Chicken soup: a history of nutritious and therapeutic chicken soup

Chicken soup is known for its curative powers – come in from the cold

My mum, like almost every Jewish mother, is deeply committed to chicken soup. No doubt, I’ll follow suit, as this devotion is so entrenched in family tradition it has seeped into my genes. When I was growing up and had a cold, I was often fed this so-called Jewish penicillin by Mum. It was only later that I discovered its poultry-based origin. Over time I learned to love it even when I wasn’t under the weather, although it still surpasses any other cold or flu remedy I know.

The first chicken soup was made in the poor communities in Russia where for centuries poultry was the only affordable meat. Many families used the whole bird to prepare a three-course traditional meal, starting with chopped liver, followed by a broth-like soup and finishing with the rest of the fowl for an entrée. Today, chicken soup is still served as part of a Shabbat meal in most Jewish homes, at festivals and weddings and as a general cold weather pick-me-up. Accompaniments can include cooked lokshen (vermicelli or egg noodles), kreplach (three-cornered “Jewish ravioli” filled with onion and minced beef or chicken), ravioli or knaidlech at Passover (matzoh balls) or even an egg-glazed puff pastry crust baked onto individual bowls of soup in a hot oven for 15 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

I can still picture my mum spending what seemed like hours skimming the fat off our regular Friday night ritual, stirring the golden liquid to perfection whilst I sucked on chicken bones and did my homework. ‘This,’ she would declare, ‘is a soup not to be hurried.’ She would explain that the soup should cook a minimum of three hours, and then the fat must be skimmed off when the soup has cooled down. Finally, the mixture should sit for 24 hours before serving to allow the flavours to mingle.