This morning dawned cold and wet; the first of the autumn rains had arrived. ‘Perfect day for soup; in fact, perfect season for soup! With all of the summer harvest to cook, can, preserve and enjoy there are always abundant peelings, discarded herbs and vegetables bits. These are the garden’s gift to us; an extra bonus for using fresh produce. If you were to use canned or frozen produce, you would miss out on this ‘second round’ of benefit.
I usually freeze any parings created in the preparation of a meal. Nothing is too insignificant to save. Papery onion skins, bell pepper ribs, carrot tips and tops; they all have flavor, color and nutrients to eventually create a delicious broth which can be used for almost any soup base. When I have accumulated enough to fill my stockpot, I cover the vegetables and herbs with cold water and add a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Starting with cold water leaches the flavor and nutrients into the stock. If you were to put the vegetables into boiling water, more of the flavor would remain in the vegetables. Then I check the refrigerator for any lone sweet potato or a few carrots or leftover cooked vegetables that I can add to the pot. If the garden has fresh herbs available, a generous handful also goes into the stock. Next, I bring the contents of the stockpot to a gentle boil and let the stock simmer on low heat for as long as possible. Several hours are essential to extract all the flavor from the vegetables.
When the stock has finished cooking, allow it to cool until the pot is easily handled. Then you can strain the stock through a colander into a bowl large enough to facilitate further cooling. The cooled stock can be frozen in small containers to use later. I often freeze the liquid in an ice cube tray and then pop the cubes into freezer bags for longer storage.
There are an infinite number of recipes for soup stock. One of my favorites is Rebecca Katz’s Magic Miracle Broth from One Bite at a Time, a cookbook that has earned dog-eared status on my kitchen shelf. Rebecca adds allspice or juniper berries to her stock, which give it that ‘power of yum’, she is so adept at achieving.
Despite the recipes, there are no real hard and fast rules for making a good stock. If you remember a few common sense principles, you’ll be successful. Always use fresh products. That’s the reason behind freezing your parings until you’ve accumulated enough to work with. While it’s fine to use unpeeled vegetables, be sure they are washed. Strong flavored foods like cabbage may overwhelm the more subtle flavors of other vegetables. Red beets will certainly color your stock. Making your own soup stock will not only give your soups more nutrients but also far less sodium than those on the store shelves. If you simply pause before you begin, and ‘take stock’ (sorry; intentional!) you will soon be able to predict what flavors you can achieve and how you can affect them with herbs and spices.