“Properly prepared, meat stocks are extremely nutritious, containing the minerals of bone, cartilage, marrow and vegetables as electrolytes, a form that is easy to assimilate.  Acidic wine or vinegar added during cooking helps to draw minerals, particularly calcium, magnesium and potassium, into the broth.  Dr. Francis Pottenger, author of the famous cat studies as well as articles on the benefits of gelatin in broth, taught that the stockpot was the most important piece of equipment to have in one’s kitchen….

“In folk wisdom, rich chicken broth–the famous Jewish penicillin–is a valued remedy for the flu.  The 12th-century physician Moses Maimonides prescribed chicken broth as a treatment for colds and asthma.  Modern research has confirmed that broth helps prevent and mitigate infectious diseases.  The wise food provider, who uses gelatin-rich broth on a daily or frequent basis, provides continuous protection from many health problems.”            Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions

“Indeed, stock is everything in cooking…without it nothing can be done.”  August Escoffier

“Why is chicken soup superior to all the things we have, even more relaxing than “Tylenol?”  It is because chicken soup has a natural ingredient which feeds, repairs and calms the mucous lining the the small intestine.  This inner lining is the beginning or ending of the nervous system.  It is easily pulled away from the intestine through too many laxatives, too many food additives…and parasites.  Chicken soup…heals the nerves, improves digestion, reduces allergies, relaxes and gives strength.”   Hanna Kroeger        Ageless Remedies from Mother’s Kitchen

“Little is know of the part potassium plays in the human body, but certainly it must be important as small quantities of it are present in all parts of the body, particularly within the cells.  Osmotic balance between the contents of the cells and their surrounding fluids depends greatly upon potassium.  When meat is being cooked, a considerable portion of the potassium content passes into the broth.  When this is eaten in the form of a soup, bouillon or consomme, it results in a stimulatory effect upon the digestive organism.  This is given as one good reason for beginning a meal with a meat broth soup.”  H. Leon Abrams     Your Body Is Your Best Doctor

“Good broth resurrects the dead.”           South American Proverb

“The essential premise of stock is a good one: letting nothing go to waste.”  John Thorne     Outlaw cook

Cold weather always makes soup more appealing–especially if I can make it on the cookstove.  I’ve always enjoyed just throwing things in a pot and turning out dinner.  Lately I’ve been learning that there is a method and an art to making a good stock.  Also, that broth and stock aren’t the same.  The essential ingredient of stock is bone, with a bit of meat attached, with all its gelatinous wonder.  The essence of broth is primarily meat scraps, perhaps with a bit of bone.  A stock tends to be clearer and thicker, a broth is thinner and cloudier.  Not a great difference unless you’re cooking in the gourmet realm or are seeking the gelatinous mixture.  Either is easy to make:  in a stock pot (a crock pot would work, too), place raw bones, add celery, carrot, onion, a few herbs (the fresher the better, though dried works), add coldwater to cover and a bit of apple cider vinegar or wine.  Simmer everything slowly for 3-5 hours (for chicken–much longer for beef).  A slow simmer allows the fat and impurities (which need to be skimmed) to go to the surface.  A faster boil recirculates those through the stock and makes it cloudy.   When done cooking, the essential good has been pulled out of the ingredients, so strain the stock.  Cold water is an essential base.  Eric Patterson and Jenifer Blakesley explain in Cook’s House that this is because the impurities that can cloud stock only dissolve in cold water.  Since one goal is to remove the impurities, that helps get them to the top instead of leaving them suspended in your soup.  Once the stock is done, soups, stews, and sauces are half done. 

We were at a dinner last week at Mission Table.  Chef Paul Olson was explaining one of the dishes and stated he uses meat broth–primarily chicken–in most of his cooking.  Chef Eric Patterson of Cook’s House also uses chicken stock as a base for many dishes.  He is unique in that he adds chicken feet to his stock pot.  He explained that the feet add another dimension of flavor as well as a lot of gelatin.  This fall I decided to take the “whole bird challenge” and added feet (yes, and sometimes heads–the whole bird) to my pot.  I was very satisfied with the result.  I have a six gallon pot that I make the stock in, and then I can what I don’t use for the week.  Usually I can add 5-7 jars to my stock stash.

Much of what was said about soup I’ve found to be true.  A cup of broth is the most wonderful nourishment when a cold has me by the tail.  Broth is also easy for an upset tummy to digest and is quite soothing.  It’s very much a comfort food when the wind is whistling and the snow swirling.  It’s easy to recycle left overs into soup or stew (thick soup).  The kids object to squash in the pot, but mostly enjoy those one-dish meals.  (Doing dishes later is easy!)  The other thing I’ve learned over the years, is that Grandma’s chicken soup was the cure for what ails one because of the properties of chicken soup, but also because she used what we now call “heritage chickens.”  Around here they’re called “old layers.”  Maturity makes a big difference in the flavor, texture, and nutrition profile of any animal.  The mature layer hens yield a richer, more flavorful broth than the quick growing broiler birds.   Notably, a pastured broiler makes a much tastier broth than a barn raised bird.  The hen’s meat stands up to the time test of stewing better, also–they won’t mush.  To that end, we processed all of our old layers this week, so the rest of the week will be spent putting them into a storable form.  We’re going to try quick-boning them and making a chicken bologna (an Amish friend’s recipe) and canning the stock made with the bones and feet.  If you want to know how it turns out, you’ll have to come for lunch.  What’s on the menu?  Soup and sandwiches, of course!