Zella’s Homemade Chicken Soup







Medication does nothing for my colds. While Nyquil usually helps me sleep, there is one thing, and one thing alone, that truly makes me feel better when I am sick: my grandma Zella’s homemade chicken soup. And while soup isn’t baked, of course, this recipe is one I’ve wanted to share for a while.

“Grandma’s making soup on Saturday,” my father would say, upon returning from his parents’ house down the street on any given weeknight. Immediately, my eyes would widen and my mouth would water. Zella’s soup is a two-course affair, the first involving golden broth and homemade egg noodles, the second, flavor-rich chicken, potatoes, and carrots, not diced or chopped so they blend into the broth, but left whole for the second course, a bowl of shredded chicken, mashed potatoes, and carrots, all drizzled with broth. This might sound strange, but to me, it was food heaven.

Growing up I’d sit in Zella’s tidy yellow kitchen and watch, transfixed, as she stirred in the ingredients; I got to help make the noodles, adding egg after egg into her noodle maker, standing at the ready to catch the fine strands from its extruder.  At the age of 26, while living in DC, I traveled home to Pittsburgh one weekend to be taught how to make the soup. There was no actual recipe that Zella could send me, of course. It was all in her head, as much about how you make it as what you put in it.

Yesterday, while I made this, my mom stopped by. “It smells like Grandma’s house,” she said. This rich aroma is distinctly tied with my grandparents, and when I smell it now, I marvel at the power of scent connected to memory. This time, I made her soup in the same pot she used, stirring with her wooden spoon. I’d like to believe she, my grandpap, and my dad were all in the kitchen with me.


  • About 2 gallons water
  • 4 bone-in chicken breasts (or one pick-of-the-chicken package)
  • 1 soup bone
  • 5 stalks celery, leaves removed
  • 1 green pepper, cut in half, seeds and stalk removed
  • 1-2 yellow onions (depending on size), cut in half
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut in half length-wise
  • About 2 tablespoons paprika
  • About 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 5-6 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
  • 1 bunch Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, bound with a kitchen band or twine
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 12-ounce package fine egg noodles


Place chicken breasts and soup bone in the bottom of a large, 2-gallon stockpot. Cover with 1 3/4 gallons water and place over high heat on the stove with the lid tilted open.

Bring to a boil, watching carefully. When foam begins to form on the top, skim off with a small sieve; you will need to do this at least a few times. Continue boiling for one hour.

Add celery, green pepper, onion(s), carrots, paprika, and peppercorns. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for one hour.

Add potatoes, parsley, and salt (to taste-don’t overdo it); simmer for one hour. Once soup is finished, begin boiling water for egg noodles and prepare according to the package directions.

Remove soup from heat and extract the meat, bone, and vegetables; reserve the chicken, carrots, and potatoes (and other vegetables if you want to eat them); discard the bone.

Strain broth through a fine sieve and discard peppercorns.

Serve soup with noodles as a first course, then follow with chicken, potatoes, and carrots. Drizzle some broth over the chicken, potatoes, and carrots for extra flavor.


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