10.9.2011

Fawn * Matzo Ball Soup

In the spring of 1977, Fawn was newly married, recently graduated and just beginning her life in Chicago. As she went about planning her first Passover Seder, she knew the first thing she needed was a good matzo ball soup. Fawn recalls, “even though it wasn’t that long ago, long distance phone calls were expensive and there was no such thing as email. So, when I requested my grandmother’s recipe, I did so the old fashioned way: with a pen, a piece of paper and an envelope.”

Fawn

Grandma Annie responded in turn with a letter sprawled in graceful, looped cursive. Aside from the beautiful handwriting, a few things stood out about the letter: some of the measurements were vague, the instructions skipped out of order, and the subject switched rather abruptly from cooking to dancing lessons. “I knew she was losing her memory,” Fawn says, “because normally her thoughts were much more organized.”

Fawn, her grandmother, her daughter, and her mother

Grandma Annie's letter

“Growing up, my grandmother was always in charge of the holidays,” Fawn says, “but I actually saw her almost every day. We had three generations living in this little house on the coast of Boston and my grandparents lived on the ground floor. Grandma Annie always kept a jar of M&Ms on the kitchen counter, which meant that if you were walking up the back stairs all you had to do was open up the door to say ‘Hi, Grandma!’ and you could grab some candy. And I don’t think it was an accident that she put it there!”

Though she never had the opportunity to go to college, Fawn’s grandmother had always been sharp. “She was kind, musical, artistic. Later in life, she painted over one hundred oil paintings,” Fawn tells me, motioning to a gorgeous landscape hanging on the wall. “She had a porch overlooking the ocean, and she and a couple of friends used to set up their easels outside and paint for hours.”

And of course, Grandma Annie made a mean matzo ball soup. Even as her grandmother began to forget, Fawn remembered it vividly – the taste, the texture, the smell of it simmering on the stove. With a loose recipe, a bit of tinkering and a few boxes of matzo meal, Fawn was finally able to replicate the soup that she had come to love so dearly: a clear, bright broth filled with matzo balls that are pleasantly dense yet still delicate. What really sets the soup apart, though, is the tiniest pinch of cinnamon to lend the matzo balls a subtle sweetness and unexpected depth.

Today, Fawn is still cooking the same matzo ball soup that her grandmother used to make for her as a child. It’s her favorite variation of this classic dish, a preference which may have just as much to do with memory as it does with taste – and in reality, these two things are hard to separate.

Three Quick Questions…and Fawn’s Answers

It’s your last meal. What do you have?
I would have yogurt and fruit, for two reasons. First, if it’s my last meal, I’m probably not in the mood to eat. Second, if it’s my last meal, I probably don’t want to be very wasteful! And I like yogurt and fruit.

Your kitchen is burning down. What’s the one thing you grab?
This is really going to be different, but I would grab my Pyrex liquid measuring cup. I use it every day and have one in each of my houses. I use it to measure things, stir things, make oatmeal and pour pancake batter — it really works for just about anything. I’ve always had one, and occasionally when one breaks I’ll get another.

Do you have a favorite cookbook?
I have two favorites, which are very old cookbooks. The Jewish Gourmet Cookbook is where I learned certain traditional Jewish recipes like stuffed cabbage, things that I don’t make quite so much anymore. And then I love Wings of Life, which I got when I was newly married. That was the book that taught me things like how to make a soup, how to cook with grains and how to make a quiche.

Matzo Ball Soup
Print
Recipe type: Appetizer
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 1 hour 35 mins
Total time: 1 hour 50 mins
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • FOR THE BROTH:
  • 1 (3 ½ – 4 ½ pound) chicken, washed and divided into 8 pieces
  • 3 large carrots, chopped into large pieces
  • 3 large celery stalks, chopped into large pieces
  • 2 onions, peeled and quartered
  • small bunch dill
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • FOR THE MATZO BALLS:
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup matzo meal
  • tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • pinch of cinnamon
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients for your stock in a large stockpot and add enough cold water to cover everything by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Skim froth, then reduce heat to medium-low and allow to simmer, uncovered, for at least an hour, until the chicken is done.
  2. Remove chicken from the pot and shred into small pieces; set aside. Pour soup through a fine-mesh sieve or strainer and discard all solids or, alternatively, everything but the carrots and celery (set the vegetables aside with the chicken if you plan to use them in the soup). Allow broth to cool completely then skim off any remaining fat that rises to the top.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare your matzo balls. Bring a medium sized pot of salted water to a boil and then reduce the heat. Mix together the eggs, matzo meal, salt, pepper and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Run your hands under water to wet them, then form the matzo ball dough into 1″ balls and drop into the simmering salt water one at a time. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes.
  4. Add shredded chicken and any reserved carrots and celery to the stock pot. Using a slotted spoon, transfer matzo balls to the stock as well. Cook for five more minutes before serving. Ladle some soup and a couple matzo balls into individual bowls and enjoy immediately.
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Comments

  • I really love the grace of your storytelling, Kathryn! The recipe comes to life with that background. I think making this soup will mean more to me just thinking about Fawn’s grandma…

    • Kathryn

      Thank you so much, Jennifer!

  • Another beautiful story! I love how you always remind me how important the stories behind our food are. :)

    • Kathryn

      Thank you, Erin! I agree – recipes mean different things to everyone and it’s nice to learn about some of that background :)

  • Oh dear, this soup looks so soothing and delicious.

  • Love this story and I’m a huge matzo ball soup fan. I just made some last week, but next time I make up a batch, I’m adding in the pinch of cinnamon. Sounds totally comforting!

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