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Food blogging, and my ancestors' pantries (Recipe: chicken soup)


Guest post by Arlo from Ottawa

My first blog post was actually a letter I wrote to Lydia in autumn 2007, to thank her for helping me get through a difficult period in my life (loss of father, early winter depression, unemployment) and giving me the motivation to reclaim my lost pantry.

Now that I’m a more regular guest blogger here on The Perfect Pantry, I’m starting to understand the essence and appeal of food blogging -- not just the posting of recipes, but also the chance to engage with others who share similar interests and build a community, albeit via internet. I feel good when I can share tidbits of my life and my culture, and thoroughly enjoy reading the comments and following the links to individual related blog sites.

While I do not aspire to replicate, nor can I afford, many of the meals and restaurant fare that dominate some ‘foodie’ blogs, I truly enjoy having the staples, spices, herbs and condiments that can make a meal any place, any time, and in a wide range of conditions, at home or on the road.

My native North American heritage -- Cree and Dakota -- comes from a long line of nomadic people. Only in the last century have we become more sedentary. Before that, we moved with the various migratory and seasonal patterns of our food sources -- animals, birds, fish, and plant life.

Along the way, we traded with others, for beans, corn, grains, herbs, seasonings and so on, plus other necessities for our personal, physical and spiritual survival and well-being. This original “E-bay” existed for thousands of years prior to the arrival of visitors from other parts of Mother Earth. Archaeological digs all through the Americas establish the presence of items such as Incan silver, whale tusk buttons/beads, rainforest wood carvings and more.

That said, no matter how mobile my ancestors were, how light they had to travel, they definitely had a container of some sort filled with their favorite pantry items: sea salt, dried berries, white willow bark, Labrador tea, rosehips, cat tail flour, white sage, smoked fish, chili peppers, hominy, venison, bison fat -– the list is endless!

I think it is universal, this need to preserve, store and have on hand all that makes a beautiful and tasty meal for our family and loved ones, and to share with others. I imagine my grandmothers and mothers sitting at a gathering, reciting a recipe and cooking techniques to their relatives and visitors. They would likely trade and barter secret or rare ingredients along with other stock, staples and sundries. Everyone would move on, satisfied, knowing their next meals on the trail would not be boring.

I imagine our common indigenous peoples all had cave-pantries and enjoyed playing show-and-tell from the beginning of time. What do you think?

Food blogging connects all of us -- no matter who we are, where we are living, and what we are preparing for supper. I feel blessed to be a part of this synergy.

Clean-the-fridge chicken soup

Tonight was Clean-the-Fridge Night. In keeping with our pantry philosophy, this CTF soup was prepared with on what I had on hand. Serves 6 easily.

  1. 2 frozen chicken quarters. Bring to boil and reduce to medium low for 90 minutes with 3 bay leaves, a tsp black peppercorns, and 2 quarts/litres water. Remove chicken and set aside. (You can also do this part ahead of time and refrigerate, or crock-pot it first thing in the morning. If using a crock-pot, transfer the stock to a regular stove-top pot after the chicken is cooked.)
  2. To the stock in the pot, add 2 more quarts/litres water and bring to boil. Add 1 tsp kosher or coarse salt.
  3. Add pasta odds and ends of similar size (I added short tube macaroni and mini-seashells). Let boil 5 minutes, stirring so the pasta doesn't stick to the bottom. Then turn down to medium heat.
  4. Meanwhile, chop whatever vegetables you may have nearing their end-date in your fridge drawer, freezer or on your shelf. Try to keep everything a similar size for even cooking. Here is what went into my soup tonight:
    o       Baby carrots (1/2 cup)
    o       Asparagus (1/2 cup)
    o       6 cloves garlic
    o       Small onion, chopped
    o       3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
    o       Frozen green peas (3/4 cup)
    o       Frozen yellow corn kernels (1/2 cup)
  5. Frozen ripe cherry tomatoes (approx 12) added last
  6. I also added:
    o       Leftover homemade mild salsa (chopped tomatoes, onions, green jalapeño peppers, seasonings), approximately 1/2 cup
    o       Tomato vegetable cocktail juice (1 cup)
  7. Remove all the flesh from the chicken quarters, chop and return to soup as vegetables are close to tender.
  8. For seasonings, I added:
    o       2 tsp Cajun seasoning
    o       1 Tbsp instant chicken soup mix (the yellow evil kind)
    o       Shake of dried oregano
    o       Red pepper flakes (adjust to your taste)
    o       1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  9. Add more water, if desired, and simmer until you get the consistency you prefer. Some families like soup, some like stew. Ours is in-between.

I served this with toasted nine-grain ciabatta buns with garlic/herb soy-margarine spread. Enjoy!

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Also in The Perfect Pantry:

Twisted Three Sisters Soup
Everything-in-the-pantry bean soup
Squash and peanut soup
Zuni corn soup
Chicken soup

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Hi Arlo - I agree completely - the desire to have a well-stocked pantry is a very universal, human need that is part of the desire for home and comfort. I don't understand people who live on take out - stocking the pantry and preparing meals is essential to who I am.

I admire this approach: home cooks use a method, not a recipe. We accommodate what is on hand. And the pantry items add and adapt for the occasion.

Another name for your soup is chagot soup -- made of whatchagot.

I love the idea of your 'CTF' Soup!


Nice article! To appreciate food, to me, is to appreciate life. Cooking is therapetic for the soul. Look forward to more of your guest posts, Arlo :)

I think you are so right! Lots of synergy! Love that idea of the original “E-bay”! We humans are creatures of habit even when our technology changes!

Arlo you are a woman after my own heart! I just can't throw any food away and I hoard leftovers, bones, whatever in the freezer. Some of my most creative moments in the kitchen are spent reinterpreting them with the addition of whatever is on hand in the pantry into new meals. I am dying to know what you do with an Labrador tea and white willow bark and where to find them. I love experimenting with new ingredients. Thanks

You make me wonder what my family brought when they immigrated. I do know about the samovar, which sat on my grandmother (-in-law)'s lap on the boat while children played alongside. And cat's tails -- maybe you should explain they come from plants, not animals!

Hi Arlo, I always like to peek into other people's pantry. Every nationality and blend of nationalities make for very interesting items in the cupboard. That soup sounds delicious but hard to duplicate.

Hi T.W. Barrit - I agree. Some places where I've lived, take-out was a fond memory and we absolutely required a good pantry for our survival. Now Take-out is just a rare treat when I'm feeling lazy. I love being able to stock basic foods and stuff and pull out a meal!

Mae- Whatchgot soup sounds way more appealing than clean the fridge! Tell me yours..

Hey Paz - CTF soup/stew/stir fry has become a weekly meal here. Each one is different I will say...

Hello noobcook - Yes, cooking is therapy for the soul. As is sharing one's cooking tales. It's now become fun cleaning out the fridge so I can twist a new recipe!

My KitchenInHalfCups - I really did picture all kinds of cooks sitting around a campfire sharing recipes and trading ingredients...just like we do now eh? Thanks for your post.

Hi Peter - My dad talked a lot about Labrador tea when he was in survival training with the air force. It's really like cedar or pine needle tea, coming from a small evergreen bush. Excellent source of vitamin C. White willow bark I am only familiar with from health food stores but read about it lots from our history, it is an early version of aspirin - a natural painkiller and sedative.

Yes I tend to save everything, but need to keep track or it will become compost. Then I would have to write for a gardening blog...

Hi Susan G - OMG! Yes it is the plant that we call cat tails! I was just trying to imagine what my ancestors might have packed in their travel pantries. I am not ruling out the possibility of other tails.. (just kidding)!

Pauline, this soup is what I made the last time I cleaned the fridge and it was delicious. I made sure to copy down the recipe. That said, I'm not even sure I can replicate it! Really, it's just stock, pasta, vegetables, cooked meat and seasonings, whatever is in the fridge! I'm sure you will make a yummy version.

I love the name of your chicken soup!
We love having a well stocked pantry too, but we're to the point where we have become pantry pack rats!

White on Rice Couple: LOL! I must be a pantry pack rat at times too. Comes from much time in the prairies I guess. Thanks for your post!

When I was very young, one of the things I enjoyed most was pouring through my mother's and grandmothers' pantries and kitchen shelves. I loved looking over all the food items and reading label after label---each item's description, how it was to be prepared and used---it all seemed so intriguing and exotic, especially growing up in the rural Midwest. That means of passing time is how I taught myself the names and uses of many spices---whenever I was bored I'd hit the spice rack!

All these years later and I still enjoy looking over not only kitchen pantries and shelves, but grocery and gourmet stores' shelves as well. I'm ever intrigued by pantry items and still love reading labels and discovering new foods or new food uses. Now that I think about it, I'm sure that's why I enjoy and appreciate reading food-related blogs.

Thank you Arlo for this post. It brought back many wonderful memories for me that I hadn't thought of in years...

Thank you for a heart-warming post, Arlo. Food and food memories is what keeps my family close in my heart even though we're 3000 miles apart.

Hi Arlo, thanks for sharing. My paternal side of the family also comes from a normadic tribe. However, I am very much out of touch with the traditions of the tribe.

This CTF concept is one that I turn to quite often as I try not to waste any items I have in the fridge.

take care,

Sandie - I LOVE colourful labels, containers, and also recipes on the box. Spice tins were especially coveted by most of my aunties and grandmothers. I still have one or two I think, mostly for display but it so adds to the fun for my children to explore. Thank you for your memories and kind words!

Susan from Food Blogga: I know 3000 miles is a long way! Thank goodness our shared food and inherited recipes connect us all with our distant relations. Your note means alot to me, thanks!

Hi Nora - sorry I was replying to other posts only to find you also sent a kind note. Thanks and good to hear there are others who care not to waste any food. Our peoples always gave blessings when they had a meal, even more praise when it was a tasty one!

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