Soup ‘n spirituality

In my grandparent’s house, especially during the winter, there was a big focus on eating to combat “influenza” as it was called back then.

That was only natural since Mae and Gaetano Racioppi and a number of their children lived in times when whole populations were decimated by the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 and random attacks of diphtheria.

Dad often recalled how Grandma waged war on these diseases with every culinary and spiritual weapon she had.

From chest rubs of goose grease and onions to tonics composed of garlic, honey and brandy, to soups rich in herbs, stock and the omnipresent garlic and onions to special prayers to a number of saints including St. Ann, the Little Flower and her elder sister in faith, Teresa of Avila. It goes without saying that the members of the Holy Family always figured in her invocations.

 This year’s publicity driven flu season has made me mindful of Mae’s approach which, dad said, also always involved chicken soup.

 Over the years, I’ve tinkered with the recipe handed down to me by Dad, adding more  herbs and ingredients than Grandma or he ever would have. Ingredients from Maria Tisdall’s marvelous whole chicken soup recipe in “The Convent Cook” found their way in for instance.

 The result is a brew that not only tastes good but seems to ease  symptoms as well.  

Since I’m not certain which prayers  Grandma might have prayed, I offer the Sub Tuum, an ancient Marian prayer garnered from “Prayers for Urgent Occasions,” by Franciscan Father Bernard-Marie for consideration.

” We fly to your patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin.”









Everyone’s chicken soup


 -1 (3 pound) chicken

-1 lemon, halved

-1 small bunch parsley

-10 black peppercorns

-4 cloves garlic, crushed

-2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and crushed

-1 large, sweet onion, sliced thin

-bunch carrots, peeled and cut as you like them

-4 celery stalks, cut as you like them

-1 large can of tomatoes (I use canned Jersey Fresh when possible)

-2 tblsp canola oil

-1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

-1 red chili (optional)

-2 cups small pasta (ditalini, pastina, etc.) boiled until al dente and drained

-1 gallon bottled water


Directions: rinse the chicken under cold, running tap water. Place in a large soup pot and add cold bottled water to cover. Make a “bouqet garni” by folding a 6-inch-square of cheesecloth in half and placing parsley, lemon halves, pepper corns, garlic and ginger on it. Tie the corners of the cheesecloth together securely with kitchen string. Add the bouquet garni to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat then decrease to medium and simmer, skimming off foam as it forms, for 2 hours or until the meat falls off the bones. Continue to add water as needed.


Remove the chicken and herbs from the pot and place the chicken on a large platter. Discard the skin and pull the chicken meat from the bones.


Pass the broth through a sieve to remove any solids and return to the pot over medium heat. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Add the chicken broth and pasta. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve piping hot.


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