Grandma Seydee’s Mystic Chicken Soup
In winter, on a stormy night as millions of snowflakes carried by the wind blanketed the landscape of sprinkled forms and muffled sounds, only the coughing of someone with a cold could be heard. The air was usually wet with a lingering spray of mucous mixed with bacteria dripping from a red swollen sinus when Grandma Seydee noticed the coughs, and a twitch in her right eye would appear. Then she began mumbling to herself incoherently, until she came to life as if animated with a purpose. She would holler, “wash your hands before and after you pick your nose,” as she examined every-one’s hands, turning to look at the palms to see if they were growing hair, as her false teeth glared over the refrigerator in a glass filled with yellow water.
Seydee was an old bent woman who wore black orthopedic shoes and had purple tinted hair, always in the kitchen struggling with an old hen arguing to herself, cut up and skinned then dumped in a cauldron filled with a blend of water, broth, vegetables and herbs to cure everyone suffering with the sniffles as her chicken soup was well known even in the old days, some would say, to have curative properties.
Born near Dijon, France, her mother was roman catholic and her father a traveling Buddhist Monk, who she met in Paris at an outdoor flea market. In the remaining fragments of his unpublished autobiography, Mystic Curiosities And Inventions, he described his meeting his future wife, “It was the way she carried the chickens by their neck, it was in that moment, I fell in love.” Never the less, it was an arranged marriage, and Seydee was born seven months later.
Each member of the family had a handkerchief of their own, hand sewed with their initials in calligraphy, although the dried stains of green would make it difficult to see the letters as the cloth was often crumpled, pulled out of the back pocket to wipe a dripping nose. She would argue in a broken French, “tissues are a waste of time, you can’t blow too hard and they tear,” as her eyes were magnified by the purple framed eyeglasses that always seemed crooked but matched the color of the hairs under her chin, and those sticking out of her nose. When angry, she would curse in German, especially when struggling with a dull knife and a tough hen. Then it was time to stay away from the kitchen and read Superman comic books remembering to look at the floor as peeled carrot slivers, or chicken skin were often missed, probably the reason she wore orthopedic shoes.
Chicken soup varies from place to place, and the only two essential ingredients are water and chicken, but Seydee would say, “the secret of a making a good chicken soup is using a really old hen, as close to death as they come.” But she would never explain why as her stories about growing up on a chicken farm in the old country were vivid and memorable. She was born Dec 31,1899 and her death on Jan 22, 2001 afforded her the rare claim of living in three centuries, and she never let anyone forget it as she added with a nervous shrill, “don’t forget two millenniums.” She was heir to the fortune from her fathers invention known in Europe as the Chicken Guillotine, sold only in countries outside of France because of its place in French history was always associated with the revolution, a painful memory in French culture.
Perhaps being old with all the experience that age has to offer, suggests wisdom can also be embedded in a chicken’s bones, sometimes provoking an insight, mystical or not, that helps restore the natural balance of energy to the body and heal the soul. Some thought it was the asparagus stalk she added to the pot when no one was looking, but I often suspected it was the sweat of her brow dripping into the vat as she stirred the pot, mumbling to herself.
Grandma Seydee’s Mystic Chicken Soup
A really old hen, as close to death as they come, killed and plucked, then cut up.
One clove of garlic to keep away evil spirits and unwanted relatives
onion or shallots
Salt and pepper
Broth, vegetable or chicken
Some unidentified “things” that only Seydee knew remains unknown as family members given the recipe were sworn not to reveal the secret ingredients as she lay on her deathbed dying.
Sautee the onions in the soup pot till translucent with some extra virgin olive oil. Saydee would often say, “virgin is best otherwise you wont get the pure taste. Besides, she would explain, virgins were usually sacrificed to the gods to stop the volcano from awakening because they were so pure.” Then, fill the pot with distilled water, heat until boiling then throw the vegetables, cut up french style into the pot, then put the old dead hen plucked and cut into pieces. Lower the flame and simmer until the meat slips off the bones. Only then is the soup ready. Serve with French Bread in a soup dish.
When asked how much is supposed to be put into the pot, she would respond, “The amount of servings depends on how much stuff you use to make the soup for as many people as you were planning to make it for,” as an odd glint appeared in her left eye.