At 3:30am on Wednesday morning I woke up with a start. I wasn’t having some ghoulish nightmare, although I could have been forgiven for thinking that someone had stabbed me in the neck with a kitchen knife . I felt a sharp and persistant pain in the left side of my throat. The kind you just can’t ignore. I was wide awake, in pain and watching a bizarre, Monty Don hosted TV show about how to become a professional weaver. The things you’ll watch when you’re clutching at your throat in the wee hours of a Wednesday.
After about an hour of convincing myself it was just the warm Spring air making my throat feel dry, I drifted back to sleep. Two hours and a dream about being shouted at by David Hasselhoff later, I was awake again and in even more horrendous pain. There was nothing for it, I’d have to go and see the doctor. Luckily, I managed to grab an appointment for mid-morning. Following a taxi ride and a brief stint trying to guess what everyone in the waiting room had wrong with them (I’m not the only one who does that, right?) I was in with the doctor receiving a diagnosis of tonsillitis. DAMN!
I picked up my penicillin prescription and went to head home, but decided that I would buy myself something appropriate for dinner, to comfort me in my moment of woe. I haven’t had tonsillitis since I was a kid so I wanted something nostalgic and soothing. A warm, cosy blanket in food form, if you will. With this in mind there was only one thing I could buy - Heinz Cream of Chicken Soup. Whenever I was poorly as a kid, I was always given Heinz Chicken Soup, so figured if I was going to feel sorry for myself, I might as well do it with a nostalgic bent.
Heinz Cream of Chicken Soup isn’t the greatest soup in the world. It isn’t even the greatest chicken soup in the world. I remember as a child feeling especially lucky if I happened to come across one of those miniature pieces of pink chicken hiding under the thick, creamy soup. But it called my name from the shelves of the Co-op, so I grabbed it and threw it in my basket. I also tossed in some warm French bread. You can’t have chicken soup without nice bread and, quite frankly, anyone who can resist the delicious aroma of freshly baked bread has the willpower of a saint and my sincere admiration.
I have been told that the appropriate way to eat chicken soup when sick is to have it brought to you on a tray, while you lie under a blanket feeling weak and pouting the pain away. My house is decidedly lacking in willing nurses and waiting staff at midday on a Wednesday, so I had to tend to my own needs.
I warmed the soup up and put it on a tray for full, pitiful effect. I slathered my French bread in butter and added it to my collection of pity food and medication. Here’s a tip: When your throat is swollen and causing such agony you can feel it all around your face, crusty French bread should not be on the menu. I recommend a soft bap.
Still, having bought the crusty baguette, I felt I should at least try eating it. I swiped my butter encased bread through the soup and watch it gently melt from a yellow paste to a gorgeous, silky liquid. I took one big bite and was transported back to childhood. But it wasn’t the memory I had expected. When I was in high school we used to have a break at around 11am. We were allowed to go to the cafeteria and buy our lunch early. A group of us became obsessed with a certain snack. It was chicken soup and a buttered French roll. I had completely forgotten about it until a few days ago.
We would hang around outside the cafeteria shutters waiting for the dinner ladies chattering behind them to clatter the metal sheet up to the ceiling. I can still remember it. “Chicken soup and a French roll, please!” One after the other, after the other. The rolls, which sold out especially quickly, were 15p. The soup was 60p. It was ladelled into thick, blue, plastic cups from an enormous steel pan just to the left of the counter. It tasted AMAZING. Especially when we dunked the French roll into the soup and mixed the melted butter into it with a spoon. To us, it tasted like the greatest thing in the world. But thinking back, it must surely have been powdered soup. The kind you tip into a saucepan and breathe in a cloud of chickeny flavour as it settles. Just add water and bring to the boil. It was pale, almost white stuff with no real chicken in it and tiny flecks of unidentifiable green herbs. Jamie Oliver would not approve.
It didn’t matter though. It bothered us not that it likely had little nutritional value. It tasted great and, while the Heinz soup was probably a huge upgrade on what we paid 60p for in school, that triple combination of chicken soup, French bread and melted butter was like looking at a photograph of my 13 year-old self. I enjoyed it so much I may have licked the bowl clean and ruined what was left of my throat with the bread. But sssshhhh, don’t tell anyone.