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.


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

4 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

1/2 tsp. brown gravy sauce

1 T corn starch dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water

2 T chopped parsley

About 8 oz. uncooked noodles


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, bay leaf, ground pepper, cloves, thyme, tarragon 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.  Stir in the brown gravy sauce.

Dissolve the corn starch in the water and stir it into the soup.

Taste and adjust the seasoning.

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.

Brianna’s Duck, Duck, Goose Wild Rice Soup

Wyatt wasn’t saying much, but he was alert and ready for action. The decoys had been set next to the blind and a mallard was flying overhead. He wore a camouflage hat as any good duck hunter knows is necessary, but his red and black plaid shirt would have betrayed him to the sharp-eyed duck above. It was pretty cold for a hunter-in-training, however, so the shirt was a good idea. If he had a chance to use the pop gun on his lap, at least he wouldn’t be shivering as he aimed.

Wyatt did well for a hunter just approaching his first birthday. He didn’t make a sound, just paid close attention to the stuff going into his trick or treat bag. My guess, however, is that most of the goodies ended up in Matt’s lunch pack to keep Wyatt’s dad warm in the blind or as snacks for Brianna as she put together Duck, Duck Goose.

A few days after Halloween, Brianna appeared at our door with a quart of this creamy wild rice soup made with ducks and geese that Matt brings home. We savored every spoonful, and I asked Brianna if she would let me share it on Courage in the Kitchen. She said yes, but there was still a problem.

I no longer hunt ducks or geese and therefore lack a key ingredient of Duck, Duck, Goose. I remember clearly my last hunt over decoys. My friend Bob and I had set our decoys at dawn on the south side of Totagatic Lake. It was November and a twenty-mile-an-hour wind was blowing snow mixed with freezing rain into our faces. As we slowly sank into the water on the bog and watched the bluebills riding the waves far out in the lake, it occurred to me that I was not enjoying the experience.

Thereafter I confined my duck hunting to sneaking up on teal on the ponds in my grandfather’s pasture. The best days for doing this was when it was sunny and warm. As a bonus, if there were no teal on the ponds, I could head for the thorn apple trees in the pasture in hopes of finding a grouse or two. The pasture is now a forest and I have not tried jump-shooting ducks for many years.

In all but a handful of the recipes for things that Jerri always makes, I cook every dish that shows up in this blog. However, Brianna was kind enough to give me her recipe, answer my questions and review the recipe after I had typed it out, so I’m confident that you’ll be able to put this really delicious soup on your table.

If you like wild rice soup but don’t have any wild ducks and geese, you might try Turkey Wild Rice Soup. I make it a couple of times a year with the remains of the Thanksgiving and Christmas birds that I bag at the local supermarket. We like that soup a lot, but Brianna’s version of Duck, Duck Goose is a soup that any hunter or hunter’s wife should make at least once every season.

The recipe makes a lot, so you can invite some friends or family members for dinner or share with the neighbors.


4 duck breasts
1 goose breast
5 cups uncooked wild rice
4 quarts water for cooking the rice
1 T salt
1 medium onion (about 3 inches in diameter)
4 or 5 large carrots
5 or 6 ribs celery
1/2 cup Riesling wine
1 T olive oil
4 quarts chicken stock
1/2 lb. butter (2 sticks)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Salt and pepper to taste


Start by cooking the cleaned duck and goose breasts. It is very important that all the feathers and pellets have been removed from the meat. Remove any skin that may have been left on the breasts. You can render some wonderful fat from duck and goose skins. My grandmother saved this fat for making really tender pie crusts.

Put the breasts into a slow cooker with enough water to cover the meat by a half inch or so. Set the heat control to low and cook the meat for ten hours.

About an hour before putting the soup together, remove the duck and goose breasts from the cooker and allow the meat to cool while you start the rice.

Rinse the rice in cold water and put it into a large kettle or stewpot. Add the water and salt and bring the pot to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the rice for fifty minutes. Check to see if some of the rice grains have popped open. If they have, the rice is nearly done. You can test it by chewing a few grains. They should be chewy but tender. Cook the rice a few minutes longer if you wish. Drain the water from the pot and set the rice aside.

Shred the meat into small pieces and set them aside while the rice is cooking. This is also the time to prepare the vegetables. Remove the stem and root ends and outer layer from the onion and chop it into a quarter-inch dice. Scrape or peel the carrots and chop them into quarter-inch rounds or half rounds. Clean and chop the celery into quarter-inch rounds. You want two to two and a half cups each of chopped carrots and celery.

Put a tablespoon of olive oil into a large pot (at least eight quarts) and cook the chopped onions over low heat for three or four minutes until they have become translucent, stirring often. Add the carrots, celery, chicken stock and wine and bring the pot to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about twenty minutes until the carrots are just becoming tender. Stir the meat and rice into the stock and vegetables. Raise the heat to bring the pot back to a very low simmer.

Make the roux while the pot is coming back to a simmer. Melt the butter in a skillet or heavy bottomed saucepan over moderate heat and stir in the flour with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat and stir the flour continuously while it mixes with the butter and begins to bubble. Keep stirring for three to four minutes to cook the flour. Do not brown the roux. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the roux to cool slightly. Whisk two cups of slightly cooled broth from the the large pot into the roux, then stir the roux into the soup and simmer for another two or three minutes until the soup thickens.

Stir in a cup of whipping cream, bring just to a simmer, taste and adjust the seasoning. Do not boil.

Serve with good bread.

NOTES: I normally use a sauvignon blanc or other dry wine in chicken or vegetable soups. However, Briana specifically said that she likes Riesling in this recipe, and she is absolutely right. The sweetness of the Riesling complements the meat perfectly.

I prefer to make roux in a cast iron skillet, but I also use heavy-bottomed saucepans. If you don’t have heavy-bottomed pans, use very low heat and be careful not to burn the roux.