Snowdrifts and Chicken Gizzard Noodle Soup

When I think of winters when I was young, I think of snowdrifts. Our house was situated in a grove of jack pines along Phipps Road, but most of the land around us then was open to the winter winds. To the south across the road were fields extending nearly a mile and to the west the jack pines ended halfway to Highway 63, replaced by low brush on the north side of the road. West across the highway were more fields that explained why northwest winds blocked the highway at least a couple of times every winter.

Every fall, workmen installed snow fences at locations where the wind could drift snow over highways and roads. The snow fences slowed the wind and caused the snow to form drifts that were often so compact that we could walk on them. These piles of compacted snow were perfect for making snow caves, and unlike the huge piles of icy snow plowed from city streets that can collapse and kill or injure adventurous children, these drifts were only four or five feet high and consisted of snow resembling light and airy pumice. When a cave roof failed, we just crawled out of the mess and made another cave.

The school bus picked us up where Phipps Road met Highway 63, nearly a quarter mile from our house. After there was enough snow to work with, we built a snow fort at the bus stop to act as a windbreak. I used a shovel to cut blocks of snow and my sisters raised the walls as high as they could reach. I would add the last two or three courses of blocks until we had a comfortable defense against the wind and blowing snow.

Unlike today, school officials did not cancel school just because it was a few degrees below zero. Mothers bundled their children in winter coats with caps and scarves plus stockings for their daughters who had to wear skirts or dresses even in winter. My sister Patsy described an incident that occurred after I was in college and she was nine years old. Patsy and her older sister Betty, a senior in high school that year, were waiting in their snow fort. The bus was late, so Betty sent Patsy home to check if school had been cancelled.

Patsy explained, “I ran home and Mom told me that school had just been cancelled, so I ran back to tell Betty. It was twenty below zero. Betty was wearing a dress that day but had nylons on. She didn’t want to miss school. She had perfect attendance in high school.” Such dedication helps explain why Betty became a nurse.

I sometimes think that my siblings and I have a seasonal addiction to cold and snow. We still live in Wisconsin and none of us migrates south in winter. When friends mention that they will be going south and ask us where we go to escape winter, we tell them we drive north to our cabin because we like the snow. To explain, I like to paraphrase a nineteenth-century promoter from Bayfield, Wisconsin, who listed some of the advantages of winter along Lake Superior: “The lake offers wonderful skating, the roads are perfect for sledding and there’s no rain, mud or mosquitoes.”

I sometimes add how wonderful it is to go for a walk when it is well below zero, to hear the distant boom of ice contracting on lakes and wolves howling somewhere along the brook. I try to explain the brilliance of a sky filled with thousands of stars or the magnificence of the northern lights instead of the monotonous glow of lights from city streets.

Friends respond by asking, “How about shoveling snow and not having any golf courses open?” I tell them that I don’t golf but admit that I do get a little tired of shoveling, especially when a snowplow piles a new load across the driveway just after I have cleared it.

Maybe I could persuade them by explaining how wonderful it is to come in from the cold to a house filled with the smell of freshly baked bread or the fragrance of cinnamon wafting from rolls better than the ones they walk by on their way to an airplane that will deliver them to some swamp or desert transformed into a faux paradise for senior citizens.

If that didn’t work, I could mention the mouth-watering perfume emanating from a pot of chicken gizzard soup like Mom used to make for us kids when we came in for lunch after a busy morning excavating a new snow cave. We had chicken gizzard soup pretty often. Chicken gizzards were cheap and made a tasty soup. Jerri and I made chicken gizzard soup when we were first married for the same reasons.

If I told you that this recipe is the one Mom used, I would be lying. My mother apparently had James Beard’s philosophy about soup: “Look in your pantry and refrigerator and make soup.” The soup slots in her recipe boxes are empty or hold recipes that wouldn’t fit elsewhere.

However, I know what she did, so this is a pretty close version.

INGREDIENTS:

3 T bacon grease, lard or butter
1 lb. chicken gizzards
Dashes of salt and pepper to flavor the meat
2 cups chicken broth
7 cups water
3 chicken bouillon cubes
3 medium carrots
3 ribs celery
1 onion (about 2 inches in diameter)
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. salt
4 whole cloves
1/4 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. tarragon
1 T corn starch dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water
2 T chopped parsley
About 8 oz. uncooked noodles

PROCEDURE:

Gizzards from a market are already cleaned, but I always give them a rinse before starting the soup. Cut the gizzards into small bite-sized pieces and let them dry on a paper towel while you melt the grease or butter in a Dutch oven over moderate heat. Put the meat into the pot and season it very lightly with salt and pepper. Use a wooden spoon to stir the meat occasionally so it does not burn.

After six to ten minutes the meat will have begun to turn brown. Add the broth, water and bouillon cubes and bring the pot up to a boil Reduce the heat and simmer the meat for two to three hours, until the meat is tender.

Prepare the vegetables while the meat is cooking. Cut the stem and root ends off the onion and remove the dry outer layer. Wash the celery ribs and cut off a little of the top to freshen the cut end. Keep the celery leaves to chop with the ribs. You can peel or thoroughly scrub the carrots and cut off the stem and root tips. Chop the onions into a quarter-inch dice. Chop the carrots into quarter-inch-thick rounds or half rounds. Chop the celery into a half-inch dice.

Test the meat for tenderness after two hours. Test a meaty piece of gizzard. Gizzard meat includes a lot of connective tissue which is perfectly edible, but never becomes really tender. If the fork goes easily into the meat, add the vegetables. If it does not, continue simmering the meat for another half hour or forty-five minutes before adding them.

Bring the soup back to a boil, reduce the heat once more and simmer the vegetables until they are tender. At this point you can either raise the heat and add the noodles or let the soup cool if you want to serve it later. Wash and finely chop the parsley and stir it into the soup before adding the noodles. Cook the noodles in the broth until they are done, usually eight or nine minutes.

Serve with bread and a beverage of your choice.

NOTES: Barbara told me that she would never eat gizzards, but she was willing to help me with some memories of winter to introduce this recipe. Our younger sister Patsy also contributed details about her winter experiences that I have used in this and other posts. I thank them both.

Finally, as a know-it-all brother, I am compelled to set the record straight about Barbara and gizzards. I have watched her eating mashed potatoes and chicken or turkey gravy on many Sundays and holidays, and I know that Mom almost always included chopped gizzards in the gravy. Sorry, sis.

Mom’s Split Pea Soup and Winter Memories

I remember that it was a Friday night.

It was snowing hard and after eight o’clock and Dad was not home yet. Mom was worried. Heavy snow and blowing wind had been forecast on WCCO that morning, so she had given Dad a list of groceries to bring home. Our family usually went shopping in Hayward on Friday nights, but my parents agreed that this Friday we would stay home in the snug house Dad had built in a grove of jack pine trees along Phipps Road.

In the early 1950’s Dad’s workday ended at six. Allowing a half hour for shopping and fifteen or twenty minutes to drive the four miles to our house, she figured he would be home before seven. By 7:15 she told us that Dad had probably stopped for a glass of beer at the Twin Gables before heading home. By 7:30 she was joining us kids looking out the windows in the front room.

In the daytime you could see the snowbanks along Highway 63 across the field in front of the house, but they blocked the headlights of any cars on the road at night. Highway 63 had not been upgraded with wide shoulders and ditches, so the snowbanks got higher and higher at the plows pushed the snow off the roadway. This year the snowbanks were so high you could barely see the snowplows on the highway and in places you could almost reach the telephone wires when you stood on top of the banks. Mom warned us not to touch the wires while we waited for the school bus.

When we heard sounds at the back door, we ran to see who was there. In came Dad. His hat and coat were covered with snow and the gunny sack he dropped in front of us looked like the snow-covered packs in pictures of Santa Claus on some Christmas cards. He took off his coat, hat and rubbers and high top work shoes, warmed his feet in front of the stove and put on dry socks.

As we sat down to soup and fresh bread, Dad told us how he managed to get home in the middle of the blizzard by following a snowplow. When he got to Phipps Road, he found that the plows had piled a four-foot-high bank across the road and that the road itself was drifted even with the snowbanks on either side as far as he could see in the dark.

He drove north to his uncle Richard’s home which was just a block off the highway. He had been married to “Aunt Trace,” Dad’s youngest aunt. She had died the year before we moved into our new house along Phipps Road. At her funeral I learned that her name was really Theresa. I remember her as being stout and friendly.

Dad shoveled through the snowbank in his uncle’s driveway to get the car off the road, borrowed a pair of snowshoes and a gunny sack and set out cross country. It was more than half a mile, but the wind was mostly at his back. He knew his way through the woods and finally crossed the field north of our house and found the road from the garden to the house.

Next morning Dad snowshoed back to his uncle’s and drove to work. Mom and I shoveled the driveway and the big pile of snow left by the town plow when it opened Phipps Road so Dad could drive all the way home.

I don’t remember what kind of soup we had that Friday night, but it could have been Mom’s Split Pea Soup. I’m sure that we had fresh bread or dinner rolls, because Mom always baked bread and rolls when she made soup. My sisters both reminded me how much we all loved the smell of freshly baked bread, so that may have explained Dad’s good humor after his adventure.

Here is how to put smiles on the faces of everyone around the dinner table with an absolutely delicious pea soup. For the perfect meal, serve it with some Homestyle White Bread.

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 – 2 lb. smoked pork hock
Water
2 medium onions (2 1/2 – 3 inches in diameter)
1 medium potato
3 ribs celery
2 large or 3 medium carrots
1 lb. dried green split peas
1 large bay leaf
3 or 4 whole cloves
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste

PROCEDURE:

Put the pork hock in a soup pot or Dutch oven and cover it with cold water. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer the hock for about four hours. Check occasionally, turn the hock and make sure that it is still mostly covered by water. Add a little water if necessary. The long slow simmer extracts gelatin from the bones and skin along with the flavor.

Prepare the vegetables about half an hour before you remove the hock from the broth. Sort the dried peas into a colander by small handfuls to make sure there are no stones or other debris in them and rinse the peas under cold water. Let the peas drain, then add them to the broth before you chop the vegetables.

Cut the stem and root ends off the onions and remove the dry outer layers and peel the potato. Scrub the celery ribs and cut off a little of the top to freshen the cut end. Wash and keep the celery leaves to chop with the ribs. You can peel or thoroughly scrub the carrots and cut off the stem and root tips. Chop the onions into a quarter-inch dice. Chop the carrots into quarter-inch-thick rounds or half rounds. Chop the celery and potato into a half-inch dice.

After the hock has simmered for the four hours, carefully remove it from the water with tongs and let it cool on a plate. Stir the vegetables and spices into the broth. Do not add any salt at this time.

Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer while you remove the meat from the hock. Use a sharp paring knife to remove the skin and separate the fat from the meat. Cut or shred the meat into small pieces and add them to the soup. Continue cooking the soup until the vegetables are tender.

Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Serve with salad, good bread and a beverage of your choice.