This year’s winter has been particularly harsh, and this morning was the coldest by far of the season. We awakened to temps in the -10F to -15F range. Needless to say, all the livestock water tanks in the barn are frozen fairly solid. (We know there are electric heating units that can be added to these tanks, but at the risk of sounding irrational, the idea of anything electric sitting in a tank of water kind of spooks us.) At least the barn is tight enough, and has enough animals in it, so the livestock area remained about +20F overnight. The downstairs portion has an 8ft ceiling, which is perfect: high enough so I don’t hit my head, but low enough to keep livestock body heat near the livestock.
On days like this (and we’ve had months of days like this now), all I can think of is: Soup. And more soup.
Since mid-to-late November, I’ve had soup more or less constantly either in the fridge or in production. When we have our lambs and goats butchered, and when we buy a half a beef from the neighbor up the road, we end up with a lot of neck bones and other odd pieces. I make sure the butcher saves these for us; it’s amazing that some people don’t bother asking for them. Once or twice a week, I remove one of these packages of soup bones from the freezer and let it thaw. I then put the bones in a large stock pot, fill it about 3/4 full with warm water, and add about 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar. When I have them, I’ll also add a couple of turkey feet (when we butcher the turkeys, I wash all the feet and freeze them together in gallon freezer bags), and an onion and a carrot. I let this sit for a few hours, then I bring it to a boil. If there’s any scum on the surface, I skim it off. And then I reduce the heat and let the pot simmer all night. This gives plenty of time for extracting all the marrow and nutrients from the bones, and extracting all the gelatin from the turkey feet.
In the morning, I find that the simmering soup pot has helped keep the kitchen warmer than usual — a nice additional wintertime benefit. I’ll then pour the rich contents of the stock pot through a colander and into a second stock pot. As I bring the second stock pot back to a full boil, and allow the meat and bones to cool in the colander, I cut the ends off of three or four pounds of carrots (purchased in bulk from a warehouse club), and run them through the food processor’s slicer disk. Less than a minute later, I’m adding all these sliced carrots to the stock. I then peel and clean up several pounds of rough potatoes, run them through the food processor, and add them as well. (We buy “unclassified” grade potatoes from a local produce store, where a 50# bag costs just ten bucks. They have more bad spots than the pristine supermarket potatoes, but all those scraps we cut off get fed to the chickens — so it’s no big deal to us.)
I next add seasonings to the pot: basil, oregano (purchased in bulk from a warehouse club), dried chives from our garden, cayenne pepper, and sea salt. By this time, the meat in the colander has cooled enough so I can break it apart into small pieces and add it back to the pot. The bones become a treat for the dogs, and the boiled-out turkey feet are simply discarded. As the pot finishes returning to a boil, I clean the kitchen. Then I reduce the pot to a simmer and let it go for a couple of hours; I turn the heat off at lunch time, have a couple of bowls for lunch, and let the pot cool all afternoon. Around dinner time, I put all the remaining soup into quart mason jars and stash them in the fridge.
I’ll warm up anywhere from a quart to quart-and-a-half on most days for lunch, but on days like these I find myself going through it even faster. On cold winter days, there is nothing as wonderfully satisfying as this kind of rich, nutrient-dense soup that warms you from the inside out.
I think I could eat this for nearly every single meal.