How did Grandma make her chicken noodle soup? That was the header of an e-mail I sent my aunts recently.
Last year I published a blog post in which I included some stories about my grandmother’s chicken noodle soup. I talked about Grandma bringing me a jar of her special soup when my son was born. I mentioned that my Dad had sometimes delivered jars of his mother’s soup to neighbors using a little sled pulled by his dog. I also described a story my younger son had written about his great grandmother’s chicken noodle soup.
A Manitoba author writing a book about various cultural groups and their unique foods read my blog post about Grandma’s soup and wanted more details. After we chatted I agreed to contact my aunts. I thought they might have more information about my grandmother’s soup. Indeed they did! Spread out in three different cities my five aunts conferred by phone and then my Aunt Mary combined their findings in a lengthy e-mail
Besides receiving a detailed recipe I learned other interesting things about Grandma’s chicken noodle soup. She only used hens well past the egg laying stage. Their heads were chopped off on a chopping block. Next the feathers were plucked after which the hairs on the chicken were singed in an alcohol flame. It was a matter of some skill to divest the chicken of its innards. Entrails were fed to the barn cats as a treat. The chicken was cooked in a large pot of boiling water along with peppercorns, star anise, a cinnamon stick, bay leaves and large bunches of parsley tied together with thread.
Grandma made her own noodles drying them on a laundry rack and saving the water in which she boiled them to starch my Grandpa’s shirts. She got flour for her noodles by bringing wheat from their farm to the mill for grinding. The eggs for the noodles came from her chickens and the milk and butter from the family cows. Sometimes Grandma would devote an entire day to making noodles so she would have a ready supply for many months. A village tradition was to give gift packages of noodles at Christmas. Till she moved to a nursing home my grandmother continued to receive noodles as gifts from a niece she helped to raise after her mother died in childbirth, and from a cousin she and my grandfather sponsored to come to Canada after World War II.
Grandma did not have a written recipe for her soup. She kept sampling it while it was cooking and adding things until it tasted right. The women of the village of Gnadenthal all made chicken noodle soup for new mothers. After a baby was born a family received many jars of soup. In this way the women of the village showed solidarity and support to the new mother so she didn’t have to cook too much while she was regaining her strength.
One of my aunts remembers routinely having a bowl of chicken noodle soup as a ‘night cap’ with her father after evening church services. Another aunt recalls my grandmother telling her stories while she stirred her chicken noodle soup.
The author who contacted me was delighted with all the information my aunts provided about my grandmother’s chicken noodle soup. My aunts were delighted to have a chance to recall and share their fond memories of their mother’s soup. And I was delighted to learn more about my family from their stories.
An updated version of this post can be found here.