Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I'm a Chickarina Recidivist

I generally eat canned soup only when I have a cold. And when I do heat up a can of soup to feed my cold it's often Progresso's Chickarina. This was a favorite soup of my childhood, and for some reason I keep going back to it as my sick-bed comfort food. I'm not sure when the product was introduced, but I think it was new when I started seeing the commercial, when I was five or six, in the early '60s, the one with the little boy singing, "Chick-Chick-Chickarina soup, Chick-Chick-Chickarina soup, it's got chicken so nutritious, and meatballs so delicious." Or did the meatballs precede the chicken in the lyric? I made my mother buy a can the next time she went shopping, at the local Key Food, which she called Seymour's, after the man who ran the store. If I remember correctly Seymour always had a big, fat cigar in his mouth, which is neither here nor there. I believe the consistency of the Chickarina meatballs changed somewhere along the line. They're softer now; they used to have more bounce. I'm nostalgic for the firmer meatballs of my youth.

Years later a similar soup started showing up at soup joints, corporate cafeterias, and cans by Campbell's, called Italian wedding soup. Apparently a traditional soup for Italian weddings was the inspiration for Chickarina. For some reason it took over thirty years for chicken soup with meatballs to become popular in the U.S. outside the confines of a Progresso can. I wonder who was responsible.

* * *

Do I believe chicken soup helps one fight a cold? Well, Marvin Sackner told me it does. Dr. Sackner, a pulmonary specialist, conducted the pioneering study in 1978, which he published in the journal Chest (which is not shelved next to Juggs). It suggested that chicken soup was more effective than other hot liquids for alleviating congestion. I got it straight from the Doc's mouth maybe ten years later, when fiction writer Richard Grayson and I visited Marvin and his wife Ruth in their South Florida home to see their amazing collection of art and books, The Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry. With over 45,000 items (including several by yours truly), the Sackners' collection is surely the largest archive devoted specifically to creative work that integrates text and image (and it has grown well beyond its original concrete poetry focus). There's even a film about the archive. Marvin's work on chicken soup was later amplified by the research of Doctors Ziment and Rennard, but I'll bet their art collections and personal libraries aren't nearly as interesting.


Blogger annulla said...

Did the traditional Italian soup inspire Chickarina ... or was it the other way around? Did someone out there love Chickarina, but feel embarrassed to admit that he was eating soup from a can?

"Oh, this stuff in the bowl? No, no, it might look like Chickarina, but it isn't! This is, um, a traditional Italian soup. Yeah, that's it. Why have you nver seen it at an Italian restaurant? Well, they serve it only at weddings. Yeah, that's the ticket!"

All I know is that I've never seen a chicken-meatball soup served at an Italian wedding, but I've certainly eaten my way through a mountain of cans of Chickarina.

Blather From Brooklyn

6:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back in Newark NJ in the 50s, grandma made Chicken "ska-dohl" (escarole) soup with tiny meatballs....she would add "acini pepe" pasta (looked like little beads) to make it more filling.....It was served at many Italian weddings in the 50s and 60s......I think Progresso got their idea from grandma....LOL

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for remembering that darn commercial! Everyone thinks I'm nuts!
And yes, I am a Chickarina, too! It's the only way to beat a cold!

12:40 PM  
Blogger BobbyL said...

I, too recall the black & white CHICKARINA ad played ad nauseum in my youth. The lyrics I recall are,
CHICK CHICK CHICKARINA SOUP, IT HAS MEATBALLS SO DELICIOUS AND IT HAS NOODLES SO NUTRITIOUS - MMM BOY, IT'S GOOD!!!! The ad let me to ask my mom to purchase the soup. She did, and I hated it. We never bought it again. I'd love to see the commercial again, though.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember the Chickarina commercial very well. My brother and I used to sing the song when it came on. Funny thing is, Mom never bought the soup. So much for name recgonition.

Also knew Marvin Sackner and family. They never had a theme song though. Not one that I ever knew. But I have found fleeting memories off them.

3:33 PM  
Anonymous Steve Newman said...

Almost fifty years later I still can't get the damn song out of my head. I got a transistor radio in a leather case as a hand-me-down from an older cousin but I never tasted the pleasures of Chickarina Soup! Years later I went into advertising and worked on the Campbell's Soup account. The high point was getting to work with Get Smart's Agent 99, Barbara Feldon, as our voice-over talent. She was lovely.

6:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Had some yesterday and will finish the other half for lunch today. As always I'm making my wife laugh as I sing the song. The way I remember it, the Chick-chick-chickarina soup lyric is followed by a chicken cluck. Cluck cluck cluck! (Which I sing enthusiastically. Found this blog searching youtube in vain for the commercial.

11:14 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Chick chick chickarina soup.... none of my friends remember that song even when I sing it. I can't even find it on YouTube

9:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

13 years later and I found this wonderful post! However, I regret to mention that they've changed the recipe (meatballs made with pork and turkey.) It doesn't taste nearly as good. :o(


10:10 PM  

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