I\’ve been making chicken stock for the last several days. This is the kind of soup that starts with chickens that I knew by name, grown old and slaughtered (by somebody else) and stored in the freezer in plastic bags.
On Thursday, I bunged two of them into my biggest pot, along with eight quarts of water, some vinegar, onions, celery and carrots. They simmered in that pot until Friday, so that the entire house, my hair and my clothes reeked of chicken stock. Then minutes before I turned off the heat, I threw in a whole bunch of parsley. This is all according to a recipe in Nourishing Traditions, a book that tells you what to eat in order to live forever.
In the meantime, I had prepared a lovely curried cream of (home-grown) pumpkin soup for Friday\’s dinner. I was heating this on the stove when something impelled me to go check my e-mail–and next thing I knew the smell of scorched soup brought me running to the kitchen. The stove top was awash in smooth creamy orange goodness, which I sopped up as best I could. There was enough unburnt soup in the pot to have for dinner, but the bottom of the pot was entirely black. Worse, the burnt smell mixed with the chicken smell took away my appetite.
Friday night I put the pot of chicken soup into our supplementary winter fridge (the front porch) and set the pot of burnt pumpkin soup in the sink, filled it with hot soapy water, and turned away from the depressing sight. In the bedroom, I dabbed lavender oil on my temples to distract me from the chicken and burnt pumpkin smells.
This morning, the most daunting part of the chicken stock task awaited me. But first I had to tackle the burnt pot. I contemplated just throwing it away, but this being Vermont, I figured it would be a while before I could get to a store to buy a replacement. So I rolled up my sleeves, put on my rubber gloves and started scrubbing. I didn\’t think I would be able to even make a dent in the burnt gunk, but lo! with amazingly little effort, it all came clean.
I lifted all the limp veggies, all the deconstructing carcass parts, all the semi-congealed fat into a large strainer, which I put inside another pot, lest a single drop of stock go to waste. Then I lined up eight quart jars on the counter. I picked up a jar, set a big funnel into its mouth, set a small strainer into the funnel and poured in some stock until the jar was almost full. Then I shook the contents of the small strainer into the big strainer and started on the next jar.
When all the liquid had been poured into jars, it was time to deal with the meat. This is the part I hate. The meat of old chickens, though flavorful, is too stringy and tough for human consumption, but the dogs love it. That means that I have to go through every last ounce of chicken and get rid of every last bone, while worrying that I will miss one and thereby cause the death of one of my dogs.
You should know that, despite my would-be country ways, I am extremely squeamish about the anatomy of cooked chickens. I cannot bear the sight of a chicken leg on my plate, much less eat it. I will eat chicken breasts, but only if they are removed from their bony armature. And yes, I think that the least upsetting way to eat chicken is in the form of \”chicken fingers\” and other fast-food aberrations. Or in the form of eggs.
You can imagine, then, how I felt, combing my way through mounds of chicken knees and vertebrae and those horrid things that cling to the inside of the rib cage. It is a measure of the love I bear my dogs that several times a year I go through this ordeal for them.
Eventually, the last wee bone was thrown into the trash. The deliquescing vegetables, the stringy meat and the amazing amounts of fat went into plastic freezer containers labeled \”dog meat.\” Just for fun, I weighed them: eight pounds in all. Lexi, Wolfie and Bisou will get a lot of joy out of my morning\’s work.
The eight quarts of stock will make eight wonderful soups (I don\’t mind consuming chicken in liquid form). I just hope I don\’t burn them.