This is my Grandma Losch’s recipe for the traditional “chicken corn soup”, as can be found at church suppers and firemen’s carnivals throughout Central Pennsylvania. This version appeared in the first edition of her church’s cookbook, published in the mid-1970s. Here’s how she quantified it:
One 4-5 pound chicken, cooked
12 ears of corn (cut off)
2 tablespoons salt (more if needed) [this seems like a lot to me – 1 Tbsp would probably be plenty]
1 teaspoon parsley (I’m sure she meant dried parsley)
2 tablespoons onion (assume she means fresh)
1 cup flour
Cook chicken in about 4 quarts of water. Add salt. Remove chicken when cooked. Discard skin and bones. Dice meat. Set aside.
Bring broth to boiling. Add corn, parsley and onion. Bring to boil again. If more broth is needed, add water.
Make rivels out of 1 cup flour and 1 egg, with a fork. Add to soup when boiling. Boil slowly for about 15 minutes. Lastly add chicken meat.
But here’s the thing: My grandma didn’t really follow recipes. She cooked by feel. She would say things like, add a cup of flour, but “a cup” meant “her special cup” and not necessarily an actual eight-ounce measure. She also knew exactly what to throw into a pot to make soup, and, in true loaves-and-fishes style, could whip up a giant pot of warm, delicious goodness to feed whoever dropped by to visit, no matter what time of day, or whether you were actually hungry. I’m sure she was asked to quantify this recipe for purposes of publishing it in a cookbook so that others could follow along.
This is the very cookbook I pulled off my shelf last night when I had most of a leftover rotisserie chicken in my fridge and recently-frozen sweet corn in my freezer. I am my grandmother’s granddaughter – I, too, usually cook by feel. I like to improvise and embellish. So below is my version of the same soup.
FIRST: I pulled the rest of the meat off of a leftover, grocery-store rotisserie chicken, and threw the bones into my stockpot, along with a boneless, skinless chicken breast that was in the fridge. I also added some chicken soup base to enhance the flavor, but this is optional. I added the four quarts of water (give or take, I didn’t measure), plus half a chopped onion, two chopped celery ribs, and about a tablespoon of dried parsley (though if I’d had any fresh, I would have used that), and salt & pepper. I revved that up to boiling and cooked it for, like, 45 minutes.
[A note on chicken stock. I prefer to cook fresh chicken parts, preferably leg/thigh quarters, then freeze the stock for later use. It’s more flavorful. But boiling down the leftovers from a roasted chicken is a fine substitute. Supplement with more chicken breast meat, if you need more. You could also add some store-bought stock – just be mindful of the salt in the stock and reduce added salt in this recipe accordingly. But I don’t think this soup would be nearly as delicious if you used only store-bought stock.]
While the chicken was cooking, I peeled and diced two potatoes, and to save time, started them cooking in another pot. If I’d had more time, I would have waited till the chicken was done, then cooked the potatoes in the chicken broth. Either way works. But the potatoes are totally optional and the soup is great without ’em.
Once the chicken was done, I pulled it out of the broth and picked the carcass for any good meaty bits. I also shredded that one chicken breast I had cooked with it. Then I set the meat aside, and strained the broth, then returned it to the stock pot.
I brought the broth back to a boil, then transferred the potatoes into it. I also added 4 generous cups of sweet corn kernels.
We need to talk about the corn. Don’t waste your time trying to cook this soup with the corn you buy in your grocer’s freezer. And, if you dare try this with canned corn, I will send out a squad to find you and punish you. Seriously. Don’t ruin good chicken broth with canned corn. This soup is basically a Corn Delivery System. I can’t stress enough that the sweetest, most flavorful soup results from using home-prepared corn. If they’re in season, get fresh ears, blanch them and cut off the kernels, being sure to scrape the cob to get the flavorful, milky-sweet juice. Better yet, do this to several dozen ears in the summer and freeze them so you can make this soup in the fall.
So, back in the stock pot, we have broth, potatoes, and sweet corn. I added the other chopped half of an onion, two more diced celery ribs, three shakes of poultry seasoning, some fresh ground black pepper, a little more salt, and maybe 1-2 more tablespoons of dried parsley. (Fresh parsley is better, especially as a garnish for serving.) I brought that to a boil, THEN I made and added the rivels.
You could stop right here and you would have a wonderful, delicious soup that will cure whatever ails you. But grandma liked to add rivels to hers, to make it more of a meal.
What are rivels? They are a super-easy egg-based kind-of noodle. They’re easier than making pot pie dough and they will remind you of the German spaetzle. I placed one cup of flour into a bowl, then in a separate bowl I beat one egg, then I put the egg into the flour bowl and mooshed it around with the fork until all the flour was combined into the egg, forming very coarse “crumbs.” (You could add a little salt to the flour, but I didn’t.)
Gradually drop these “crumbs” into the boiling broth, stirring the broth as you go so the rivels don’t clump together. Grandma’s recipe says to cook for 15 minutes but I think 10 is plenty. Any extra flour left unincorporated into the egg mixture will help to thicken the soup, so throw that in, too. You want a gentle boil, so turn down the heat if it gets too rowdy in the pot.
About five minutes after you’ve added the rivels, throw in the cooked chicken meat and stir it around so it re-warms.
Voila! A hearty soup that’ll warm your innards. Serve with fresh ground pepper and some chopped fresh parsley on top.
Another way that I’m definitely my grandma’s granddaughter is that I cook in quantities sufficient to feed up to ten hungry farmhands – really hungry ones, who’ve spent the day digging fence posts or bailing hay. I can’t help it. I don’t think it’s possible to make this in a smaller quantity that would be suitable for a small family with modest appetites, but you could try. But if you do cut the recipe in half, I suggest that you make the same amount of rivels. They’re just really eggy-licious. You won’t regret having more egg noodles in this soup.
Here’s a photo of chicken corn soup, WITHOUT the rivels (because I failed to photograph the batch I made with rivels):