There is something to be said for the practice of using every part of the animal. Native American tribes found value in pelts, bones, sinew, or feathers, as well as meat. Historically, farmers have also been thrifty with harvested livestock—especially in the days when most small-scale husbandmen (and women) were primarily self sufficient. A good way to extend this respectful and resourceful tradition lies right at our fingertips—in the kitchen.
I remember being horrified as a child to learn that some of my friends’ parents never saved the carcass of a roasted chicken. Throw it all in the garbage! No! It seemed so wasteful. Why not save it all and make soup!
Perhaps you already know the age-old story “Stone Soup,” but it is worth retelling this time of year. A soldier coming home from war finds that no-one will give him food, under the excuse that everyone here is poor and has no food to spare. Interestingly, this does not seem to surprise the fellow, who proceeds to build a goodly fire beneath a large pot in the middle of town. He fills the cauldron with water and begins to heat it. Curious, the townsfolk gather around the fire, wondering what the old soldier has in mind. As they gossip and quibble behind his back, they see the fellow reach deep into his pockets and pull out a well-polished stone.
“What are you doing?” the village people ask him.
“I am going to make soup,” the soldier replies. “This magic stone will help us. Since no-one in this village has any food in their homes, we will make soup from a stone.”
He ceremoniously places the stone into the water and makes a great show of smelling the steam from the pot. “Already, the soup is beginning!” the soldier remarks. “Now, if only we had some carrots…”
“We have carrots in our house!” a little village girl cries in excitement.
“Then bring us some,” the fellow replies, reassuringly, and the girls rushes off towards home. In a moment, she returns with a hearty handful, scrubbed and ready. These are added to the boiling pot and thoughtfully stirred.
“Ah yes,” says the soldier. “Now, if only there were a few potatoes…” And so on it goes as the villagers forget their differences and their poverty, and bit by bit the pot is filled with vegetables, pork bones, savory herbs and many wonderful things. Then a feast is shared with all the villagers and everyone is warmed and glad.
When the soldier prepares to depart, the villagers ask if they might keep the magical stone that made such wonderful soup. “Of course,” the soldier smiles. “But you don’t need it anymore. The magic is inside all of your to give and to share. This is but an ordinary stone from the side of the road,” and he chuckles happily as we continues on his way home.
Today, the chicken (or turkey) carcass, with all the little scraps of meat and flavorful bones, or the remnants of a boned pork roast can serve as that magical stone to your own homemade soup. There is nothing quite like a kitchen full of family, chopping onions and celery, carrots and potatoes for a sumptuous pot of soup, especially as the days grow chilly and chase us from the out-of-doors.
If this is your first time preparing a soup entirely from scratch (and are consciously trying to resist tossing the remnants of the beast into the rubbish bin), fear not. The best place to start is with a good old-fashioned crock pot. It would be hard to think of a traditionally-minded farm kitchen without one! Break the carcass into manageable pieces and stuff them into the crock pot, including any uneaten wings or legs, but especially be sure to save the back and neck. Add enough water to fill approximately two-thirds of the pot, then set it on low overnight.
In the morning, turn off the crock pot and let it cool until the chicken is a temperature that is comfortable to handle. Next comes the part our dogs love best. With the waste basket handy, use a slotted spoon to remove all the chicken parts and place them into a separate bowl. Then, with patience, use your fingers to separate bones from meat, returning any of the latter to the crock pot with the broth. Discard the bones; they’ve already worked their magic.
This is where our two dogs come in when we make soup at home. As soon as the lid from the crock pot is lifted, they materialize from any corner of the house—sitting patiently and staring with their enormous dark eyes, hoping for a bit of skin or a wayward tidbit to fall on the floor. (No cooked bones for the dogs, though, because bones become brittle after heating and can splinter easily). Even the house pets look forward to soup-making day on the farm!
Now you are ready to turn that meaty, infused broth into a beautiful homemade soup. Here is a recipe we recently used at Farmstead Creamery & Café you can try:
Herbed Chicken and Barley Soup
2 hearty quarts of broth with chicken
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 stalks celery, chopped
Half a medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 leek, chopped (can substitute shallot or more onion)
½ cup pearl barley
Coarse black pepper, to taste
1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme (1 tsp. dried)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (5 tsp. dried)
2 Tbs. chopped fresh sweet marjoram (2 tsp. dried)
Heat olive oil in a large soup pot and sauté onions, celery, and leeks until soft. Add carrots and herbs and continue to sauté. Add remaining ingredients (chicken, broth, and barley) and return to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the barley is finished. Serve steaming hot with your favorite bread or salad. A little snow on the ground makes it all taste even better.
There is nothing quite like a good pot of chicken soup to remind one of the comforts of home, especially when the practice connects us with methods our grandmothers, or great-grandmothers knew quite well. Here’s to a steaming bowl, beautiful snows, and fond memories. See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. northstarhomestead.com