The handful of times I visited my grandfather in the French Quarter, there always seemed to be a small pot of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup simmering on his tiny four-burner gas stove. Almost forty years later, the savory smell of chicken noodle soup instantly transports me back to a time of childhood mysteries, emotions and hopes.
I cooked chicken noodle soup from scratch today for the first time. It was good. Good good. Crazy good. Fight-for-the-last-bowl good. And I think my grandfather had something to do with it.
You see, today was my first full day in a new apartment that just happens to be located at the intersection of Mid City, Old Gentilly and the Seventh Ward. The neighborhood is an incredible mix of shotgun doubles, majestic mansions and falling down cottages, all of which are pure New Orleans. Many of the homes have been renovated and renewed, but that old Crescent City magic is there right along with the blight and the new metal roofs and shutters.
My grandfather lived in a neighborhood with a similar mix of the old and new, the sacred and secular, places both open and cloistered. I was intimidated by my grandfather’s emotional distance, but I fairly sizzled with excitement every time we parked the car and walked down St. Philip to his small place, nestled in a cluster of homes of both destitute denizens and some of the city’s wealthiest elite. It was heady – and confusing – stuff for a kid, but I loved it. And through it all, there was always chicken noodle soup in a small, blue enamel sauce pan, quietly boiling.
Canned soup has come a long way, but it is still a poor substitute for homemade. As a child, I pitied my grandfather’s meager dinner of Campbell’s and French bread, and today’s stab at making full-bodied chicken noodle soup from scratch was my little homage to him. And I’d like to think he was here with me today, saying “that’s good, Nick”, and maybe, just maybe, “thank you”.