunday.

My friends, I love the chicken soup I just made and I love my husband even more for patiently teaching me how to make it. But before my son turns five I’d like to make him a true, Jewishy chicken soup.

What do you think, will you share a state secret?