This is a story about making chicken soup completely from scratch, with local, organic ingredients, and starting with the carcass of a roasted chicken. The soup was very, very good, and looked like this:
But the chicken had to do a little traveling before its bones came to rest in my soup pot.
I bought the chicken frozen at my local farmer’s market. And then, on a trip home to see mom last fall, I took it with me for a dinner I had planned to cook for her and her cousin. Roasted chicken and gravy, mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables, green beans, some of my cousin’s canned beets – it was a lovely feast. My mother was in heaven. In the assisted living home, she doesn’t get a lot of fresh stuff, and for some reason they almost never serve potatoes, which she loves. (Unless you count tater tots, which I don’t, and neither does she.) The chicken she gets is usually a chicken leg that has previously been breaded and frozen. She often tells me that when she gets down to the bone, it is black. That seems wrong.
My bones, my chicken carcass bones, from our feast, I froze until I could take them back to my house on the return trip. I added them to another carcass I’d previously frozen and made stock one afternoon. It took time, but wasn’t complicated, and the process of making stock was pleasing and meditative. The resulting stock was decidedly less yellowish and much, much less fatty than any chicken broth or stock I’ve ever bought (even high-end stuff from Whole Foods) or made myself from other chicken carcasses before. It didn’t foam and didn’t need skimmed at all. It was, in short, beautiful.
I can’t remember now what all veggies I put in the soup. Celery, onions, carrots, potatoes. I think also, some parsnips, leeks, and turnips – small, fresh, tender ones. I sauteed stuff and then cooked it in the stock until it was tender and then we ate it with bread and butter and were happy.
The chicken carcasses yielded so much stock that I had enough to make soup to feed us for two meals and a lunch for me, with about six cups of stock left over to freeze for later use. The chickens themselves had been bountiful: one had given two meals to my husband and me, and a lunch to me, and the other had fed me, my mother and her cousin, with leftovers going to the cousin.
I think that’s pretty good value – at least 10 individual meals out of one chicken. Pastured chicken isn’t really pricey in dollars. It’s pricey in time.
You have to get up on Saturday morning in August or September and go to the farmer’s market, instead of sleeping in, or going somewhere else, and purchase the chicken, because it’s available then, because you will want to roast chicken in the fall, and make soup a month after that. You have to take the time to roast the chicken. You have to take the time to make the stock, and then make the soup. You have to gather the veggies that will go with the roast chicken, and that you will need to make the stock, and that will go into the soup, and you have to prepare them and cook them. It all takes more time than ordering takeout, or getting fast food, or even picking up an already roasted chicken at your local grocery store (which, in theory, you could use to make chicken soup).
Maybe by the time you are done work you are so exhausted you cannot imagine roasting a chicken. Perhaps you don’t feel well, and you can’t afford to see a doctor. You’d like some chicken soup, but opening a can of it seems like the best route to it.
Maybe you aren’t worn out by your job, and you’d really like to spend time roasting a chicken and making soup. But there aren’t any farmer’s markets where you live, and even finding a good regular grocery store is difficult.
On one of my trips home to see mom, I picked up a local publication that featured a story about the struggle to establish farmer’s markets in Greene County, PA. The article quoted a representative from some state bureau who noted that Greene County had been officially designated as a “food desert”, due to the difficulty of obtaining good fresh produce there. How do you make chicken soup from scratch in a food desert?
I have read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and a few of Michael Pollan’s books – The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and I have tried to be more thoughtful about my food. I am mindful of Pollan’s advice:
Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
I think it’s good advice, for those of us who can take it. But I think it’s not terribly helpful for the people living in food deserts, for the people worn out working two or three jobs just to get by, the people in institutional settings being served pre-cooked breaded chicken legs and tater tots because it’s cheap and easy.
Pollan’s advice is a solution for individuals, I think. That’s a start. But not enough.
What keeps you from spending time to eat well?