A Chicken Soup Tribute to J.D. Salinger

Today’s post was was going to be about chicken soup.

I had it all planned. I was going to show you a graph from the Centers for Disease Control illustrating the way the flu season peaks in the month of February. I had collected entertaining anecdotes about Jewish penicillin and a charming photograph of someone’s grandmother ladling it up from a steaming soup kettle. I had the results from a University of Nebraska Medical Center study documenting chicken soup’s ability to reduce neutrophils cells, which trigger the inflammatory responses that make cold sufferers feel so rotten.

Then  J.D. Salinger died.

An American original, the author has been a part of the coming-of-age experience for so long that his most celebrated and enduring creation, Holden Caulfield, a teenager when Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951, would be 76 years old today. His extraordinary voice was the soundtrack of my adolescence, as it was for so many of us.

But to talk about chicken soup, you need to look to Franny and Zooey.

A pair of short stories, Franny and Zooey captures a few days in the lives of a brother (Zooey) and his younger sister (Franny) when she returns home from college in the midst of a depressive, existential crisis. Franny and Zooey are the youngest of the Glass siblings, a quirky New York family of brilliant and neurotic child prodigies— think Royal Tenenbaums; in fact filmmaker Wes Anderson reportedly paid tribute through that movie by naming the Tenenbaum family after the in-laws of an older Glass sister.

Chicken soup makes nearly a dozen appearances as Mrs. Glass repeatedly offers it to her daughter who is in need of both physical and emotional sustenance. As Zooey bullies, insults, cajoles, and ultimately soothes Franny (as only a brother can), she comes to see that the chicken soup has been “consecrated” by the loving care of their mother. Through the soup Franny learns that the quotidian details of existence imbue a life with meaning, humanity and spirituality.

Existential crisis averted. Chalk up another one for chicken soup.

For all your crises, existential or otherwise, here’s a round up of online chicken soup purveyors who can deliver salvation to your doorstep:

There’s no split pea or minestrone at Grandma’s Chicken Soup. Just the original chicken with matzah balls and noodles. You can add a challah or noodle kugel, or for an additional fee the soup will be hand-delivered by a real grandma.

Spoonful of Comfort has seen a jump in orders since the founders’ appearance on the Today Show. Another soup purist, they offer chicken noodle or chicken noodle.

Bubbe never made gazpacho. But she didn’t accept Paypal payments either. Both are available at the  Soup Shack, along with a very traditional chicken noodle soup.

There’s nary an egg noodle or matzah ball in sight, but Gourmet Station’s spicy chicken and sausage gumbo is pretty therapeutic.

And for the hypochondriac, the Chicken Soup of the Month Club brings regular half gallon shipments of matzah ball with noodles.


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