Real Food

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Nothing can ruin a perfect plan, faster then input from others. Yes, other perspectives can be great. People sometimes see things you miss, but just as often they throw a monkey wrench in your vision. Such was the case as I pondered the answer, and underlying message of the question, “what else is on the menu?” 

To be fair to my friends, I should have expected the question. As detailed in post four, Disconnected, most people do not eat foods that harvested from the wild, or grown by their own hands. They don’t eat, venison or duck caught from the field. If it’s not from a grocery store, they don’t eat it. Beyond that point, myself and the guests are African-American. A traditional African-American Thanksgiving meal includes:  collard greens, sweet potato pie, candied yams, ham, or baked macaroni and cheese. None of these foods were eaten by the Indians or Pilgrims. When my dinner guests learned I did not plan on cooking any of those foods, I got that, “What you talking about Willis?” look of Different Strokes fame.

No amount of cajoling, explaining, or salesmanship on my part would move the core group from the idea of different food options. If I wanted to feed more than just myself and my brother, then a compromise--that is I had to give in—would be necessary. After a heated discussion, one friend asked a question, similar to the one that had lead down this road in the first place.

Kiara, have you given thought to the what the very first black people in America ate for thanksgiving?

The question brought me up short. Of course, I had not given it any thought. Who wants to think about that time in America, but it’s an intriguing question. The whole premise of Thanksgiving is giving thanks for what you do have. Every year people going through hard times are admonished to find the positive in their life and be thankful for it. How do you do that when you are literally considered property.

So a Bargain Was Struck

I would discover the foods the first blacks in America ate on Thanksgiving, and everyone would agree to picking foods from that list to add the one I had compiled already. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but as compromises went it was not a bad one.

Blacks, of course, were not at the First Thanksgiving feast. The slave trade in America had not yet begun. Once begun, few people tracked the day to day lives of the first slaves in America. Reading and writing was banned so there are few records or written journals. Those that exist focus more on the hardship of bondage, than food. Worse, Googling the question lead to way too many sites designed more to lambast America, than to talk about the foods eaten or life of slaves on Thanksgiving. The one exception is a site called, Put together by a man named, Michael W. Twitty, a food blogger. The site focuses exclusively on food, and “promoting African American food ways and its parent traditions in Africa and her Diaspora and its legacy in the food culture of the American South.”

Twitty’s site is a wealth of information, and provided the back bone for information on Thanksgiving food life of blacks on the plantation, during Thanksgiving.

Until finding Twitty’s site, I made the false assumption that blacks ate the leftover from the Thanksgiving meal the slaves would have prepared for the plantations owners.  Slaves did certainly eat leftovers, but their diet was not restricted to them. According to the spotty resources on the subject collard greens were not a modern food staple for blacks. Collards greens, along with peas, lima beans, and cabbage were cultivated in gardens, slaves were allowed to have near their living quarters.

A surprising detail in the foods eaten is some plantation owners would give their slaves firearms so they could hunt for food before Thanksgiving. When reading this tidbit of information on, I was as shocked as when I discovered lobster was on the menu in 1621. As shocking as it is to believe, a slave owner would allow his slaves to have a gun, if even only for a day or two, it is not too surprising to imagine that any slave would not be able to range too far afield from their home plantation. They could not risk wandering on the property of another plantation owner.

I think it’s safe to say that any successful hunt entailed smaller game like ducks, doves, or rabbits. In addition, it may surprise you to know that slaves were the primary marketers of chickens, and smaller game fowl like ducks. Chickens were a staple food source in Africa and so transplanted Africans were adept at raising the North American versions near their living quarters. Other than ducks and chickens, no other game birds or small game is mentioned specifically. Thus, we can only go with chicken and duck as definitive items.

The other meat mentioned is ham. Pigs were a well-established meat source during the height of the slave trade. They were and in many areas today, still are one of nature’s best waste disposal units. Hogs are the ultimate omnivore and would have been a main tool in getting rid of meat and vegetable offing’s.

Last, grain and starch foods eaten were sweet potatoes, corn bread dressing, and surprise, surprise macaroni and cheese.

Now that I knew what some of the foodstuffs blacks consumed in the past, I could add a few items—reluctantly—to the menu. These items would be a deviation from the original goal, but I could rationalize it in my mind. I needed guests, my guests wanted a few items they were used to waiting. I the foods items added would still be historical, and I could still hunt and grow the additions.

Ham, meant I could go out hunting more in order to get a wild hog. Collard greens were something I planned on growing in my garden anyway. The only problem areas were trying to keep my friends on point with the theme. The subject of peach cobbler as a dessert came up right away; an item not found on any of the early menus.

I had no doubt that in the coming weeks there would be more discussions about what to eat or not eat. Collaboration in any endeavor is tough, because you have to constantly sell your collaborators on your own vision and idea. My friends view this as all of us coming together for a Thanksgiving meal. I’m looking at it as all of us coming together to cook and eat a wonderful meal based on that historic feast.  

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Click here to read all posts in the First Feast series.

When planning a dinner party or holiday feast, the first concern is not the food. The first order of business is the guest list; specifically getting people to come your event. On the Fourth of July, this is a breeze. Everyone loves a barbecue. However, the holiday season is different. Most people are traveling to see family. This presented a challenge, because honestly, a table laden with food and a party of one is just sad.

By either divine intervention or pure luck, two friends decided that for the first time they would not travel to see family for Thanksgiving. I presented my idea to them, and asked them to be a part of the project — my holiday feast-testers in a way. Before I knew it, not only did they agree to join in on the fun, but the daughter of one and the boyfriend of the other agreed. After mentioning this to my own best friend, he and his wife agreed to spend the holiday with us as well. In total, the dinner list went from a hopeful four to 14 people. I was ecstatic, but there were two major problems.


Disconnected from Our Food

When everyone thought I was just growing vegetables for the table the idea was intriguing. However, when it the future diners realized there would be no grocery stores involved, they saw the menu of food items, and I told them I was hunting for everything…well the following exchange showcases the general turn in viewpoint.

“I'm not eating something that used to be alive, Kiara.”

“You eat things that used to be alive every day.”

“Not [higher octave range] beautiful creatures that were running around the woods, minding their own business!”

"All animals are beautiful. Some also happen to be tasty.”

My flippant response garnered nothing more than a snort. I should have stopped while I was ahead, but kept on talking.

“So if they aren't scampering in the woods, its ok to kill and eat them? You're such animalist!”

I don't think that is a real word. I made it up on the spot. It’s supposed to mean someone who thinks some animals are more worthy than other animals. I dont know if that's really a thing. I'll have to send a query to P.E.T.A to find out.

The problem is one, I think, many homesteaders, and hunters face all the time. The average person cannot admit all the cellophane wrapped meat in their local big box grocery store did not appear there by magic. Beef is a cow before it is a T-bone steak. Chickens run around before appearing in the frozen meat section. Most turkeys don’t get pardoned by the President. The reality of life is all of our food is harvested. The question is by whom, in what conditions, and how long ago. But the idea of hunting and putting your harvest on the table is abhorrent to people.


Sitting in a deer-hunting blind.

I would like to say it’s because of the “killing” aspect of hunting, but gardening gives only a slightly different response. I’ve noticed that people think gardening is cool, but if you tell them you get all of your produce from a garden and won’t go to the grocery, people do give you a look. They think its…off, somehow. Yet, they have no problem going into Whole Foods to buy overpriced vegetables that are days old. Harvesting a deer, rabbit, or duck is disgusting, but meat killed at a slaughterhouse of questionable cleanliness is normal.

There is a disconnect between people and the food they eat every day. Few question or think about where it comes from. A year ago, when news stories of e coli in packages of spinach and lettuce hit the airwaves, I shrugged it off. I knew I did not have to worry about any of that, because I knew here my vegetables were coming from, my little 4-by-12 plot.

My response to the concerns and apprehension of my friends, included pointing out these little tidbits of information. Their response usually entailed dismissing the reality of meat and veggies from a grocery store. More than a couple responded with words along the lines of, “As long as I don’t have to see it, and it’s in a neat package, that’s fine for me.”

I guess they thought I was going to butcher the deer in the kitchen, and pluck the feathers from the ducks in the driveway.

Frustrating as those discussions were they certainly were better debates than the question that followed them: What else is on the menu?

Kiara Ashanti is originally from the cold state of New Jersey. He attended college in sunny Florida and graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Speech Communication. He loves taking on new projects and is the author of over 200 articles ranging from trading securities, politics, social policy, and celebrity interviews. Read all of Kiara's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Whether your root cellar is filled or you are simply tempted by the colorful fall displays of root vegetables at the farmers’ market, you are probably thinking of roasting those roots. And why not? Roasting root vegetables enhances their sweetness and mellows the sometimes sharp, sulfurous notes of rutabagas and turnips.


Roasting is simple, but I’ve been served a lot of disappointing roasted roots in my day. Properly roasted roots are well-browned on the outside and tender within; they are never pale in color or soggy in texture. Here are ten ways to guarantee delicious roasted root vegetables every time.

1. Cut the vegetables into uniform-size small pieces. I prefer cubes, about 1/2 inch in size—never more than 1 inch in size. This creates the maximum surface area for caramelizing the sugars inherent in the roots. The number one mistake people make is cutting their vegetables into large pieces or chunks that cook unevenly.


2. Mix it up. An assortment of root vegetables is more interesting than just one variety. Here’s a dish where red beets can be mixed with other vegetables without turning the entire dish purple. Stick with root vegetables, however, to avoid overcooking the more tender green vegetables (like broccoli).

3. Use a large sheet pan, two or more if you must. Sheet pans are preferable to any pan that has high sides. Never crowd the pan or the vegetables will steam rather than sear.  Yes, the space demand does make it a problem when cooking for crowds, especially because the vegetables reduce so much in volume.

4. Lightly grease both the sheet pan and the vegetables. First lightly brush the oil or fat on a large sheet pan. Mound the veggies on the pan, pour over the melted fat or oil, and toss the vegetables gently to coat. Then spread out the vegetables in a single layer. Make sure the pieces are not crowded. (If they are, divide them among more sheet pans.)

5. Consider roasting with rendered duck fat, chicken fat, lard or tallow rather than a vegetable oil. Duck fat and chicken fat in particular add wonderful flavor.  Lard or tallow, unless flavored, add less flavor but are still good choices. Your best olive oil should not be used here because the flavor nuances will be lost. Don’t use butter because it will burn.

6. Flavor enhancers should include onions or shallots, which may burn but still taste sweet. Dried herbs and garlic can be added, but wait until the last 10 minutes of roasting; otherwise they will burn and become bitter. 

7. Roast in a hot oven and on the bottom rack. I roast at 450 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are roasting more than one pan, use a convection oven if you can or consider roasting the sheet pans one at a time. If you must roasting the veggies all at once, be sure to rotate the pans top to bottom as well as turning from side to side during roasting.

8. Roast root vegetables for 25 to 30 minutes, until tender and well caramelized.


9. If you are serving roasted vegetables for a crowd, consider roasting earlier in the day to avoid crowded pans, but reheat on parchment paper–lined sheet pans (to absorb excess grease) in the least crowded way possible. Or serve at room temperature on a bed of greens with a drizzle of salad dressing, like a maple-balsamic vinaigrette.

10. Sprinkle with coarse salt before serving. For variety, consider drizzling with a maple syrup, boiled apple cider, or pomegranate molasses.

And enjoy!

Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette

Yield 1/2 cup


• 2 tbsp maple syrup
• 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 2 tbsp soy sauce


1. Combine the ingredients in a small jar and shake well.

2. Root vegetables are great for roasting. Toss with melted, rendered animal fat or oil. 

3. Don’t crowd the pan. Roasted vegetables lose a significant amount of volume.

Consider serving on top of a bed of greens and calling the dish a salad.  A maple-balsamic vinaigrette is the perfect dressing to use.

Andrea Chesman has written more than 20 cookbooks, including The Pickled Pantry, Recipes from the Root Cellar, Serving Up the Harvest, and The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How. She teaches and does cooking demonstrations and classes at fairs, festivals, book events, and garden shows across the United States. She lives in Ripton, Vermont. Read all of Andrea's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



The list of foods eaten at the First Thanksgiving, detailed in the previous post are diverse and easy to obtain — if you are buying them from a grocery store (a luxury the Pilgrims did not have). So the goal here is to not use the grocery store. Growing and hunting for the food with my own two hands is a much more satisfying way of approaching the project. The guidelines for carrying out it, however, make it more difficult.


The parameters are simple and straightforward:

1. I will make an honest effort to procure game animals (deer, duck, turkey,) and seafood items with my own hands.

2. Vegetables and fruits will be planted and grown with my own hands.

3. If a menu item cannot be obtained, either because of a failed hunt, not grown in time, or some other reason, I will get the food from a local farm, or source.

4. No foods on the menu will be bought from any chain supermarket. If it did not come from the Earth near me or a local farm, it will not show up on the table.

These guidelines are a little more difficult than at first glance. I do not own a homestead, nor my own home, so I don’t have a backyard to place a garden. I live in an apartment. Also, there are a few foods that cannot be obtained in the state of Florida, where I reside. Cod, for example, is a coldwater fish. There is nothing cold about the waters of Florida. The showpiece, turkey, is an expensive bird to hunt. These hunts can cost $1,300 to $1,500 dollars. Essentially, I could buy all the items I want from the store and have money left over to go Black Friday shopping for that amount of money. Public land hunts are cheaper. But I have no idea where to look on them, and I don't want to be the black guy that needs rescuing on the news.


Where to Grow Your Greens

Despite living in an apartment, planning on where to grow was easy. The Orlando area is home to several community-based gardens. I have plots at two locations. One is a 4-by-12 raised bed, and another location has two 4x10 garden plots. Community based gardens are a great solution for anyone who wants to garden, but do not have their own land. Joining is usually inexpensive, $20 a year in my own case, and have the added benefit of having all the tools you need at them.

Using the Mother Earth Garden Planner, I mapped out my plots to include the vegetables needed for Thanksgiving, mixed in with the other vegetables I eat regularly. At the larger plot, I planted: corn, yard-long asparagus beans, broad beans, peas, lettuces, sweet potatoes, broccoli, kale, tomatoes, and winter squash. The smaller plots were planted with more corn, a variety of squash, called Red Kuri, sage, celery, carrots, greens (more on THAT decision to come), cabbage, thyme, spinach, and more broccoli and kale.

Experienced gardeners on Mother Earth, already see a number of problems in the planting plan. Corn needs room to pollinate itself. Sweet potatoes need to be started in summer. I had a plan for the corn that involved planting them close together, about 5 inches apart, in hopes that proximity would aid in pollination. I also planted items like African Basil, and Borage in hopes of enticing bees to flit around the garden.

 I’d heard corn could be water hogs, but there is plenty of water at the community garden. However, knowing that work would at times keep me from watering as often as I would prefer, this year I changed the amendments that I added to the soil. Rather than just adding mushroom compost or Black Kow; I added a bunch of Coconut fiber. If you have never used this, I would skip the peat moss and jump on this stuff. It holds moisture extremely well. My thought process was simple.  Retained moisture, meant less worry about getting to the gardens to water at the right times. 

With my plan set, my gardens prepared with amendments, trellis’s, and my seeds bought, it was time to plant. All I needed now was a group of people to cook and prepare the foods of the First Feast.

Which is where roadblock one sprang in front of me.

Click here for Part 4, "Disconnected from Our Food."

Kiara Ashanti is originally from the cold state of New Jersey. He attended college in sunny Florida and graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Speech Communication. He loves taking on new projects and is the author of over 200 articles ranging from trading securities, politics, social policy, and celebrity interviews. Read all of Kiara's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Freeze-dried vs. dehydrated food: What’s the difference?

Dried (or “dehydrated”) food has shed its moisture via heat and air circulation, usually in an oven or in a simple electric or solar dehydrator. You can even dry herbs and low-moisture foods atop racks outdoors on a hot, dry day. Most home-dried foods keep well if stored in airtight containers in a dark, dry, cool location.

Freeze-drying food requires a more complicated process, wherein a machine freezes food to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The freeze dryer then creates a vacuum and gradually warms the food, causing the ice to change directly into vapor — a process called “sublimation.” Finally, the unit causes the vapor to condense and freeze on its internal walls. After the food is removed, the unit warms up and the water drains. You can store the product in cans, jars or Mylar pouches.

Both types of food are lightweight and thus popular with backpacking enthusiasts. According to Postharvest Technology and Food Process Engineering, freeze-dried foods have a longer shelf life, retain flavors and nutrients better, and rehydrate rapidly, but are much more expensive to produce than dried foods.

Learn about drying fruits, veggies and more at Solar Food Dehydrators Collection Page.

Cheryl Long is the editor in chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and a leading advocate for more sustainable lifestyles. She leads a team of editors which produces high quality content that has resulted in MOTHER EARTH NEWS being rated as one of North America’s favorite magazines. Long lives on an 8-acre homestead near Topeka, Kan., powered in part by solar panels, where she manages a large organic garden and a small flock of heritage chickens. Prior to taking the helm at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, she was an editor at Organic Gardening magazine for 10 years.



Read Part 1 of the First Feast series: "Tracking the First Thanksgiving Feast."

Roasted turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, honeyed ham, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and if you’re of African-American descent, collard greens, and baked macaroni and cheese. These are the primary items for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. However, the term “traditional” deserves an asterisk next to it. That’s because a good deal of the foods we associate with Thanksgiving did not make it on to the menu until well into the 20th century.          

The foods the Indians and Pilgrims ate were different from the ones most of us eat each year. The most complete sources on the menu items I found were, the Smithsonian and; a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history of the first American settlers. There were few records kept at the time, but two texts are referenced by most historians.

The first is from a letter written by Edward Winslow dated December 12, 1621.

Our corn [i.e. wheat] did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown. They came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom. Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty. 2

The second description comes from historian William Bradford in his History of Plymouth Planation, 20 years after the fact, but not discovered until 1854. Apparently the volume was looted during the Revolutionary War (damn Redcoats).

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercising in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.3

From these two reports we can gather definitive information on a few of the food items eaten. Winslow’s account makes it plain the Indians gifted the Pilgrims with five deer. So venison is on the menu. Venison is not, however, something most Americans think of as a dinner item for Thanksgiving. Plenty of hunters, particularity in the Mid-West, eat venison each year. However, the country as a whole does not. For many that would be the first surprise.  Added to the venison, according to Winslow, were fowl, wheat, barley, and Indian corn. The corn would not, however, have been corn on the cob. Indians usually cooked corn that had been ground and cooked into a porridge dish.

The Winslow account offers some information, but does leave questions. Fowl is a vague term. Turkey is not specifically mentioned. So where did the grand bird come into play. Without skipping to how Thanksgiving became a holiday, you could start with thinking about what was available. At first blush it could be easy to think of Pilgrims as farmers. Certainly the history and story, I believe most Americans grew up with, is one in which the Indians saved the Pilgrims, after a bad harvest. I.e. their crops failed. There is some truth to this, but the Pilgrims were at heart foragers. They farmed, but they also hunted. When considering what they could have eaten, its best to think of what wild game was readily available to them.

At that time fowl would have been any number of birds; wild turkey, ducks, geese, even swans.  The Pilgrims would have brought chickens with them on the boats, so they may have had access to eggs and chicken meat.

Another major foraged food item would have been seafood. Yet, again we have a food that most people associate with Thanksgiving. Specifically, cod and bass as mentioned by Bradford. Other seafood readily available were: eels, clams, mussels, and lobster.

Yes, Lobster!

This was the biggest surprise for me. I cannot think of anyone that has ever suggested Lobster as a Thanksgiving menu item.  The truth is that lobster was not only readily available, it was easy to get. In the time of the Pilgrims, lobsters were literally everywhere. They often just washed ashore, making them easy pickings for the Pilgrims and Indians. 

Other foodstuffs that Pilgrims regularly ate and therefore could be reasonably be added to the menu list are nuts, walnuts, squash, beans, leeks, carrots, onions, sorrel as well as herbs. Fruits like berries and strawberries were growing wild at that time, and would have undoubtedly been a regular staple of their diet.

In summary the First Thanksgiving feast likely had the following items:

• seafood: cod, bass, eel, clams, lobster, mussels
• wild fowl: turkey, goose, duck, crane, swan, partridge, eagles (possibly)
• meat: venison
• grains: wheat, Indian corn
• vegetables: pumpkin, peas, beans, onions, lettuce, radishes, carrots, parsnips
• fruits: raspberries, strawberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries, cranberries
• nuts: black walnuts, chestnuts, acorns
• herbs and seasonings: olive oil, liverwort, leeks, dried currants, sorrel, thyme

One thing to note on the list is what is not listed. Pigs and hogs were not on the menu. The first hogs brought here were introduced in Florida by the Spanish years later. The only pork the colonist would have had was salted pork used for the journey to the New World. Any left over from the 66-day journey would have been eaten that first winter. There was no beef. Potatoes were not on the menu. They were not introduced to North America yet. Collard greens, candied yams, sweet potatoes, none were on the menu that faithful day in 1621.           

Even with the foods from a modern menu, absent, the list of items is daunting. Some of the items like gooseberries and cod, are not available wild in Florida, where I live. Adjustments may have to be made.

In looking at the list here is what I have decided to include in italics:

• seafood: cod, bass, eel, clams, lobster, mussels
• wild fowl: turkey, goose, duck, crane, swan, partridge, eagles (possibly)
• meat: venison
• grains: wheat, Indian corn
• vegetables: pumpkin, peas, beans, onions, lettuce, radishes, carrots, parsnips
• fruits: raspberries, strawberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries, cranberries
• nuts: walnuts, chestnuts, acorns
• herbs and seasonings: olive oil, liverwort, leeks, dried currants, sorrel, thyme

That’s the menu. In the next post I’ll tell you how I’m doing it. 


Mayflower History

Photo credit: Satya Murphy

Kiara Ashanti is originally from the cold state of New Jersey. He attended college in sunny Florida and graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Speech Communication. He loves taking on new projects and is the author of over 200 articles ranging from trading securities, politics, social policy, and celebrity interviews. Read all of Kiara's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Author's Note: I'll be using the terms broth and stock interchangeably throughout this article. Broths are typically made from meats, stocks from bones, but in current times the terminology "bone broths" has blurred the distinction between the two.

I’ve always cooked a lot and have bought a lot of chicken and beef stock, bouillon or boxed broths over the years. Buying exclusively organic and free range stocks can be expensive. Also, to me prepared broths taste watered-down. They can also have too much salt and added “natural flavorings” which usually end up loaded with free glutemates. And then there’s the issue of the containers to recycle.

Jars of chicken stock, ready for the freezer
A couple of years ago I started making my own bone broths/stock and while they beat store-bought versions hands down, they were not very economical. For instance, to make chicken stock, I would buy a couple of packages of chicken backs and another of chicken feet at WholeFoods—a store not known for the most reasonable prices. And the backs and feet are hard to come by, hit or miss at WholeFoods. Sometimes I can find the chicken parts at Asian markets, for a better price, but always feel uncomfortable with the sources of the poultry: Where did they come from? What were they fed? How were they treated? For beef stock, I’d end up at shopping at Sprouts or my regular grocer, as their beef bones are only $2-$3 a pound, compared to WholeFoods at $6 a pound. The butcher will also usually cut the bones into smaller pieces for free.

Then one day I got the idea that if I started saving ALL the bones from the meals that we eat, I wouldn’t need to buy much — if any at all — from a grocer when it came time to make stock. I started keeping two large plastic bags in the freezer for bones. One is marked poultry, where I store duck, chicken and turkey bones. The other is marked meat, where I store beef, lamb and pork bones. I never buy boneless/skinless anything, so the bones add up fairly quickly. Since I usually trim the meat off bones before serving a meal and knowing the amount of time these bones are going to be boiling anyway, I don't feel squeamish about saving and using the leftover bones from meals.

Ingredients for making beef bone broth
Putting together the ingredients in the stock pot is a breeze. I just throw in chunks of onions, carrots, celery with their leaves, garlic, add some vinegar (to leach minerals from the bones), toss the bones on top and then fill with enough filtered water to cover everything by an inch or so. Once the water boils I drop it to a simmer and find the “sweet spot” on the burner knob that will keep the water simmering but not boiling. I will cook poultry stock for 24 hours or more. Beef stock gets 48 hours or more. During the last hour or so, I throw in the parsley.

When the stock is done, I turn off the heat and let it cool for about half an hour. Then, using a slotted spoon, I remove as much of the vegetables, bones and meat as possible, placing them in a strainer over a large bowl (or a bowl with a steamer rack in the bottom). The bones will look weathered and chicken bones will be soft enough to break apart by finger.

Depleted bones after simmering

Next I set up a few bowls so I can separate the vegetables (for composting), bits of meat (can be frozen for chicken salad; I feed the beef to my chickens) and bones (for the trash). You don’t have to go through this process, it’s just the way I do things.

By the time the strainer is empty, there will be a puddle of more stock in the bottom of the bowl. I pour this into the big pot of stock, then pour the entire pot contents through a fine mesh strainer into another pot or bowl. If you want even the smallest bits of meat removed from your stock, line the strainer with cheesecloth or some other straining fabric (I prefer tea towels or cloth diapers).

At this time salt and pepper are added, to taste. I tend to go very easy on the salt, as I can always add more when I use the stock in recipes. With the beef stock, I will refrigerate the stock so the fat will rise to the top and solidify, which is easy to just lift off. This can be frozen and saved for other cooking purposes. The chicken stock has a lot less fat, so I generally just mix it in well so when separating the stock into jars—they each get a somewhat equal amount.

Now the stock is ready to be put into containers for the freezer or to be pressure canned. If you're planning to freeze your stock, you must use wide-mouth pint canning jars, that are labeled as freezer safe. More info can be found on my No More Canned Soup page.  

You’ll need to follow pressure canning instructions to can your stock if you're going that route.

Beef (Meat) Stock/Bone Broth: Find the printable recipe here.
Chicken (Poultry) Stock/Bone Broth: Find the printable recipe here

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