When Life Hands You Chicken Necks....

My parents' deep freezer is an amazing place. There aren't many shelves, so the ones that are there (and the shelves in the door) are stacked from the bottom of one to the bottom of another, front to back with frosty packages, some commercial and some things packaged by my parents in Ziplock bags and Tupperware containers. I don't know how they can possibly find anything at the back without taking dozens of pounds of food out first to get to it. It is intimidating and comforting at the same time. My parents could eat for weeks without going to the grocery store.

There are leftovers, of course, plus all cuts of meat bought when on special, vegetables from overabundant gardens, game and fish from family and friends, and store-bought prepared meals for busy nights. A month or so ago, I took home a bag of catfish fillets caught by Aunt Deneise and Uncle Gary. At least that's what I thought I was taking home. The Ziplock bag had the word "catfish" scrawled across it with a Sharpie in my Dad's handwriting and contained off-white, fleshy-looking hunks of meat under the ice crystals.

Chicken parts ready to be skinned and deboned. 
However, when I thawed the bag out, I realized it was full of chicken necks and wings. The bag was bait; it didn't contain catfish, it was FOR catfish. As I've written before, my family does not throw edible things away, so I called my parents to ask what I should do with two pounds of thawed chicken parts. (I am not a Buffalo Wings fan.) "Make broth" was my mother's suggestion.

My grandmother and my son. 
I had just been visiting my 93-year-old grandmother last weekend (above) and interviewed her a bit about her life growing up on a farm in Ratcliffe, a community (not even that really) in DeWitte County, near Cuero. I was amazed, as I always am with stories like hers, about people's resourcefulness in decades past. If I didn't inherit my great-grandmothers' recipes, I certainly inherited, through my parents, an innate drive to save scraps, to make a lot of a little, to stretch foodstuffs, to use up what I had before I bought new. So, with my chicken parts, noodles in the pantry, a few random vegetables sitting expectantly in the refrigerator drawer, and basic spices, I made a killer pot of homemade chicken noodle soup. I feel it would have lived up to the expectations of my great-grandmother who always started Sunday dinner (lunch for us city folks) with soup, as many Eastern Europeans did and still do.

Homemade noodles for the soup.
The simple recipe below is from a cookbook printed by the Smithsonian for its 1995 Folklife Festival when Czech cooks from both the Czech Republic and Texas were featured. It's from one of the two Czech cooks that were there. I doctored the recipe up a bit and my additions are in italics, in case you'd like to follow the original.

Wings and necks do not yield much meat, but it was worth the effort. However, though the soup was wonderful, I do miss the catfish that I thought I was bringing home.

Chicken Soup
from the Czech section of the 1995 Festival of American Folklife Cookbook

1/2 a chicken (or about 2 pounds)
1/4 lb. carrots
1/4 b. celeriac (celery)
1/4 lb. parsnips
sliced mushrooms (optional)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 c. finely chopped parsley
1/2 an onion, left intact
2 sodium-free bouillon cubes or the equivalent
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
6 cups water
noodles to taste (1 1/2 cups dry), cooked al dente

Wash the chicken and boil gently in salted water. When it begins to get tender, add the root vegetables and bouillon. When meat and vegetables are tender, remove them, dicing the vegetables and meat. Chill the stock until you can skim the fat off the top. Return both [the meat and vegetables] together to the stock and add the noodles. Reheat.

I simmered the chicken with the garlic cloves and the onion about an hour and a half. When I removed the meat and vegetables to chop them up, I took the half an onion out, too, but mashed the garlic cloves up in the broth. I added the parsley at the very end so it stayed bright green.


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