Please, Sir, May I Have Some More?

How Putting Bones In The Freezer Helps Keep You Fed

I'm one of those people who knows the words to 90% of the songs that come on the radio.

Ask me who the song's performed by or what it's called and I'll stare at you like a deer in the headlights, but I can generally memorize at least the tune of a song the first time I hear it and know a good chunk of the lyrics by the third. I have no idea how I learn them, I just do. 

Like how double-jointed people don't know how they freakishly dis-form their limbs. Ugh.

In my tiny apartment freezer I have a bag of green bin-worthy vegetable scraps, and, until recently, a bag of leftover chicken bones and skin. They get tucked away on the freezer door or in the back by the compost*, ignored until I find potatoes that are going soft (always cut them open before you toss them! If they're still white they're still good!) or score free veggie tray leftovers from a party. Then I pull one out and make myself some soup.

Making stock from scratch is one of those things an alarming number of people don't know how or are too hesitant to try to do. It's not hard, but the convenient cartons or cans of broth at the grocery store are just so much easier, and make the task of making from scratch seem, especially to a busy student, worker, or parent, really daunting and unnecessary.

Not to knock the canned stuff - we do keep a couple cartons on hand when we need something quick, and for flavors we don't really have bones around for, like beef - but while homemade may not be necessary, it is worth it. Not only is homemade stock 100% less salty (figures are just pulled out of my arse) but it has no preservatives, hasn't been pasteurized, and often has more, or an actual amount of - in the case of meat-based stocks - gelatin, which is super good for those of us with achy joints. Plus it tastes better, and is made of things you already have lying around, instead of costing you an extra $2.29.

It's like Mr. Christie VS Grandma. Christie's stuff is pretty good, but there's nothing like a homemade chocolate chip cookie, Grandma-style. Not that my grandmothers really baked chocolate chip cookies, but they did make homemade bread, and that stuff is beautiful.

Making stock is stupidly easy, too. I was going to say that GF taught me how to do it, but actually, I think it was my mother. Mom's a very "throw stuff together and hope it works" sort of cook, but she's good at it. "Mix and match" suppers and "The Great Fry-up" are specialties of hers. She also makes a damn good turkey soup. She once showed me how to make that soup, but never told me how to make the broth. I must have gleaned the technique from watching her every Christmas day.

It's like the music thing. I don't know how I know it. I just do.

Start by saving the crap everyone else tells you to throw out (unless it's fuzzy or blue or smells bad). Those almost-slimy lettuce pieces from a salad. Onion skins that aren't quite brown. Celery leaves or asparagus bottoms or the tiny roots on beet greens. If you roast a chicken or have another sort of meat product with bones, keep everything you don't eat, including the cartilage or leftover meat. You can mix the veggies and meat or keep them separate. I generally keep mine apart (in case of vegetarian guests), but I recently made a ham and pea soup with a bunch of veggies and half an apple-roasted ham as the base (plus ham I'd scavenged from the dinner table of a family get-together).

Once you've got a medium-sized Ziploc bag full, dump the contents into a big pot (no need to defrost) and fill it with water. You can put as much water in as you'd like, but the more you have the more diluted your stock will be. A 2-to-1 ratio is usually good. Feel free to add bay leaves or any other spice you'd like. Turn on the stove to about medium heat and let the suckers boil!


(Maniacal laughter)

Depending on what you're boiling, this step could take one to five hours. Bigger animals = more time (a good analogy for digestion, by the way). Give beef bones four to five hours, pork three to four, poultry one to two, and vegetables one to two, depending on how potent you want your stock. Once your water's turned a rich colour (anywhere from gold to brown to red, if you used beets), strain your stock through a colander - or just tilt the pot while holding the lid at an angle - into another pot. TA DAA. The pretty leftover liquid is stock! You can use it right away or freeze it or... drink it, I guess.

On an ending note, for all you folks who fit the "I'm too busy" category, remember:

1) Homemade stock is free, especially if all your scraps are scavenged instead of bought.

2) Homemade stock isn't loaded with salt (unless you dump it in there) and contains lots of vitamins and minerals that the process of preserving canned stock kills off.

3) You don't have to make stock right away (although you can; Mom always started making turkey stock as soon as the bird had cooled and been picked over). Even freezer-burnt meats and vegetables make tasty stock, so you don't have to stuff soup prep into an already busy day. Wait for a lazy Sunday.

4) An excellent tip from Mom: If you're making an animal-based soup, don't put the meat in with the stock bones. Add the meat last (because it's pre-cooked anyway) during your soup construction to keep it flavorful! 

Sweet Simmering!

*We keep it there to avoid smells and fruit flies. The apartment is so warm in the summer that vegetables, fruit, and bread will go bad within a couple days if we keep them out of the fridge. There's such thing as silicone buckets specially made for folks with our problem, but a reused plastic bag is way cheaper than a $50 tub, thank you very much. 

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