Grandma Beryl’s Chicken Soup

by Aaron (@1dish4theroad)

https://1-dish-4-the-road.blogspot.co.uk/ 

In so many ways, Grandma Beryl was the matriarch of our family and a wise dignified figurehead. She was almost always immaculately turned out, her hair a halo of wispy-white cotton-candy with not a strand out of place. Her elocution was invariably poised and precise, graced with a slight Mancunian lilt, and as mellifluous as any a Radio 4 presenter.

Through the best part of ninety years, us children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would congregate at Grandma’s each week, her home bursting alive with the sighs and squeals of newborn babies, the pitter-patter of toddler feet, children trampolining on the sofa, kids taking penalty kicks in the lounge, and grown-ups sporadically crying out “Mind the ornaments!”, all accompanied by the constant clang and clatter of cutlery and plates as they materialised on and off the dining-room table.

Of course she loved all this, the hubbub of family coming together. And ultimately she yearned for nothing more than her family to be happy and well. To that end, she connected deeply with each and every one of us, like the gravitational pull of a warm radiating sun round which all our lives orbited.

And when it came to my Grandpa Reuben, well she was beyond devoted. He’d been her rock, and she his; a husband she’d lovingly served in an old-fashioned way, a couple and a home steeped in Jewish tradition. (“Call me old-fashioned” was in fact her favourite refrain.) But even after he died, the family would continue to come, week after week, and she remained the constant, the glue, the fabric, by which our family were reassuringly held.

On second thoughts, ‘matriarch’ isn’t quite right. The word conjures up images of haughtiness and detachment which couldn’t be further from the truth when it came to Grandma Beryl. She was a warm, loving, generous soul, totally unassuming, always smiling, gentle in her humility, yet strong in her own way.

A real ‘people person’, she loved snatching a conversation here and there, with everyone and anyone, from taxi-drivers to Big Issue sellers. And she was naturally gifted with a wonderful sense of humour, somehow both knowingly cheeky and yet brilliantly bone-dry, radiant even until her very last days.

For 10th October 2016 was her very last day, when her life was no more and she was finally at peace.

It’s ok really.. deeply sad of course, and I miss her just so much, and I keep thinking she’s still around and that I need to give her a call. But she lived a good life, and she was just ready to go. Occurring just a few months after my Grandma Marilyn (as commemorated in the ‘Cinnamon Buns’ post), this year has felt like a real end of an era.

Throughout my life Grandma has gifted me with so many joyful memories. Many of which are food related. Even when I was a toddler, her traditional fluffy chremsel pancakes were so good that I’d have total meltdowns in hungry anticipation of them: I’d literally pound my fists on the floor, wail up to the heavens in exasperation, and demand at the top of my voice: “PANCAKES AND JAM!!”

But if there’s one dish to remember Grandma by, it’s chicken soup. Because – and apologies to my own mum here, for pinning chicken-soup allegiances risks opening the Jewish version of Pandora’s Box (‘Pinchas’s Tefillin-Bag’, perhaps) – she made the world’s finest.

Now, when it comes to judging chicken soup, pay heed to this apocryphal Yiddishe parable. Once, a traditional Jewish wife finally had enough of her husband’s unappreciative whingeing over her cooking, and set about perfecting her once-stodgy kneidlach soup-dumplings. Experimenting with various recipes, she made them successively lighter and more refined, but her husband continued to complain miserably. Eventually she couldn’t bear it any longer: “That’s it Hershel, why do I even bother!” And so, unbeknownst to him, she reverted back to making the same old stodgy kneidlach. “Ahh!” he cries out at last, after his first bite, “Now you’ve got it!”

So, it may well be that my fond memories have been souped up by dint of familiarity; nostalgia is such fine seasoning after all. Still, the flavour of Grandma’s soup was undoubtedly deep and true, its soul steeped in the essence of chicken. Slices of carrot studded the crystal-clear golden broth like a bejewelled crown. And in between bobbed immaculate white baubles of kneidlach – large, regal and stately – and metaphorically and literally brimming with schmaltz, there being no coincidence that this term refers both to a sentimental kind of love and to chicken fat.

Every Friday she’d make it. And every Saturday she’d serve it, just after the kiddush prayers over bread and wine, and just before a traditional roast chicken dinner. Grandpa Reuben, who was otherwise the gentlest man who’d ever lived and the epitome of politeness, would slurp it down louder than a torrent of water gushing over Niagara Falls, enjoying every spoonful with such gratitude and gusto. Uncle Harry meanwhile would first dissect all the kneidlach into equal-sized chunks before even tackling the soup; ever the artist, his bowl resembled a cross between a Mondrian and a Japanese zen garden.

In this regime was embodied the routine of family life and the rituals of Jewish tradition. For Grandma was very much a creature of habit – as perhaps we all were – and such predictable trajectories gave her, and us, much comfort and happiness.

I don’t think I believe in life after death. And yet, whenever I glance into a glimmering pool of chicken soup, once the components have settled and the broth becomes crystal-clear, I see my grandparents reunited again, side by side, warm smiles on their faces, and love shining all around.

ricotta

by Sabine 

A very hot July in Rome. We had arrived a week earlier, the entire tenth year chaperoned by our trendy young art teacher (who brought along his flamboyant wife) and the much older but immensely shy physics instructor. We messed up from day one, making fun of the sweating tour guide, playing hide and seek behind the ancient columns of the forum, sharing a smoke with the Swiss guard before dashing his hopes of a date, sneaking out of the hotel after midnight and getting into barroom fights. The year was 1975, we were 17 years young. 

I had persuaded my parents to let me stay for a few days longer with a tall tale about being with friends, meeting someone’s parents, while instead, I chatted up the most exciting looking hippies on Piazza Navona and together we walked the narrow streets of Trastevere, hitchhiked to Fregene, slept behind the bushes of the Villa Massimo.

On the morning of my departure, I strolled onto a small market square. I was down to my very last Lira, just enough to buy a small muslin bag of this strange white curd-like stuff, soft and dripping, and a handful of odd shaped tomatoes. The seller took pity on me scraping together my last coins and gave me a large chunk of warm bread and a bag of garlicky olives for free. 

I remember eating this slowly, a treasure, licking my fingers all the way on the night train crossing the Alps into Munich

Croatian supermarket treats

by Lydia

I had come to Croatia alone and, due to a bus mix up, had been on the move for almost 48 hours. I’d found my hostel in Split and almost teasingly kept myself away from the beach, returning to the hostel at least three times to pick up things I had forgotten, a hairbrush, more coins, another book. I went to a chain supermarket marvelling at the cheap deli prices. I purchased a tub of sardines, some cherry tomatoes, fresh bread and after deliberating – a couple of cans of beer. I had just turned twenty five and for some reason drinking by myself still felt like the utmost of luxuries. I sat down on the beach and piled the oily whitebait onto the bread and tipped it into my mouth, then bit into the tomato, the ripe flesh bursting on my face. The saltiness of the fish, the wheat of the bread and the sharp tang of the tomato set against the hot sand and crash of the sea. I’ll never forget it.

Schmaltz

by Matt Mahon

An incomplete list of fats.

The fat that rises to the top of chicken stock, after you’ve skimmed the scum. If no one’s watching, leave it there and drop all the vegetables through it so they bob around coated to a high gloss. If someone objects, the fat is removed from the stock but is snuck back into the soup in the kneidl mixture.

The connective tissue and fat in a shoulder of lamb, rendered to the point that the meat can be pulled from the bone with tongs. My father always says, “The meat can be pulled from the bone with tongs!”

That same lamb fat in the bottom of the tray the next day. If the lamb was rubbed with spices, the congealed fat is grainy and fluorescent yellow, and the gravy is bitter. The hard sheets of fat can be lifted out nearly whole to be thrown away, but there’s always a remainder. Mix in washing up liquid and emulsify it so it doesn’t clog the drain.

The grainy fat in cold lamb sliced the next day, a fat which coats the roof of your mouth like a cheap pastry.

Jellified chicken fat, schmaltz, revealed as you lift the cold chicken carcass out of the pot the next day. Best if still studded with the roast carrots and fennel. Put it in a sandwich with the chicken, roast vegetables and with mayonnaise. The first foie gras was a by-product of the schmaltz industry, as Ashkenazi Jews who didn’t have access to vegetable oils began force-feeding geese to produce more cooking fat.

Other jellified fats: pork pies with enough jelly (hard to find) and piccalilli, beef tongue sliced with gherkins.

Rendered fat, and fat mixed with meat. I’ve inherited a preference for streaky bacon over back. The fat in belly pork. Çöp shish. Crispy fat down the length of tandoori rib chops and pirzola.

Lardo, sliced thin on thin toast and grilled clear, with creamy goat’s cheese added afterwards. I can’t cut it finely enough by hand, and Continental Stores has closed down.

The fat on pork chops. These were not often enjoyed in our house. We didn’t keep kosher, but unadulterated pork was sometimes a step too far. Pork chops were out, but in a nod to the Irish side, boiled bacon ribs were fine (most of the fat to be left behind on the bone), and always eaten with floury potatoes and greens covered in butter.

Butter. Butter in everything. Every recipe begins: fry onions in butter with a bay leaf and salt.

Miso Memory

by Hannah Gregory

We would go to the small mall on the corner. First up to the third floor, from the basement carpark to the video rental, then down to the second floor for the restaurant. At the video rental I chose things like Beethoven (I & II), Turner & Hooch, and the Macauley Culkin ones. The chat between them about whether or not she liked or had seen a certain movie or series was more interesting to me than choosing a film for myself, so I earwigged while browsing the video boxes, to their chat which was grown-up, without being dull, maybe even cool. I listened, to find out. Later I would watch the movies in the darkened front room, and was given a dessert pot of Mövenpick or a Häagen Dazs ice on a stick; just me and the two dogs – jet-lagged, alone, and, for now, just fine.

The furnishings of the restaurant were soft pinkish red with dark wood and papery screens dividing the dining booths around the edges of the room. I knew what I wanted right away – I suppose because someone had suggested I have it before – tempura udon soup, with prawns, or maybe just veg: sweet potato slices in crisp shells, lotus root, and something stalky and green; the prawns’ tails fanning out of their coats which fell off into the broth as I ate. Particulates of soybean paste sitting cloudy in the dashi stock, and sharp bright scallions scattered over the top, as I fished for the disintegrating batter with a deep soup spoon.

Digging down into the bowl the fat chewy noodles would stir, slippery noodles that you were allowed to slurp. I learnt this in a different noodle bar where the chefs behind the counter stretched and cut long lengths of elastic dough. I was wondering about the noisy eaters all around me, and he told me that slurping was, in fact, a technique developed to suck up the dripping noodles fast without burning the sides of your mouth. With chopsticks I was already proficient because she had bought me a training pair with rings to put your thumb and two fingers through on my first visit, somehow incredulous that this six year old was not already agile.

The miso with udon was the first I’d tasted and the only one I would know for some time – back in Nottingham in the nineties there weren’t any Japanese restaurants. When I returned to the grey concrete of my school playground during lunch break, I would crave the comforting warmth and saltiness of the broth, and the sweet bite of the prawns – that, or the feeling of being away, alone, and just fine.

 

Paris, parsley and pasta

by Sophie

I was in Paris when I received a text from my mum saying my dad was in hospital, again. As an alcoholic these hospital trips were no rarity for my father but the frequency and unsurprising nature of them did not reduce my anxiety. Repeatedly having seizures (in a Tescos car park, in the newsagents around the corner from my house, at home alone and falling down the stairs, breaking his leg and cracking his head open) were the cause but nothing would stop him drinking. When it was announced he might have pneumonia I had a quick google and found myself in a state of panic. 

Distance added to my worry. I normally live about 2 hours away but i wasn’t going home for a few more days and couldn’t afford another flight. I lay in bed waiting for my friend next to me to wake up and once she did spent my day thinking about what we would have for dinner. I find that food is the only remedy when I feel low, I spend hours watching ‘River Cottage,’ and browsing recipe books, but here I had none of my  usual comforts. 

The aim of the trip to Paris was to eat well so when I requested to make dinner my friend eyed me suspiciously. She is normally in charge of the cooking and is very good at it, she’d made steak with garlic greens the night before and it was a tough act to follow. We visited the local Monoprix and after walking around and eyeing up the fish counter, smelling the herbs in the vegetable section and thinking ‘carbs will help me here’ I decided what to make. Tagliatelli with prawns, chorizo, garlic and parsley. Quite a simple dish but it was the best meal I’ve ever made, my friend even quipped ‘I didn’t know you could cook’. I don’t think I will ever be able to make or eat the meal again but I always keep it in mind. 

Tahini and oranges

by Anonymous

I was feeding my baby and, as I often and rather obsessively do, smelling her hands. Whichever hand is free I reach it up to my face and drag it over my mouth and nose. The feel of the soft, sometimes tacky skin combined with the smell not only tells a tale of her eating but is also a powerful tonic for me. Sometimes she is bothered by my doing this and pulls away her hand. Other times, especially if she is falling asleep as she was on this occasion, the hand is all mine. On that morning I smelled tahini and oranges. In that moment those smells were ancient to me: earth, sand, river water, moonbeam, firelight, tree root, blood, tahini, oranges.

That’s quite a kick

by Anonymous

A family holiday in Slovenia when I was about 16 was my first time trying something wasabi flavoured, it was a large bag of wasabi flavoured crisps which I ate entirely on my own, revelling in the spicy kick they had. That night at dinner I thought the soup we were having tasted a bit strange, it didn’t seem to have any flavour. It tasted cold even though I knew it was hot. It took me another course to realise that I’d managed to damage my tastebuds and couldn’t taste a thing. It was 2 days before I was able to taste anything again. Since then I’ve not stopped picking anything wasabi whenever I’m given the chance.