Chicken Soup for the Cambridge Soul

Sarah Restarick 10 November 2007

Sarah Restarick

Ah, chicken soup! A miracle cure for all that ails ye, seemingly with powers to rival penicillin. Its healing powers were apparently first noted by the Ancient Egyptians and later recorded in the 12th century by the

Jewish sage Maimonides who raved of its

“virtue in rectifying corrupted humours” (of course we all know that Maimonides must have nicked this matzah ball of wisdom from his mum, because surely Jewish mothers have known of The Soup since time began and Abraham caught his first sniffle). Not that we need science to back us up here, but merely because everybody likes a good fact, lets not forget that in 2000 Dr Stephen Rennard and chums published a study in the journal Chest which found chicken soup had a potential anti-inflammatory effect by reducing the activity of certain white blood cells. So there; not just a placebo effect after all!

My own mother is sadly lacking in Jewish

heritage, but schooldays in north London taught me that chicken soup was always the way to go when those autumn colds began to kick in.

A nice big bowl or even mug of steaming liquid was just the thing, sometimes with the added delicacy of slippery

noodles for that extra amusement we all need when breathing through your nose brings only a humorous squealing noise rather than any actual passage of oxygen. Whether freshly made, Covent Garden Soup Company packaged or in the humble and much maligned form of cup-a-soup, chicken soup is the shizzle.

My own recipe for chicken-flavoured cold relief normally involves plenty of garlic, lemon juice, rice noodles and a hideous quantity of bird eye chillies (it has been branded ‘the soup of death’). But alas and alack, with Fresher’s flu descending late in the term it came upon me all at once that…I no longer had a hob with which to produce my miraculous

concoction, my college having fallen foul of the dreaded Cambridge County Council Fire Safety

inspections. Could the same elixir of health really be produced in the so-called ‘combination oven’? Or was there another way?

The literary version of Jewish penicillin, perhaps?

Thinking back to my schooldays again I realised that perhaps there was. My headmistress had held an unhealthy fascination with the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books, and over my seven years at the school I had sat through a surprising number of assembly readings drawn from her favourite source.

According to their wikipedia blurb these books, which now number over 105 titles including such gems as Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul, Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul and Sopa de Pollo para el Alma de los Padres, comprise ‘a collection of short, inspirational stories and motivational essays’. And so my cold-addled mind considered whether

perhaps Mrs. Hyde had had a point with her endless repetitions of the story about the frog trapped in the dairy or the man throwing the starfish back in the sea.

Maybe I could heal myself with the words of Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen instead: the

literary version of Jewish penicillin perhaps?

And so, dear readers, I carried out an experiment. Some may have it called it madness, others, brilliance; yet more may simply see it as the product of a bored undergrad with a looming essay deadline on a wet October afternoon. The necessary equipment for my dabblings in domestic science consisted of: one bowl of chicken noodle soup bought from Sainsbury’s and warmed in the aforementioned combination-oven; also, one book, Chicken Soup for the Soul, acquired from the magical library van that appears in the Market Square.

My cold and I sat down to the table, book and bowl poised in front of me, and the experimentation began. A few spoonfuls of soup were taken – good, nourishing, throat felt soothed. A random page was chosen and the story read – courageous child with cancer, dying wish: to be a fireman, fire officer smiles down at little Billy the hero, end of tale. My heart is slightly lifted, but unfortunately stomach now feels nauseated and nose is still bunged up. The experiment continues, with the bowl of soup ending well beyond the 304 pages of the increasingly saccharine book. Sadly, I just can’t stomach any more.

The conclusion I drew was thus: motivational

essays, schmotivational essays. When fifth week comes around and the inevitable cold with it, I’ll

definitely be with Maimonides on this one and

grappling with the microwave to produce the beautiful goop that is chicken soup.