Making do with what you’ve got – Humble Chicken Soup


Humble Chicken Soup

Twenty seven years ago, Jim and I were newlyweds.  We were also broke.  We lived in a suburb of Philadelphia in an apartment that cost 40% of our income.  Our place was on the top floor of a building that had been abandoned so long, the people in the neighborhood didn’t think anyone lived there at all.

We were both students – Jim was working on his MBA and I was finishing my bachelor’s degree.  Our budget for groceries was only $25 a week.  That didn’t go far.  If I had known how to cook, I probably could have stretched things a bit further, but I was still learning.

A few weeks after Thanksgiving that year, we were moving into finals week and our money had run out.  The cupboard was bare.  But Jim’s parents came to visit and they brought a bag of potatoes and a 3 lb. Country Crock container filled with frozen, leftover turkey.  There may have been other things (probably corn, chicken broth and carrots), but that’s what I remember most.  The bag of potatoes seemed so large that I wasn’t sure how we’d ever use it all.

It turned out that we lived on those ingredients for about two weeks.  I would  chip off some of the turkey from that brown, plastic tub and add it to boiling broth along with potatoes, carrots, onion and a can of corn.  A small pone of cornbread baked in our smallest iron skillet went along with the soup on most nights.

Lunch.  Dinner.  Dinner.  Lunch.  We ate that soup for just about every meal because we didn’t have any money to buy different ingredients.  We got a little tired of it, but at the same time, it was hot and good and nourishing.  It’s one of our fondest early marriage memories.

Recently, I made the soup for our dinner.  I told the kids the story.  And when Jim got home from work I asked if he recognized the recipe.  It took him a few minutes, but he remembered.

There’s not much of a recipe to share here.  Add peeled potatoes, carrots and onion to a pot of broth.  Boil it until the potatoes are tender.  Add leftover turkey or chicken and a can of corn. Season with salt and pepper.

Share a bowl with people you love.  And count your blessings.

Do you have a meal that reminds you of a lean time, that turned out to be full of goodness?


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  1. Thanks for sharing your early struggles. I too remember days not unlike yours, with my son. Being a single mom, in a basement apt sleeping on an air mattress. Using the Hope Chest I received for my 16th birthday for our “kitchen table”. I look back on those days and am thankful I went thru them because now, we have enough money and then some, but I still try to live like I am on that tight budget. 8) Happy Holidays!

  2. Oh wow. We married the year before hubby’s final year at university. Corned beef hash, using tinned beef, potatoes and tomatoes featured heavily in our diet. I do think, not having money makes you appreciate and not take for granted, the times when you’ve worked hard and down the line you can afford things. This soup looks delicious and very comforting. I really enjoyed your post. Sammie.

  3. Sharon Searcy says:

    This reminded me of one year early in our marriage 34 years ago. We were youth directors at our church and had taken in several teenagers to live with us. It was Super Bowl Sunday and the kids wanted to have a Super Bowl party. We dug out change from between the sofa and car seat cushions and went shopping. We bought a bag of hamburger buns, a can of spaghetti sauce, a pack of pepperoni, some mozzarella cheese and some mushrooms. That night everybody got to make their own pizza while we watched the game. They still remember it as the best party ever.

  4. At one point we were down to condiments, some baking staples and an onion. We made it 2 days on onion rings! We also look back at that time fondly and laugh.

  5. Oh thanks so much for sharing this story! It brought back some wonderful memories of our first years of marriage. We too were broke and I really didn’t know how to cook at all. Except spaghetti. We had that a lot during that time! Now thankfully we have more money and I know how to cook more than just spaghetti. We are coming up on 16 years of marriage this Friday and I really enjoy reminiscing back to those first few years.

  6. We, too, were on a tight budget when we married 38 years ago. Our weekly food budget was $23. I remember both of us would go shopping in the evening after hubby got off work. We could buy chicken wings for 19 cents a pound and fish was also cheap. Now both are in demand and prices are much much higher. The freezer became our friend and the tiniest scraps were frozen for future use. The Lord has faithfully provided all these years exceedingly abundantly to meet our needs.

  7. We had a dinner not too long ago that was the same feeling – we have ingredients, but no idea what to make! My hubby put butter in a pan, fried some onion, then added sausage and green pepper, a can of potatoes, and some brown sugar. It was so good, we’ve made it again 4 times since!

  8. sorry, but am I missing the recipe for the Humble Chicken Soup somewhere? LOL thanks!

    • It’s just in a quick line at the end of the post. There’s not much to the recipe, just method – boil broth, add potatoes, carrots, chicken and corn, cook till done 🙂

  9. Ours is potato soup. When we first started out it was rough. I wasn’t a good cook either. One day, we had no money for a few days and no groceries. I did have a huge bag of potatoes that were starting to grow because I didn’t have a clue what to do with them, other than add them to a roast. At the time I bought frozen mashed potatoes because I couldn’t figure out scratch mashed potatoes…. I finally made a simple potato soup with cream, butter and onions. To this day it is a family favorite.

  10. first this may be simply but to me it sounds so good and make me appreicate it even more ,many yrs ago i married my high school sweet heart ,he joined the navy ,we back then didnt have nothing ,i sat and looked at the clean floors & walls ,to this day with a huge laugh i hate cleaning ,,but yes i do ,,there were many ,many nights we ate spagetti noodles with kketcup as the sauce ,so yes ,simple is always great ,,,,,,,,,thanks for shakening my marbles to go back to those days ,,,,,,,,

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