Back in 1979 when I was just learning to cook, one of my best friends who had a busy, young family introduced me to a simple cookbook from Vermont: The Bakery Lane Soup Bowl. I think she cooked most of her meals out of this book. It was primarily a book about soup, salad, and bread, with beautiful sketches of vegetables, herbs, and chickens. It was the first cookbook I had seen that was not of the Joy Of Cooking variety. Their family often had my husband and me over for dinner on Sundays, and we almost always enjoyed a new preparation from the book. My absolute favorite was the Shaker Chicken and Noodle Soup: a creamy chicken soup thick with noodles and large chunks of white meat. I bought the book and enjoyed cooking out of it for years. One day while packing up the house for the big move to Oregon, I let it go along with most of the rest of our possessions. I only had room for the latest favorite cookbooks.
Of course, I continued to make the chicken soup as I remembered it. Over time, it morphed into so many different renditions. Chicken soup is rather forgiving; as long as you begin with broth that has real integrity, you can add any variety of vegetables and meat, make it creamy, or keep it clear. I suppose when my children were younger, it all stayed pretty tame and traditional: broth, deboned chicken, celery, carrots, parsley, and rice or noodles. As they became older, I became a bolder cook in general and really began cooking without a recipe most of the time.
Nowadays, I first focus on the broth. Whenever I roast a chicken, all of the remains (including any leftover meat ) go right back in the pot to simmer overnight on a very low flame covered with water. I’ll toss in a bit of white wine or vermouth, salt, pepper, whatever herbs I have on hand, an onion, a whole carrot, and any other vegetable bits that need to be used up. The next morning, I strain out the broth into a glass bowl and refrigerate it. Sometimes the broth goes directly into the freezer, while other times it stays in the fridge. I often sip on cups of it throughout the week, but if it happens to become soup, I am confident this broth will provide the perfect base. Couple the broth and leftover meat with any number of vegetables, herbs, potatoes, or dumplings and you are now practicing bricolage in your kitchen, learning how the different ingredients lend their flavor and texture to the finished product.
Since I acquire most of my food from Rainshadow Organics, my chicken soup changes seasonally.
In the summer it is full of spring onions, zucchini, peppers, fennel, dill, and fresh tomatoes. In the fall, it may have more carrots, lovage, potatoes, and cream in it. Wintertime soups usually include cabbage and potatoes, squash, celeriac and kale, and in the spring, spinach, green onions, peas, and asparagus. The possibilities are virtually endless! To create a heartier soup, top each bowl with creme fraiche or some grated hard cheese and a grilled crouton.
Last week, I was meandering through my favorite thrift store. There in the stack of cookbooks was an original pristine copy of The Bakery Lane Soup Bowl. I recognized the font immediately and its classic late seventies style. Standing in the store, I poured over the recipes, being reminded so viscerally of that time in my life.
Nostalgia took hold. I made my $1.00 purchase and went straight home to make the Shaker Chicken Noodle Soup,
But, this time around, I added a few more things........