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The Story of My Grandmother's Chicken Soup
This chicken soup recipe has been handed down in my family from Delia Gallagher, my maternal grandmother. She lived in New York City in the 1920s during the Great Depression. As a new immigrant from Ireland, she worked as a cook and nanny for wealthy New York families. These families just happened to be Jewish families who are renowned for their excellent chicken soup. Family lore has it that she knew how to make soup from her roots in Galway, but that she finessed her skills during her years cooking for the Jewish families that she worked for in New York City.
She met and married my grandfather, another Irish immigrant, and they returned to Ireland to care for his ailing father and the family farm. They lived in a two-room cottage in poverty thereafter in a tiny village outside of Ballaghaderreen in County Roscommon. Delia raised four children. Beside the cottage, she had a large plot for her vegetables. Potatoes, onions, scallions, carrots, parsnip, celery, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, peas, strawberries, rhubarb and turnip. Rows upon rows of vegetables were tended by her hand.
Her chickens gave her eggs and the cows their milk for cream and butter. A pig was slaughtered once a year for ham and bacon. Even the pig's blood was mixed with spices and meal for black pudding. Chickens were killed occasionally for special meals. Bread and scones were made daily with limited amounts of baking soda. There was no refrigeration. No electricity. Oil lamps for reading. The concertina, singing, recitations and letter-writing were her only entertainment. Her husband contracted and became ill with TB when he was quite young.
The majority of the farm's upkeep fell to her and the children. Times were tough. But, the vegetables were plentiful, thanks to my grandmother's skilled hands. She made this stew for her family. This recipe was a staple in my family as well. And now for my children, I make this once a week and keep it in the fridge. After one day, the stock becomes thicker. This stew is great for lunch or dinner with some soda bread or scones.
How cheap is this meal?
Consider that you are only using one boned-in chicken thigh. I can feed a family of five for two days with this, including lunch and dinner. The most expensive ingredient is the parsnip. But, you can buy just one, rather than the whole bag. The trick to getting the most flavor from the stock is without a doubt the time involved in cooking. Once the chicken thigh has been quick boiled, simmered and skimmed, take your time adding the remaining vegetables. Don't throw them all in at once. Each vegetable needs time to add it's own flavor to the stock. The only cost in this stew is your time.
- 1 chicken thigh with the bone (boneless doesn't make a good stock)
- 3 medium onions
- 3 stalks of celery
- 3 carrots
- 1 parsnip
- 3 potatoes
- A fistful of barley
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fill a large pot 3/4 full with cold, fresh water.
- Skin the bone-in chicken thigh and place in the cold water.
- Bring the pot to the boil.
- Bring down to a high simmer.
- Skim off the top of the water repeatedly until the chicken is well-cooked. This takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
- In the meantime, you should prepare the vegetables as follows:
- Rinse the vegetables under cold water
- Peel and cut the onions into four large pieces
- Peel and cut the carrots and parsnip into 2 to 3 pieces each stalk
- Peel and cut the potatoes in half
- Peel off the threads and cut the celery into 3 pieces per stalk
- Add the onion to the chicken stalk and simmer on low for 10 minutes.
- Skim as needed. Add the parsnip. Wait 10 minutes.
- Add the carrots. Wait 5 minutes.
- Add the celery. Wait 5 minutes.
- Add a fistful of barley. Wait 10 minutes.
- Add the potatoes. Wait 10 minutes.
- Salt and pepper to taste. I have a heavy hand with the pepper.
- Simmer until all the vegetables are fork tender. Check after an additional 10 minutes.
- Do not overcook the potatoes or they will melt into the stock.
- Remove them from the stew after the cooking process is complete to avoid this.
- Serve hot with bread and butter for "sopping".
Refrigerate then reheat over a gentle heat to retain the stock's clarity.
This is delicious, nutritious and cheap! You can make this as bland as you wish for toddlers and small children. It is easily mashed into a puree for young mouths. You can also increase the heat with various types of pepper. Yum for everyone!