Gallina Vecchia…

June 13, 2012 / Food & Wine
Assisi, Umbria
Gallina vecchia fa’ buon brodo! ”An old hen makes a good broth,” says an old Italian adage, lauding the wisdom of sage elderly women. And literally, an old hen really does make the best broth!

In Sicily for example, the first food eaten after the funeral and burial of a loved one was chicken broth, brought to the family of the deceased as a gift. Light and simple but nourishing, strengthening – it was the appropriate food for the breaking of the fast after mourning.

In Italy, chicken broth is linked to birth as well. When our first child was born in 1980, one of our farm neighbors, Chiarina, brought a pot of her chicken broth to me in the hospital. Per far scendere il latte (“for milk letdown”), Chiarina told me as she spooned out the broth.

How old is this custom? Frescoes in Perugia’s Collegio del Cambio show the key episodes of St. John the Baptist’s life, yet they are shown as scenes from 16th-century Perugia life. I’ve viewed these frescoes countless times, but last week – for the first time -  I noticed a detail which made me smile. The first gift for Elizabeth, the mother of the newly-born John, sits at the foot of her bed in a farmer’s basket. The head of a chicken – no doubt una gallina vecchia – pops out. Chicken broth will soon be simmering over the fire for the new mother for sure!

I told our farm neighbor Peppa the story of my “discovery”…

Ma certo, Peppa affirmed! “…and you cannot imagine how many old hens I received after the birth of our first-born, Leonello: thirty-five!”

Recipe for Chicken Broth, Umbrian-style

During the years we farmed, when a hen was passed her laying heyday, into the broth she went.
For chicken broth, we’d use about 2-3 qts. of water, adding the chicken wings, neck, back (head, feet, too! …nothing would be wasted), bringing it to a boil with a carrot or two, a piece of celery, and half an onion (Peppa likes to add a potato to her broth) and then simmering.   Salt, pepper are added to taste. Broth is done when meat is tender. Vegetables can be passed in sieve when broth is done, then returned to broth.

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An Umbrian tour guide in Italy most of the year, Anne also teaches Umbrian rural cuisine in private homes in the U.S. in February and March (see www.annesitaly.com/Cooking.html)…and lectures.
Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970′s and rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for Anne. She writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. See www.annesitaly.com for more on her tours, cooking classes, lectures – and her blog! Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment she and Pino now rent out!

15 Responses to “Gallina Vecchia…”

  1. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    How wise, How true all chefs know that good chicken stock is the base of cooking…starting with the best,results in excellence
    Italian Donna have known that forever

    Reply
  2. My grandmother, mother and I always have made chicken soup just like stated. And so do my children. Birth, death but also when under the weather or just as good old comfort food-sometimes with rice, or pastina. My mother added cut up endive or even dandelions in the spring. Delicious in any form.

    Reply
  3. Chicken soup seems to to be a universal remedy. Mine has a good slug of garlic, which works against everything from sniffles to vampires. And there is nothing like homemade pesto. Ahh … I just put basil into the ground (three varieties including Thai), along with cilantro, tarragon, lavender, rosemary, thyme, lemon verbena, and mint. Cat mint has the most adorable lavender blossoms which, if you look closely, seem to contain tiny “faces”. On a hot day, a gentle breeze wafts these soporific fragrances all over the back yard. Nap time on the deck. One of my favorite memories of Umbria is walking along a pathway lined with hedges of rosemary. I would drape myself over it every morning and afternoon, and inhale. Came up sticky with sap, but who cares?

    Reply
  4. Janice Peters

    Cara Anna,

    Hai fatto bene di scrivere qualcosa delle donne che hanno “piu esperienza in questa vita” Si capisce la ragione che amo la filosofia Italiana!

    Saluti,

    Janice

    Reply
  5. Grace Hinrichs

    Love that story! Anne’s writing is always so personal, lively, and rich with detail about Italian culture. The best!
    Grace in Rockport, Maine

    Reply
  6. Janet Eidem

    Sounds delish Annie, and now I’m homesick all over again for Assisi. It happens at least once a day!

    Reply
  7. Joanne Dell'Aquila

    As usual Anne Robichaud’s contributions are always informative and enjoyable. This one has everything that I love about Italy and Italian culture. It has traditon, history, art, sorrow, joy and, of course, cooking. Who would think that chicken broth would have so much meaning! Thank you also for a wonderful website.

    Reply
  8. Not only is Anne’s story fascinating and true, I’m testifying to the magnificent taste of this soup we enjoyed at her beautiful country home in Umbria last night!! You would be in for a wonderful evening and learn a lot sitting at her magnificent table tasting the delicacies she artfully prepares! It was a blessing to be invited into her world of culinary and cultural insights, menus, and the utterly charming humor along with the knowledge she exudes..Grazie mille, Anne. Grazie mille. (-: Carole

    Reply
  9. Johanna D'Ambruoso

    I enjoyed your story. Homemade soup is the ultimate comfort food for the body and soul, it lifts you up, it’s healthy and economical. Homemade turkey or chicken soup are our personal favorite soups, hearty, hearty tasty filling meals for lunch or dinner and … it’s still the best cure for the common cold.

    Reply
  10. Joan H

    Anne, I love the way you put things together – food and art and history – all of it!
    Joan

    Reply
  11. Evamarie Lanza-Thelmo

    My mom always made pastina type soup when we didnt feel well and I do the same for my children. It’s very Italian. Thank you…Evamarie

    Reply
  12. Francesca

    Interesting article! I have to say that even though I’ve lived in Italy my entire life I’ve never made a chicken broth, so thank you for the recipe…I’ll have to try making it one day!

    Reply

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