Duck Soup

Kage Baker did not eat ducks. Ever. In fact, she preached against it.

She had a moral objection to eating ducks, having known one little white duck socially as a very small child. All her memories of Duck were good, and so she would never eat his kin afterwards. I think The Story About Ping, that tale of our childhood, had some influence there, too. She loved that story.

The fact that ducks are all dark meat had nothing to do with it, Kage always maintained. True, she didn’t eat the dark meat of chickens or turkeys; but she had consented to try goose – when we were adults, and I was on a 16th century cooking  binge – and admitted that dark meat, per se, was not objectionable. Besides, geese are wildly unpleasant people, as anyone who grew up anywhere near Griffith Park or its Zoo, Ferndale, Echo Lake or the L.A. River can testify. Years at the Renaissance Faire, which was often lousy with enormous bad-tempered grey geese, only reinforced the impression that a goose’s best moment was while steaming on a platter.

Kage’s fondness for the China Towns in both Los Angeles and San Francisco also contributed to her refusal to eat ducks, I think. All those windows and shop fronts with golden, dried, dead ducks swinging gently in the breeze – complete with heads and feet – were too much for Kage, culinarily. She admitted their cultural importance, and the ambiance they gave the streets – but she was wont to go off into dark speculations about whether they were actually dead and ready for the table, or … zombie ducks. ANGRY zombie ducks.

Anyway, she wouldn’t eat them. I, lacking Kage’s finer sentiments, got an occasional mouthful of pressed duck at other people’s Chinese food feasts, but mostly went without.

However. Kimberly has no such compunctions. She roasted a beautiful pair of ducks this week, which were hailed as a triumph by the gentlemen of the family (including Harry). Kim goes on the theory that the main attraction of a roasted duck is crispy, crackling, savoury skin, and these were perfect. However, there is actual meat on a duck; and so tonight the tidily trimmed remains of the ducks are simmering on the stove to produce a good broth.

Kimberly’s husband Ray is an alumnus of Fredonia University, you see. Yes, there really is a Fredonia University, in upstate New York, and that’s where Ray got his degree in physics. The place’s tenuous connection to reality may be why he’s a theoretical physicist; all I know is, he’s claimed for the last 30 years that that’s why he can’t use power tools … anyway, in his honour, we are making duck soup.

And if, Dear Readers, any of you don’t understand this reference – don’t tell me! Go Google it and educate yourself, if so. It would break an old woman’s heart to think anyone would not understand how Fredonia U. and duck soup go together.

Anyway – the ex-ducks are simmering into a lovely broth right now. We’ve added a generous amount of sage, and a soupcon of poultry seasoning; onions, celery and carrots have gone in, as will fresh leeks very soon. Wild rice will seethe in it all eventually. It will be rich with savoury dark meat, and I think will be a triumph.

Kimberly has the soup-making gene, thank all the gods. Our mother did not – while otherwise an inspired cook, her soups were like something out of the Necronomicon: not one of the incantatory recipes, one of the inhabitants. It stemmed from her inability to discern what sort and how much of any given noodle was appropriate in a soup … and I think, to her insistence on adding beans that looked like eyeballs. Anyway, not even the dog would eat that stuff.

This, though, is a clear golden broth with wholesome grain and veggies in it, and no trace of noodly evil. There is a time and place for noodles, and duck soup is not one of them.

I think even Kage might eat this. Maybe not. But she’d have to admit it’s an exemplary soup; especially on an evening when a late storm is bearing down on Los Angeles. Kage could always get on with art for art’s sake – even if she insisted on eating peanut butter toast to honor little Duck’s memory.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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18 Responses to Duck Soup

  1. Mark says:

    Hail, Hail, Freedonia!
    Land of the Brave and the Free.


  2. Neassa says:


    Hail, Hail, Freedonia!
    Land of the Brave and the Free.

  3. Duck …nummmmmnummmmnummmmy … highly respected for able to navigate water, earth, and sky … and boy howdy are they good when they meet fire! Blessed be the Duck!

    • Kate says:

      I think ducks are pretty cool, myself. And baby ducks are in the Top Ten of cute babies. They have some bad habits, but they are lovely when they fly and they taste wonderful.

  4. johnbrownson says:

    May I respectfully suggest a bay leaf or two, if it’s not too late?
    And, thank you for reminding me of pressed duck. It’s one of my favorite things and it got very hard to find, some years ago, so I stopped looking. I suspect that, for most Chinese restaurants, it’s just too labor intensive to be worth while. Anyway, it’s virtually disappeared, around here, more’s the pity.

    • Kate says:

      Yes, indeed, I did add bay! To wonderful effect, I might add. Good thought. But how awful that pressed duck is not to be found anymore! I loved that stuff … was a place in Pismo that used to garnish it with thinly sliced cashews (I don’t even know how they managed to slice cashews), pressed into the crispy goodness: it was a mouthful of happy astonishment.

  5. Tom says:

    Hail, Freedonia – be it New York or Kansas!
    Never read The Tale of Ping, but I did read Never Get Perkonal With A Chicken, of similar sentiment on avian mortality. “It was like eating my own relative,” said the sad young essayist.
    Equally odd – brother-in-law is also a physicist, with a specialty in flow dynamics. Again, he can’t use a power tool to save his life.

    • Kate says:

      It’s that theoretical business, I think, Tom. The nanoseconds of the birth of the Universe – no problem. Even upside down and backwards Ikea instructions – easy peasey. The difference between forward and reverse on a Makita drill – no way! On the other hand, the year that Faire management decided we had built the entire Inn building 4 feet too close to the next booth and told us to tear it down and start over: it was Ray who figured out how to lever the whole shebang on to the peeler corps logs of the fence, and push the thing across the Innyard like an Easter Island head … I’ve learned to cherish theoriticians. If you can spare the half hour to let them play with the stress factors in their heads, they’ll transport a 25-foot long, 8 foot wide building halfway across a meadow for you.


  6. Athene says:

    One year when my half-sister and her then-husband had a particularly successful duck hunting season, our family was “gifted” with a dozen frozen half-gallon milk containers filled with duck meat. Being the child of parents raised in the depression and an under-employed father, this meant that no opportunity was missed to take advantage of this free meat. We had duck for breakfast, lunch and dinner; duck sandwiches, duck-and-eggs, fried duck, sauteed duck, duck salad and yes, Duck Soup. Since then, even when duck is cooked to perfection, I just can’t seem to manage it. Think of me as the culinary equivalent of Mrs. Teasedale.

  7. Kate says:

    Athene – good heavens, I wouldn’t be able to eat it either, after that! Half the fun of this brace of ducks was that it was an unusual treat. The idea of milk cartons full of frozen duck meat … eek. That is so weird and so awful … the more I picture it, the weirder and awfuller it gets, too. Wow.

  8. Athene says:

    We also had a weird and awful moment with a albacore tuna that someone gave my father once. What made it weirder and more awful than the duck, though, was that the thing was massive, and whole, and sat in the service porch in a full tub of ice until my parents could figure out what to do with it. My father ended up carving the thing as best he could, which was hilarity in and of itself. And yet again we had fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner, etc., etc. “Weird and awful” is the perfect term for it.

  9. Kate says:

    Albacore make very poor presents. Dad got gifted with an albacore once, and decided to barbecue it. Him and several other dads at a summer party … it was on the grill from noon until well after sunset, and they somehow never managed to actually cook it … I remember it glimmering out there in the moon light, like a ghastly corpse from a shipwreck. We kids ended up eating Chinese food (including pressed duck) and take out pizza.

  10. Athene says:

    Albacore, the gift that keeps on giving!

  11. Kate says:

    Undead barbecue. Talk about wicked tuna!

  12. This made me think of Alan Moore and Bauhaus doing Sinister Ducks, which is one of those Things Of The Internet that I thought was made up until I heard it for myself.

    • Kate says:

      Wow. That was … amazing. I had never heard of this little ditty before. Now that I have, it’s unlikely I will be able to forget it. That was really, really strange and cool.

      I’ve been searching for years for a song from my ill-spent adolescence, about green glass. I can’t remember the title, or who did it; it was the product of the 1960’s craze for novelty rock songs. I believe it was a rather ham-fisted metaphor for being legless drunk in the gutter. Kage loved it, too, but even she – who remembered all the words to ad jingles from her infancy – could only remember one line: *And pass strangers look at me/ A loving shade of green ..*.

      Anyone got any clues?


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