Soup, done the way it ought to be

by Brian Clarey

Yeah, the fall colors are beautiful and the air is crisp and all of that… but those leaves release molds and allergens into the air and the cold snap makes us susceptible to a bout with the flu. Everyone in my house has some form of cough or sniffle, save for my eldest son who has a freakishly robust immune

system. And because we’re not big on flu shots or over-thecounter appeasements, I decided to attack with the most timehonored of home remedies: chicken noodle soup. I suppose I should Google up some research as to the salubrious benefits of chicken noodle soup, so here ya go: Cooking the chicken releases healthful amino acids that act as respiratory dilators; it is an anti-inflammatory, which eases congestion; and the steam helps, too. Whatever. Chicken soup just feels right when you’re sick, and gathering ingredients at the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market is also a therapeutic exercise. Don’t get me wrong: I like canned soup just fine. But soup made from the ground up is a different animal — no preservatives, some control over salt content and absolute authority over every ingredient. I start with the chicken. Generally I would use a whole bird, but I don’t want to spend the afternoon tweezing tiny bones from the stock, so I score a quartet of drumsticks from the J&S Farm stand and take notice of the two 2008 North Carolina State Fair blue ribbons, awarded in the poultry division. Moseying over to the Berry Patch, I score some Amish-made pot pie noodles, flat and so thick they’re practically dumplings. A hearty noodle is essential to a soup like this, and these little babies are perfect for the job. Then it’s over to T&B Produce for some fresh vegetables.

And here’s the thing: I’ve been known to tinker with traditionalism in my soup

pot. I make cabbage soup with turkey ham. I’ll substitute barley or wild rice at the last minute. And I love to mess around with the vegetables. On this occasion I’m thinking about a soup my great-grandmother used to make. We called it “escarole soup,” but I’ve since seen a similar product labeled “Italian wedding soup.” It’s got little meatballs, BB-shaped pasta and, according to my noni’s recipe, several heads of escarole lettuce, adding subtle bitterness to the broth as it wilts. But this is the thin end of harvest season, and there is no escarole in sight at PTFM. I have the option of several types of greens: collards, mustard or turnip; and there’s always cabbage. Also: What about mushrooms?

In the end I go the traditional route: celery and carrots, and a bundle of green onions with long, stiff stalks. The onions are a great compromise — the bulbs are musky and flavorful, and the green stalks add a chlorophyllic element to the stew. All you need to make soup are a big pot, a working faucet and a ready stovetop. You also need several hours on hand. I’ve got all four, and I’m able to settle down and watch football for a couple hours while my chicken boils down. When you use naturally raised chickens like this, the parts are a bit less meaty but much more flavorful. And the resulting stock does not have that golden yellow color associated with commercial products — it is a pale, almost milky yellow broth into which I drop my diced vegetables. I’ve pulled the meat from the bones at this point, but I leave them in the pot while the mixture simmers, leaching the last bit of flavor while the vegetables break down. Noodles come last, and after they soak for 20 minutes or so, the Panthers game is winding down. At the dinner table the sniffling children are skeptical. They can see the carrots and are naturally suspicious of the dish’s nutritional density. Buy hey, it smells pretty good and there’s noodles and chicken, and there are crackers to crumble on top. The two youngest are able to finish a bowl apiece. And my firstborn son, he of the magnificent immunity, takes down three helpings. Man, do I love watching that kid eat.

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P.T.F.M Sandy Ridge Road, Colfax 336.605.9157 Canned soups are fine, but for real homemade chicken noodle soup, atrip to the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market is definitely in order. Notethe milky-white broth, derived from naturally raised chickens, withnone of that sickly yellow afterglow. (photo by Brian Clarey)