Aunt Renee’s Signature Chicken Soup
Shared by Julia Turshen
Recipe Roots: Belarus > France > Cuba > Rural Pennsylvania > The Bronx > Brooklyn > Hudson Valley
When food writer Julia Turshen’s aunt Renee passed away in 2005, Julia placed an obituary in the New York Times that read: “I will take care of the soup,” she explains in her cookbook Small Victories. Aunt Renee was “the least boring person I’ve ever known,” Julia says. She carried fake Louis Vuitton bags and told stories about her time spent working at a hair salon in the basement of the building where she lived in Brooklyn. But, it was her soup that stood out to Julia.
That soup is a clear chicken broth finished with pieces of white meat chicken, large knobs of carrots and parsnips, and fresh herbs. It’s “unequivocally” her favorite food she says, and the recipe that graces the cover of her book. “Family recipes are strings that tie generations together and it was and continues to be so important to me that the soup pot still keeps going even after she’s gone,” Julia told us.
It’s also a way to connect with relatives from earlier generations — aunt Renee learned to make the soup from Julia’s grandmother. “So much of the food I enjoy and write about is tied to nostalgia, both actual foods and memories I experienced and ones I long for like meals with my grandparents who I unfortunately never got to meet.”
Her grandparents fled religious persecution in Belarus, making their way to New York through France, Cuba, rural Pennsylvania, The Bronx, and finally settling in Brooklyn where they opened a bakery. “It was a very Jewish bakery, but not a kosher one and it specialized in bread, cakes, and cookies (nothing fancy!),” she says. “It was very much the type of place that provided things that were part of family's routines.”
Aunt Renee’s soup has worked its way into her family routine, particularly during the cold winters where she lives in the Hudson Valley. “I always make more than my wife and I can eat, so we can have it for a few days (or I'll often freeze portions so we can defrost them and enjoy whenever we want),” she tells us.
The broth is easily adapted. In her cookbook, there are suggestions for turning it into Thai chicken soup and Italian wedding soup. And, when we first came across a bowl of it on Julia’s Instagram account, it was finished with kreplach. But, she says, “I honestly just love it plain and simple with chicken, carrots, and parsnips.” Us too, Julia.