It’s amazing how a simple task such as making chicken soup can remind you of a relative now long gone.

After baking and serving a whole chicken and leaving the carcass in the fridge for nearly three days afterward, I could hear my maternal grandmother’s voice in my brain, nudging me to take it out and make a soup before it goes bad.

She was a frugal, no-nonsense kind of person. She made great meals and served small portions, never letting anything go to waste.

I can see her now, salvaging the leafy ends of celery stalks and placing them on a plate to dry to use in soups. A wilted carrot or bruised potato was never to be tossed out — they were perfect for soups and stews.

I recently retrieved that chicken carcass from the refrigerator, peeled off the fat, dropped it in a large pot of water and chopped up an onion. That onion, the last in the onion bowl, had a brown interior, it had sat so long. But unlike 20 years ago when I would have gouged out the center and tossed half the onion away, I carefully cored out the brown part, careful not to trim too much, and sliced up the rest to toss in the pot.

Peeling two cubes of chicken bouillon wrapped in yellow foil, I recalled the day many years ago when, while watching my grandmother make a soup, I plucked a bouillon cube, which looked like a caramel candy, out of the cupboard, picked off the wrapper and slipped the contents into my mouth.

Oh, the horrible sensation! The memory of that awful taste returned to me as I dropped that bouillon into my chicken soup.

After boiling and then simmering the broth, I removed the chicken carcass and let it cool before carefully removing every last shred of chicken to add to the soup.

As we age, we get more conscientious, I guess. My schoolmates used to laugh about how their parents told them to eat everything on their plates because kids were starving in China.

As children, we never had to worry about being scolded in that way. My grandmother, a school teacher who lived through the Great Depression, never served quantities of food large enough to worry that we’d have leftovers.

She lived with us sometimes during the winter. When we arrived home from school, we could always count on finding a plate of home-baked cookies on the kitchen table, but we were allowed only one each. After that, if we were still hungry, we could have an apple.

Our grandmother, whose name was Nettie but we called her Marnie, had good reason for holding food in such high regard, but it would take me many years to understand. Where several years ago I’d dispose of the last two stalks of celery if they were limp and yellow, I now hear my grandmother’s voice in my head saying they’re perfect for soup.

I chop them up and drop them in. The same for the sweet red pepper whose edges where I cut it in half three days ago are slimy and soft. I add a few small broccoli florets, a couple of bay leaves, salt and pepper, and there we have a hot and healthful winter soup.

When Marnie peeled an apple, she was fast and slick, never eliminating any fruit in the process. Leftover pie dough got rolled out, brushed with melted butter, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, folded up, baked, sliced and eaten warm. It was delicious, this dessert made from a few scraps of leftover dough.

I think of Marnie whenever I bake, particularly if I forget to wear an apron and I find myself dusted with flour from head to toe. She’d never be that careless. As I measure, mix, slice and chop away in the kitchen these cold winter days, the memory of Marnie in an apron working her culinary magic accompanies me.

It’s a phenomenon that seems to have crept into my psyche only recently, and it comes as a welcome, unexpected gift.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 28 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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