USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Folk Food’
Customs
Folk medicine
Foodways
Material

Jewish Penicillin – Chicken Soup

Genre: Folk Food/Medicine

 Abstract: Jewish penicillin is chicken soup. It spans across all religions, but is known as Jewish tradition that is used to heal injuries and illness. The recipe appears to be passed down through the mother’s lineage and is said to make people feel better and heal the soul and mind.

 

Background: The interviewee, referred to as RD, is a Jewish-American mother living in the south. She grew up in a Jewish household and has not strayed from the religion. She practices conservative Judaism and attends Temple on a monthly basis. The item of folklore in topic is chicken soup, also known as, Jewish Penicillin. The topic came up when a member of a household came down with a head cold and RD suggested she make chicken soup, a tradition she learned from her mother. A couple days after, the interview occurred.

 

Interview:

S: Okie dokie, I’m going to start with where did you first like learn about how chicken soup was Jewish penicllin?

RD: From my mom. Yeah passed down. Whenever I was sick, she always made chicken soup.

S: Do you see this as something common across like the Jewish religion?

RD: Oh definitely. Even when my kids go to go to college, Hillel1 sends notes out to the parents: if your kids get sick, and you wanna send them chicken soup with matzo balls. Let us know and we will send it to them. It’s universally known to every Jew and non-jew, actually. It spans religions.

S: So do you see this in Christianity at all?

RD: Well it’s not in Christianity, but even Christians know about chicken soup. I mean when (mentions Christian friend) had back surgery and stuff, I brought him chicken soup and he was like “Oh, Jewish penicillin this will make me better.” So it’s definitely, it’s outside of just the Jewish religion, but, I don’t, I mean if you’re asking if Catholics are making chicken soup, I highly doubt it. (laughs)

S: All right. But if there is a traditional way to prepare this Jewish chicken soup, that’s different than regular just chicken soup. What is it?

RD: Yeah, well yeah. You use a kosher chicken. I’m just trying to think what else is, uh, I never made a I never made a not kosher traditional chicken soup. And then a lot of time people put the matzo balls2 which regular chicken soup doesn’t have.

S:  Do you think that it actually works or is it kind of just like a a thing that you know, it’s kind of placebo effect?

RD: (3 seconds) I don’t know, but every time people are sick, chicken soup always makes them feel better. (laughs) In their soul and their mind. It does work. Yeah. There’s been so many like articles I’ve read ya know, how does chicken soup help so much?

 

1: A place for Jewish collegiate students to worship and attend synagogue and services throughout the year.

2: A traditionally Jewish food that is unleavened  to replace noodles during the holiday of Passover when only unleavened food can be consumed.

 

Interpretation:

While RD can not track the origins of Jewish penicillin beyond her mother, she does acknowledge that it is very well known across all religions but especially prevalent in Jewish families. She mentions how her mother passed it down to her which is an interesting point to bring up because Judaism itself is passed through the mother’s bloodline. The matrilineal culture of being Jewish and feeling the need to take care of her family might influence a Jewish mother to use a recipe to take care of her family.

RD also mentions how the term itself, Jewish penicillin, transcends religion and is universal. While she acknowledges that Christians know about the idea of it, she almost guarantees that they do not cook it the same. So why is chicken soup associated with Judaism? In the 12th century, a “Jewish physician, Maimonides, started the chicken soup-as-medicine trend when, in his book, On the Cause of Symptoms, he recommended the broth of hens and other fowl to ‘neutralize body constitution.’” and claimed that it played a role in curing diseases like asthma and leprosy (Koenig). This could be the main root of why chicken soup as a healing aid is known as Jewish penicillin. Most of the people reading Maimonides’ work were most likely Jewish, thus, they were the ones to use his remedy on a regular basis. The popularity of the soup within Jewish religion and its magical healing powers are so closely tied due to the advice of a physician that the Jewish people trusted because he was relatable and shared the same values.

RD also mentions that it heals the soul and the mind and it works as a remedy pretty much every time. So, is it a placebo or does it actually work? Physically, according to a study by Dr. Stephen Rennard, “the soup inhibited the movement of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cell that defends against infection” (Parker-Pope). So, scientifically, it does work. Beyond the heat of the soup breaking up mucus, there is a chemical effect of the soup causing patients to feel better. Mentally, knowing that the food that is being consumed should make one feel better, people are more apt to buy in and use it as a remedy. Whether it be heartbreak, physical ailments, or illnesses, Jewish penicillin seems to have the power to cure across religions and cultures.

 

Citations:

 

Koenig, Leah. “Chicken Soup Around the World.” My Jewish Learning, My Jewish Learning, 15

June 2009, www.myjewishlearning.com/article/chicken-soup-around-the-world/.

 

Parker-Pope, Tara. “The Science of Chicken Soup.” The New York Times, The New York Times,

12 Oct. 2007, well.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/12/the-science-of-chicken-soup/.

Foodways
Material

« Les Oreilles de Christ » Traditional French Canadian Food

In the following quote, the informant describes an outing where he visited a “maison de sucre” known, as a sugar house in English, and ate traditional French Canadian foods.

Informant:  “One night in well essentially it’s in Quebec they call it la maison de sucre, and they make maple syrup from the tree sap. Usually, you go and ride snow mobiles to go out there. So, out in this far away place, you can’t get there with a car, there are all of these people and they are making food. In the middle of the night you go over there and you get breakfast, this special kind of French Canadian breakfast. It’s in the middle of the night and well everybody’s drunk and it’s crazy. And they had a couple of different foods that I had never heard of, one of which was “les oreilles de Christ,” or “the ears of Christ,” and what they were, were chunks of fatback that were fried and then they would curl up like an ear, and they were fabulous, (some disgusted faces from the audience at the dinner table) no, no it was like bacon from heaven.”

 

The informant is a middle-aged man, who lived in France for about a year and then in Montreal for about two years. He speaks French fluently and has French Canadian heritage, as his family traveled from French Canada in the 40s and 50s to Maine and Connecticut. He appreciates learning about history, and he especially enjoys experiencing and learning about French Canadian culture because it is his heritage.

The informant lived in Montreal when he was around 25 or 26. During this time, he met several French Canadians who told him about and shared various traditions with him. On one occasion, as described in the conversation selection, the informant traveled late at night on a snow mobile to visit a “maison de sucre” with his wife and his French Canadian friend. The “maison de sucre” or “cabane à sucre” is also known as a “sugar house,” “sap house,” “sugar shack,” “sugar shanty,” or “sugar cabin” in English. These small cabins or series of cabins, are usually located on the property of someone who has a lot of land, typically a farmer with “a lot of maple trees.” The purpose of these cabins is to collect sap from sugar maple trees and boil it into maple syrup, which produce sap during the period between October and early April. Sometimes, the sugar house would serve breakfast foods late at night to people in the surrounding community who knew about it and could get there. The breakfast foods would all be accompanied with maple syrup, and would include foods like ham, bacon, sausages, baked beans, scrambled eggs, and pancakes, along with more uniquely French Canadian dishes like “les oreilles de Christ.” As stated by the informant, this food is not very difficult to make as it is just slices of fatback, smoked pork jowls, or salt pork that has been fried until it curls and becomes a golden brown color. Personally, the informant does not make this food, although he fondly remembers eating it. The informant also said that these houses are usually small traditional family run businesses, though there are some large commercially operated ones.

These houses are popular places to go during the winter and spring. Although, sometimes these cabins do not open until spring because if the temperature drops below zero it is very difficult to collect sap. Thus, sometimes the sugar shacks and traditional foods served with maple syrup are associated with Easter and other springtime festivities.

Language Notes:

According to the informant, the English translation of this food is called the “Ears of Christ,”  “oreilles in French means ears, and Christ in French means what it looks like.” Phrases similar to this are not uncommon in French Canada because many curse words are terms that refer to Catholicism and the Catholic Church. According to the informant, this is because in the early 19th century these was a strict social control of the French Canadian people by the Catholic Church. Thus, words that referred to God were not supposed to be said because they were sacred. Originally taboo, these words eventually were used to vent frustration and began to transform into profane words. In fact, I have heard the informant use words like baptême (baptism), câlice (chalice), crisse (Christ), tabarnak (tabernacle) in anger. Thus, calling the food “les oreilles de Christ” would have been somewhat ironic and humorous. However, while looking into the meaning of “les oreilles de Christ,” I found there is another interpretation about the origins of this name. Apparently, “Christ” in French sounds like “crisser,” which means to squeak, squeal or grate, so “crisse” could have been used to refer to the sound the food makes as it fries as well as the sound the crunchy chips make as you eat them.

I think that this language background is very apparent in the name of this foodway and adds another meaning to it in French Canadian culture. Moreover, this food is popular in small shacks that cater to a younger audience and would be an appropo food (with its name) to serve there.

Bowl of “les oreilles de Christ

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Pancake Blanket

There once was an incredibly lazy man. His wife’s mother got very sick, so she had to leave home for a week to go take care of her. “But who will prepare my food and take care of me?”, the man asked. “I will make you a giant pancake that you can wear as a blanket. That way, you can sit in your chair, with the pancake-blanket to keep you warm. When you get hungry, you can pull up the blanket and take a bite.” When the wife returned home after a week, the husband had starved to death. He had been too lazy to pull up the blanket.

This is an old Chinese story. My informant’s father is Chinese, and her mother is American. Whenever her dad, the primary cook in her parents’ relationship, goes away, he makes her mother a pancake “blanket” as well. It’s a symbol of love and affection from one to the other.

general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Munlie Men

After discussing a few traditions on Easter Day, this informant told me about her own holiday tradition that she started with her family. A few years ago, this informant found a recipe to make Munlie bread men in a magazine.  

This is the recipe for making a sweet German bread that is shaped into “little men” which is what Munlie or Mannlein is translated into in German. The informant discovered that these “little men” were a German Christmas Eve custom. Children would decorate this bread into little shapes and leave the bread out for Santa, the German version of cookies and milk.

There is actually also a German Children’s song “Das bucklige Männlein”, which translates to “The Hunchbacked Little Man” and this is why the bread men are twisted into outrageous looking shapes. After finding this recipe, my informant started sharing it with her family and now they make them every Christmas without fail. Every Christmas Eve, they make the bread and then Christmas morning, they shape and eat the bread.

This recipe consists of ingredients like lemon peel, honey and anise seed, which gives it the signature sweet flavor. And then to make a Munlie, there are much more specific directions, which were found with the recipe.

“To shape each munlie, start by cutting 3/4-inch notches on opposite sides of the log about 1 1/2 inches from an end (this marks the shoulders). Twist 1 1/2-inch section over 1 full turn to define the head. If desired, pinch and slightly pull the tip to make a pointed cap. To create arms (step 2), make slighty slanting cuts on opposite sides of the log starting about 3 1/2 inches below shoulders and cutting up about 2 3/4 inches (leave about 1/2 to 1 inch across center for chest). For legs, cut from end opposite head, making a slash through middle of the log and up about half of its length. To animate each little man, pull and twist the arms and legs into active positions, making at least 5 twists in each limb (step 3). Keep the limbs well separated for good definition of activity. Space the prancing munlies about 2 inches apart on the baking pan.”

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1216/is_v173/ai_3538967/

I believe this custom emphasizes the idea of family during a holiday. This is a recipe that allows the children to join in and make the food with their parents and then use their creativity to decorate it after. As with many holidays, Christmas time holds so many unique traditions and just like people make  Gingerbread men and leave cookies and milk out for Santa, this is the German way of celebrating the festivities.

 

Childhood
Foodways
general
Life cycle
Material

Hispanic Folk Food way – Chilaquiles and Chinese Folk Food Way – Eggs

My informant says this about his background:

“My parents are both um…from Mexico… and then they moved to the uh…Sacramento, California in uh ’88 and had my sister and I was born shortly after that in ’91…um…we lived in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood until the time I was in third grade at which point my Dad’s career brought us to a point where we could move into a high income neighborhood elsewhere in Sacramento and I lived there since until I moved to Los Angeles this year for college.”

My informant was raised in a Catholic family. He provided this Hispanic folk food way in the following conversation:

Informant: So this is a folk food way, it’s interesting because I’ve heard of it outside of my family’s context and outside of the town that I grew up in, but uh…only rarely and never in the same way that I’ve seen with them. Uh…this food way is Chilaquiles, which are a uh… breakfast food in Mexico umm is basically a uh…chopped up tortilla, fried and served with, in uh… via you mix it with eggs umm, sometimes peppers… and then it’s served with really hot salsa on top and on a rare occasion, served with soul scream on top…that, at least in my home, this was a very uh, weekend-y thing because it takes time to prepare, we didn’t really have time for it on a weekday, um, at least for my parents growing up, it was very much, very much a luxury, um, because this has meat in it, you might get meat once a week and eggs were also…not quite as much and so, these ingredients, so…is very very simple. This was uh, uh, quite the, it was uh, a rare deviation from the usual diet, a very luxurious one.

Collector: What do you think is the significance of this uh, food way?

Informant: Uh, the significance is that it’s rarely reflective of the way that, at least the way that people who grew up in that town, um, it’s a very modest upbringing um…you don’t get fancy breakfast like you see in America where traditional breakfasts are pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, orange juice…very very simple, but it’s not as appreciated by the children who grew up with that because they don’t recognize the luxury of that sort of breakfast.”

This folk food way is very much reflective of the living standards of what my informant describes as a modest upbringing in a Mexican village. The addition of meat, eggs and soul cream, which are considered expensive food items in a small town like the one my informant’s parents grew up in, show the Chilaquiles’s role as a luxury or celebratory food–it’s a special food, something different from what is usually consumed. I find that many folk food ways are created out of this situation, where a specific food, such as eggs or meat, are main ingredients of a special dish (special as in special occasion) because it was considered a luxury food back in the day.

To show an example, my father often recounted to me about luxury food items in the past.

Here’s a little background on my father:

My father was born as a farmer’s son into a veteran’s family in Taipei, Taiwan. His father and mother ran away from China to Taipei during the Chinese Civil War. Many of his cultural practices and beliefs are taken from mainland Chinese culture. Because of his background, he is considered a “mainlander” in Taiwan (Chinese in Taiwan are divided into Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese or indigenous). My father graduated from Iowa University with an MBA. His B.A was obtained in Taiwan.

While my father often tells me how precious sweet foodstuffs, such as jawbreakers, watermelon and rock candy, were to him in his childhood, he never forgets to reinforce how precious eggs are. He said that in his childhood, eggs were extremely expensive so much so that families couldn’t afford to eat eggs. The only chance he would have to eat an egg was on his birthday. He came from a family of five and on their birthdays, his mother would make ??? (Yang Chun Mien, which directed translated would be “not complicated noodle” or “simple noodle”), which is basically water, noodles and scallions, and put an egg, one egg, in the soup, as a sort of luxury food. Thus, nowadays, when eggs are a lot cheaper, my father never forgets to add egg into the noodles.

From these recollections, we can see how historically rare food items have shaped folk food ways.

For more information on Chilaquiles, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilaquiles

For pictures of Yang Chun Mien, go here: pictures.

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