The Ladle & The Dreidel: Chicken soup and Covid-19


Laura Godfrey-Isaacs, artist, midwife and birth activist, discusses Jewish penicillin and poverty.

My family and I have just prepared our 500th portion of soup, in our South London kitchen. Fifty new portions sit neatly in rows, with our stickers, The Ladle & The Dreidel on top and are ready to be distributed to people living in food poverty, by the Southwark Food Bank and Lumberjack Café. It’s the eve of Yom Kippur, the traditional time to break your fast with a nice bowl of chicken soup and matzah balls, so, it’s a good time to think about soup, particularly chicken soup, and Covid-19.

Jewish Penicillin

Chicken soup or ‘Jewish penicillin’, a term coined by philosopher and physician Maimonides in his book, ‘On the Cause of Symptoms’, is a household staple at home. My husband and I compete over who can make the best version. My older daughter demands a supply for her own house and it’s an immediate remedy offered for colds, coughs, upset or illness of any complexion.

I favour a long, 3-4 hour simmering of the bones of a roasted chicken, with numerous vegetables and a whole bulb of garlic, whereas my husband uses the pressure cooker with only the bones. He makes his own dumplings, out of flour, not matzoh meal, whereas I add some kind of grain such as rice, barley or sometimes lentils. Our freezer is packed with chicken carcasses ready for either treatment. We constantly argue over who has the best version, and of course believe ours is the winner.

A Defence Against Covid-19

So, when the pandemic struck and we were busy making chicken soup, as a form of defence against an unknown threat in Covid-19, we wanted to extend this to others in our community. We were going through our own dramas as schools, work and opportunities were cancelled for the younger generation, and I had a major operation for breast cancer. The emotional and physical challenges of lockdown were profound for everyone, whatever their circumstances, and the remedy – typical for a Jewish family – was nourishing the mind and body through cooking, comfort food, and reaching for positive traditions.

Linking up with those that were already distributing food to people in need was a great way to get our soup to the right people. So, we were delighted when local Lumberjack Café agreed we could join their effort, to #FeedSouthwark via the Southwark Food Bank funded by The Trussell Trust.

Child Poverty

Child poverty in London of 41% is at shocking levels and it is estimated over 4 million people in the UK are at risk of going hungry Between April 2019 and March 2020, food banks in The Trussell Trust network provided a record 1.9 million food supplies to people in crisis, an 18% increase on the previous year. So since early June we have joined Lumberjack café in providing lunches for local people in need for a cost of £3.25 each.

Even though we would love to make chicken soup, we decided making something vegan was the best way of making sure our ingredients were safe and didn’t cause any barrier.

However, we have taken the spirt of Jewish penicillin and created nutritious soups which are a meal in a bowl – using a base of onions, carrots, garlic and celery, then adding our main ingredients, whether that’s butternut squash, tomatoes or mushrooms, a good vegetable stock and then beans, potatoes or lentils. This creates a hearty soup that can be reheated either on its own or with milk and cream added.

Every week we perform this ritual and are grateful to Lumberjack Café who deliver our ingredients and pick up the portions for distribution and who launched this scheme, using their own premises in Camberwell to make lunches 5 days a week, that accompany our soup.

It’s just one small gesture, a mitzvah, but hopefully a demonstration of our commitment to supporting those in need in our community in South East London.

As we go into a possible ‘second wave’ of the pandemic and people are preparing for a long hard Winter, we hope to continue to provide some sustenance.

Please donate to the Trussell Trust, whatever you can.

Below is my recipe for chicken soup – enjoy!

Laura’s Chicken Soup Method

Carcass of a roasted chicken
Whole bulb of garlic
3 carrots, 4 sticks of celery, 1 large onion – roughly chopped
A mix of vegetables – in small chunks - roots or other e.g. carrots, peppers, sweet potatoes, courgettes
1 tin chopped tomatoes
A lemon
Grains – rice or barley – small handful
Bunch of fresh parsley
Add the chicken carcass to a large stock pot or saucepan and cover with water.
Add carrots, celery and a whole bulb of garlic, tucked round it
Bring to the boil, cover and let simmer for max 2 hours (or up to 4 hours)
Drain off the bones/vegetables and return stock to a clean pan
Bring the stock to a boil and rapidly boil until it has reduced by about a half.
Then add your fresh vegetables – carrots, other root veg, peppers, courgettes etc (as many as you want) finely chopped
Add the tin of tomatoes
Add your grains
Simmer till the veg is tender and the grains are soft
Before serving add the juice of one lemon
Adjust for seasoning with salt & pepper
Chop finely and add your fresh parsley


Laura Godfrey-Isaacs is an artist, midwife, creative producer and birth activist.
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