Every now and then, I read some homesteading blogs. Alert: Bone Broth Is a Big Thing! and I guess it has been for a while. I glanced at stories about it occasionally and thought, what’s the big deal? I’ve been making this stuff for 20 years and didn’t need to blog about it. Then I saw what city people were paying for takeaway quarts of containers. Guys, you are paying $6 a quart for other peoples trash!
Once again, we have way too many birds on the ground, and three dozen or more are scheduled for a date with the freezers this fall. The only problem is, the freezers are full right now. Step one was to pull out the various bags of leftover bones and vegetable trimmings that I have accumulated all summer, make some meat stock, I mean”bone broth,” and can it up. On Tuesday morning, I started by rummaging around our three (!) freezers and came up with four gallon-sized bags of bones, onion skins, parsley stems, mushroom trimmings, celery leaves and I can’t remember what else. I put them all together in a cooler to defrost until evening.
Right now I’m reading Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, and I thought, I can be open-minded here about this bone broth stuff. So I did some study and learned one new trick: to put a couple tablespoons of cider vinegar per gallon of water in the pot and let it sit for an hour before starting the heat. The acidity is supposed to help extract more minerals from the bones. That was easy enough to insert into my process. After fixing dinner I dumped all my treasures (what other people might have thrown away) into my biggest pot, filled it to cover and stirred in the vinegar. An hour later, I turned on the heat.
It took a while to heat (the suggestion to bring it up to a simmer slowly for more extraction made sense; acetic acid will boil off as the temperature rises), but I got it to a fine simmer right before bed. The dogs had a terrible night, barking at non-existent threats like our own cat, so I was up anyway to check on the progress, but I needn’t have bothered. It simmered on all night. Maybe the smell was keeping the dogs on high alert.
When I got up in the morning, I remembered the parmesan rinds! We use a lot of grated parmesan and I save the the rinds to add richness to the stock, but in their own bag buried at the bottom of the kitchen freezer. I tossed in a few of those and let the pot keep simmering while I did other stuff.
Around noon, I turned it off and let it start to cool a bit. Wednesday was a crazy day, what with a 13 lb zucchini to salvage by dehydrating, baking to use up peaches and a complicated dinner recipe to use up more turkey from the freezer. In between all that, I strained the broth.
What bones are these? Necks from some poultry processing that I didn’t recognize, a pork butt bone from when I made pulled pork, a few lamb chop bones, bones from all the turkey I’ve cooked since last fall, maybe even a beef steak bone or two. This time I also had a couple turkey feet that we’d saved for dog treats but hadn’t been giving to them lately. When we harvest poultry, I get a pure chickens or turkey “single varietal,” but freezer stock is mostly pot au feu of whatever we’ve been eating. I was a bit worried that it would be too muttony with the lamb bones, but all that smell disappeared when I skimmed the fat off.
Gathering the broth-making supplies is simple but slow. I keep a ziplock bag in the kitchen freezer and put bones in it when I do dishes. We compost most of our kitchen waste, but if there are clean vegetable trimmings and I think about it, I stuff that in the same bag between the bones. Occasionally, I’ll pour in some potato-cooking water or a bit of leftover liquid from a braise. When that bag gets full, I put it into one of the big freezers and start another, until we process poultry or I need the space. When we lived in the city with less room, I made stock more frequently and froze it in ice cube trays because I didn’t have a pressure canner.
After straining, I started preheating the canner and reheating the broth. The NCHFP instructions for canning meat stock are easy to follow and not to scary for beginning pressure canning. I had seven quarts filled in five minutes, with an extra quart and a half left over. The canner came to temperature while I was sautéing that night’s turkey, and was finished in time for me to use the burner to finish dinner. Right before we ate, the canner had depressurized and the jars were cooling on the counter while I did a shocking amount of dishes.
Keeping it real: said dishes and everything else R & I did that day impeded one last step I usually do: pick over the bones for dog treats. They love the parmesan rinds, and there’s often enough bits and bobs of meat to top up their kibble for a week. But it has to be done that day and put in the refrigerator to hold. After a lovely yard dinner, R and I looked at each other and said, nope not this time.
Is it worth the bother? Last time I priced organic chicken stock in the store, it was $3.50-$4 for a quart-sized box, and I don’t particularly find anything to recommend about its flavor. Artisanal bone broth-you pay out the wazoo for that. I must be too frugal, as evidenced by the fact I save bones and other trash. Our broth is so good, and now that I trust we have an ongoing supply of the makings, I use it profligately. If I priced my stock at $5/quart, with my only costs being water and energy (the jars and lids are reusable, sunk costs), I netted $40 in nega-bucks, that is money I didn’t spend. Considering that the actual focused work was literally five minutes loading jars, and the rest of it was as I passed through the kitchen doing other tasks, it seems like a pretty good ROI to me.
Last winter, R asked for soup and sandwich night once a week. We kind of drifted off that routine over the summer, but as the weather changes, I know we will speed through these jars. Happily, in a few weeks, the chicken harvest will begin, providing more backs, necks and feet for the stock pot to get us through the colds months of winter. The other six days of the week? We eat well on other things, and pile up the bones.