Sophie Kaufman, an intern at The Museum at Eldridge Street, proposed a few months ago that the museum host a chicken soup-making demonstration.
The 22-year-old’s reasons were noble: “to attract people from my generation to the museum.”
The Lower East Side National Historical Landmark (eldridgestreet.org) is on the site of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, which was established in 1887. The shul went into decline in the mid-20th century after decades of serving as a crowded venue for prayer, then reopened in 2007 as a restored museum site, under the aegis of the Eldridge Street Project.
And Kaufman’s reasons were personal: “I wanted to learn how to make matzo ball soup!” she blogged recently.
What’s chicken soup without matzah balls?
Ten people, the capacity of the museum’s “tiny kitchen space,” took part last week in “Old Recipes for a New Generation: Chicken Soup & Matzo Ball Demo,” says Hanna Griff-Sleven, the institution’s program director, who led the demonstration.
Kaufman was one of the 10. The others were around her age, she says.
A native of Los Angeles, Kaufman always enjoyed eating the chicken soup made by her grandmother and aunt. But she “never put an emphasis” on learning how to make the “recipes I had taken for granted.”
She moved here four years ago, and joining the staff of the museum six months ago spurred her interest. So she decided to take up the culinary art as a form of “cultural identification.”
“It’s comfort food,” says the New School media studies major.
The other novice chicken soup makers last week shared her interest, if not her ethnicity. A few were not Jewish; some were Asian, Griff-Sleven says. “It wasn’t all women.” All “were intrigued by the idea of making their own soup.”
Chicken soup, it seems, is universal. During this year’s fierce winter, a lot of people had become sick, and turned to chicken soup as a cure, Griff-Sleven says.
Her family recipe is a bit eclectic, including ginger.
All the participants in the demonstration made a single, joint pot of soup, strictly kosher, and about two dozen matzah balls. “We sat down and ate it together,” she says. “It was really fun. They could take home whatever was left.” Which wasn’t much. “It was delicious,” Kaufman says.
She says she’ll be making chicken soup again. “I’m going to make some Friday night. I think I’ll do it pretty often.”