When I was younger, and my grandparents were still alive, we would always have a big family dinner every Sunday afternoon at their house. It was something I'd look forward to all week long. Two o'clock on Sunday just could not come fast enough. My grandmother always started her meals with a bowl of homemade soup. She made an endless variety of them, each one a little different, and always, always from homemade stock. In fact, whenever she cooked a large meal she would invariably lug out her big, dented old aluminium stock pot. My, if that pot could talk, what fantastic recipes it could give us! She'd fill it with water, and set it to simmer on the back burner. Then, as she was preparing the meal, all the scraps would go straight into the pot. Meat scraps and bone. Stems and cores of vegetables. I remember her even peeling carrots into the big, steaming pot. This was as automatic to her as filling up the sink with soapy water before she started cooking so she could wash as she went. This was how her kitchen ran. It was her depression-era mentality. Nothing, absolutely nothing went to waste.
The pot would simmer away as we ate our meal. Slowly, leisurely - Sunday dinner was never to be rushed. Then, after dessert was served, the last of the dishes was washed and put away, and family members had dispersed - some to play cards, others to read - and the children had gone up to the loft to play, she would carefully strain her stock through a sieve lined with cheesecloth or a thread bare kitchen towel. She'd separate it into glass jars, label them with a bit of masking tape, and take them out to her huge chest freezer in the garage. (Yes, she froze in glass.)
I remember this part of my childhood so well. The smells of the various, sometimes unusual combinations wafting from the pot. The feel of the warm, damp humidity on my face as I stepped into the kitchen - she'd frequently add more water to the pot as it boiled away into the dry Colorado air. Drawing with my finger in the thick layer of fog which shrouded the cold kitchen windows. And the indescribable feeling of comfort I got from eating a warm bowl of soup into which she had poured so much of her care and love - her soul. Feeling it warm me from the inside out. Even as a kid you can comprehend the emotions that have gone into the preparation of your food, no? Maybe even more so. Whenever I eat a bowl of thick, hearty soup I think of her.
This past summer I had the wonderful opportunity to purchase a quarter of a grass-fed, organic, happy, healthy cow from a family member who has a nearby ranch. If you ever get the chance to do this I would highly suggest, no insist, that you take it. More on this in another post.
I came away with so much meat that I had to go out and buy a freezer for the garage, something I had never, ever intended on doing since I firmly believe in buying nothing in bulk. (Except for a quarter of a certain local, happy, organic, grass-fed cow.) In and amongst all the neatly wrapped packages of roasts, steaks, ground beef, and ribs I found two packages stamped "Soup Bone" on the white butcher's paper. I've been dying to use these soup bones, and in my grandma's honour make a thick, chunky vegetable beef soup; however, I could never find a day when I'd be home all afternoon to tend to the stock. Today I finally found the time. When I opened the package and peeled back the paper I found not one, but three whole soup bones, covered in meat! This was going to require one very large pot!
I started the stock pot at noon and added a bunch of aromatics. Now, I don't use ALL my kitchen scraps in my stock like she did. But I do use whatever I have available. Always carrot and onion, occasionally celery if I have it on hand, sometimes garlic, and even bell pepper. Some dried mushrooms are wonderful as well if you have them. I let the stock simmer for three hours, before straining out some for the vegetable beef soup. I let the rest of the stock simmered away while we ate dinner, adding more water as it boiled out. Then, just as my grandmother did, when the kids were in bed and the house was quiet, I strained it slowly and poured it in storage containers. Then, I put them in the refrigerator to chill overnight. In the morning I will skim off all the fat, which will congeal on the top, and freeze them. I see many amazing soups in our future.
P.S. I need your help deciding on a name for this blog! Please tell me what you think.
Basic Beef Stock
*The quantities of ingredients are approximate and will vary depending on what you have on hand. This is how I made this particular batch.
12 - 14 cups filtered water
1 - 3 soup bones (raw or roasted at 375 F for 20 - 30 minutes until brown)
1 large onion, cut into wedges
4 - 5 large, organic carrots cut into 2 inch chunks
2 - 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 - 2 large, fragrant bay leaves
2 tsp salt
2 tsp honey
whatever else you have left over and want to throw in there
Bring it all to a boil, and simmer, covered for 3 - 6 hours adding extra water if needed. If making a soup immediately, remove the bones to cool. Then pull off all the meat and save for or add to the soup. Strain through a sieve lined with a cheesecloth and pour into freezer proof containers. Refrigerate over night. In the morning skim off all the congealed fat from the top and freeze.
Hearty Vegetable, Rice, and Beef Soup
7 cups homemade, strained beef broth
1 14.5 oz can organic, diced tomatoes
1/3 cup dried split peas, washed
1/2 cup long grain brown rice
4 large organic carrots, peeled and diced
1 cup fresh or frozen cut green beans
1 cup frozen corn
meat pulled from the cooked soup bones
1/3 cup ditalini or other small pasta
salt and pepper to taste
Bring the stock and tomatoes to a boil in a large pot. Add the split peas and rice and simmer for 1 hour. At this point, if your soup bones are still simmering in the stock pot pull them out to cool. Add the carrots, green beans, and corn to the soup. When the meat is cool enough to pull off the bone (it should fall off very easily) add it to the soup as well. Simmer another 25 to 30 minutes. Add the pasta and taste. Adjust the seasoning and cook 10 minutes longer. Makes 4 - 6 servings.
shared with: sunday night soup night, mangia mondays, monday maina, hearth and soul, real food wednesdays, fight back fridays