When my daddy was a young boy, his mother would send him down to the corner store in town to pick out a plump young hen for the family’s Sunday dinner. Even back in 1930, Shreveport wasn’t a country place, but folks had a choice of an already prepared chicken from the butcher or they could still buy them live from the neighborhood markets. Dad’s mother preferred her food fresh, as I recall. She was also the last of my grandparents to purchase an actual refrigerator. Instead she used an icebox, or cooler, which was an insulated room on the shady side of the house. It had an opening to the outside. The local iceman would deliver a huge block of ice wrapped in newspaper several times a week during the hot summers, and once a week in our milder winters. I was always entranced when I walked into this small cave, for it was always much cooler than the kitchen itself.
Even when I was a young girl about my daddy’s age, a generation removed from his hen purveying days as a young boy, my grandmother still kept a simple kitchen. Maybe it was because she lived alone, or perhaps it was because she was an artist, but each act was deliberate and attentively done. In my mother’s kitchen, my brothers and I were always running in and out, delivering information on the fly, and often speaking into the open double door harvest gold refrigerator while we put some snack into our mouth at the same time. I’m surprised that mom ever knew what we said, but she must have had a universal translator even before the beta model became available. If things were moving fast in the 1960s, they are going at warp speeds now in the 21st century.
In fact, everything is moving like those poor hens that my old daddy used to bring home to his momma. When he went to the corner market, the butcher would tie the legs of the doomed hen with twine so daddy could bear it home. There he would hand it over to his mother and stand back. His older brother would attend this show in the back yard. With baited breath, they waited as she took the bird in both hands, swung it around her head a few times, and snapped its neck. Then she swiftly sliced off its head with a sharp kitchen knife. It would race around the yard “like a chicken with its head cut off” for a few minutes until the residual brain activity was gone.
The boys never got tired of watching this show. We grand kids never got tired of hearing about it. Even that young, I knew that I led a privileged life, for I never had to watch my food suffer and I never had to kill it. Sometimes when my life gets chaotic, I think I am the chicken that is going to be someone’s lunch. I get “tied up in twine” or the stress of my own life. Sometimes I take on the burdens of my friends’ lives. I have a hard time focusing, for I’m fighting to get loose. The running about like a chicken with its head cut off is what I do when I can’t settle down. I think about retail therapy and forgo that route. I try exercising more, cleaning the house, doing a project, but I can’t focus. Except in the kitchen.
Maybe this is why I identify with the chicken, but a chicken is not too bright, so identifying with the hen might not be the best choice. My grandmother was always a steady locus point in the midst of the frantic circles going around her. The world might be ready to collapse economically, but she would stand calmly in the center of the turmoil. Through good times and bad, life and death, and vigor and inactivity, she was the center of calm for her family.
When I go to my kitchen, however, I seem to lose inner chicken and find my inner grandmother. I pull out my heavy cast iron soup pot and set it on the stove. When I slice the onions thinly on the bamboo board, the repetitive motion begins to steady my nerves. As I weigh the meat and cut it into 1/2 inch sized pieces, my breathing begins to flow with the motions I’m making. Now I’m becoming “one with the soup,” as the cooks say. I find my cares are dropping off my shoulders as I add the spices to the water. Once the water boils, I can add my dried peas and go put my feet up for a bit. When these are nearly done, I can add in the fresh veggies.
Eating a homemade soup made fresh from scratch, even if I didn’t purvey my own live chicken from the neighborhood market, does settle a scattered spirit. I think it unites me to the generations of my family who had a hand in making food ready to eat and savor. Some of my ancestors were farmers, some were gardeners, some sold groceries, and some were in food service, either owning or managing restaurants. Whether we cook for an army, a school, a family, for friends or for ourself alone, we can treat the activity as if it were a chore or as if it were a holy act. When we put our heart and soul into our service, then we will honor the God who gives all things life and meaning:
“He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” — 2 Corinthians 9:10
SAVORY CREAMED SPLIT PEA AND MUSHROOM SOUP: Balanced carb & protein meal.
Minutes to Prepare: 10
Minutes to Cook: 30
Number of Servings: 4
Add 1 Tbs olive oil to large pot. Slice 1/2 cup onion thinly. Add to pot & stir over medium heat. Cut 6 oz each of ham and chicken into 1/2 inch pieces. Add to sautéing onions. Stir mixture. When onions begin to brown, add 6 to 8 cups of water.
Add 225 g of dried green split peas (1 cup). Stir. Return to boil. Then reduce heat to simmer. Add 1 Tbs parsley, 1 Tbs basil, 1 Tbs garlic to the pot. Add 1/4 tsp cayenne red pepper to pot & stir to mix all. If pot isn’t simmering, turn up heat.
Cook for 15 minutes. Check on water level. If you added 6 cups, you may need to add water. If you added 8, it will be ok. Add 3 cups fresh mushrooms & 1 cup sliced carrots. Stir and cook until the dried peas are tender.
Divide the contents into 4 bowls. Add 1 oz mozzarella cheese to each bowl. Stir.
Tips: Don’t add salt: ham is salty enough. Cheese will add additional salt. Over cooking will discolor the ingredients.
Directions: Large cast iron stew pot/soup pot best.
Serving Size: Makes 4 bowls of 2 cups each
Number of Servings: 4
Recipe submitted by SparkPeople user REVCORNIE.