GALLINA VECCHIA FA BUON BRODO (old hen makes good broth)
Sounds like a headline in the Daily Barnyard. It’s actually a sort of recipe in proverb form, telling you to start with an old hen (or stewing hen, as they were once called) when making chicken soup. It’s also a metaphor for the wisdom that comes with age.
The other day I wanted to make some soup, so I went to our local supermarket, Oliver’s. This market is amazing, offering local, organic, grass-fed, free-range and bulk products along with their more commonplace preservative-, antibiotic-, growth-hormone- and pesticide-ridden counterparts. I walked up to the meat counter and announced I wanted a stewing hen. The butcher looked at me like I was speaking an alien language. First I was offered a free-range chicken. “No,” I said. “I’m looking for an old hen.” Then he offered me a frying chicken. “No,” said I, “I want an old bird for soup.” “They don’t make them,” was the reply. In desperation, I resorted to logic. “I just want an old, useless, retired laying hen,” I explained, but I could tell it was no use. The stare remained blank.
Oliver’s had failed me, a fact that undermined my respect for the only supermarket around with a fine array of goods without the fancy over-pricing of Whole Foods. Here was a meat expert who was clueless about something as basic as broth.
I was reminded me of a news clip I had heard a few days before announcing a record number of flu cases. “Campbell’s Chicken Soup is flying off the shelves,” said the reporter. A sad day in the home remedy department. Once the cornerstone of comfort food, chicken soup had been replaced by a can of tasteless, salty broth with strings of soggy noodles. I thought of my mother’s description of the chicken soup her grandmother always made for her when she was under the weather. The description was so rich and warm that it made me feel better just to hear it, and I wasn’t even sick.
My great-grandmother was a smart old bird. She, too, made good broth.