Winter Homemade Soup Stock Recipes

Homemade soup stock recipes guaranteed to heat a cold winter day, including beef, chicken and fish stocks, Iowa vegetable and chestnut soups, and shrimp gumbo.


The education of a soup maker inevitably begins with stocks.


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Take the sting out of winter by stoking up the stock pot with recipes excerpted from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS new companion magazine, American Country. 

Winter Homemade Soup Stock Recipe

He told the story at a party and may have been pulling everyone's leg. Still, it caused a stir—partly because it revealed something of the magic of soup making and partly because it sounded like a fairy tale. An anthropologist, he had done fieldwork in a small rural village in northern China before the Communist revolution. As far as he could determine from local records and lore, he said, the fire beneath the large, black, communal iron cooking pot in the village center had been kept going for at least 400 years. Each day—as they had evidently done for more than 15 generations—the villagers would toss in fresh greens, herbs, spices, rice, knucklebones, chicken feet, bird nests, what have you. And each day the soup changed. He had nourished himself, he said, over an entire cold and bleak winter from that ancient pot. "Moreover," he added with a wink, "the special qualities of the soup undoubtedly account for the fact that I am now 120 years old."

Although there is plenty of magic in soup, and a good bowl of it can convince you that you will live forever, there is controversy over how long a decent one should be kept going. The truth is that after repeated beatings the vegetable fibers break down and become mushy, while herbs and spices lose the pungency that brought them to the pot in the first place. What had been a symphony of distinct flavors turns into homogenized noise. The French, who worship soup, would never allow one to go downhill, knowing full well that the key to a distinguished serving lies in utterly fresh ingredients: greens, herbs, and, in Marseilles, fish. The Chinese know this as well—despite the anthropologist's story—having raised the art of soup making to positively Zen heights.

Even in America, before the advent of canning and dehydration, self-respecting country cooks continually urged their pupils (usually their daughters) to make the time between garden and pot as short as possible.

And yet, soup is obviously more than liquid salad. Rather, it is the wedding of the momentary and the established, the fresh ingredients and the long-simmered broth. This stock, the substance that can be nurtured and tended for days and even weeks, is the magic. The stock of a good soup is like a good house—commodious, mature, accepting, and complementary to what goes in it.

Inevitably, the education of a soup maker begins with stock. Marjorie M. Watkins knows this well: She learned her soup making from her great-grandmother who began married life and bore her first six of twelve children in a sod house on the Kansas plains. Marjorie's beef stock recipe, which has provided the groundwork for innumerable delicious meals, has stood the test of time.

Beef Stock Recipe

3 pounds stewing meat with bones, cut up
1 pound marrow or soup bones
3 quarts cold water
1 cup dry red table wine
1 large onion, quartered
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks and tops, chopped
2 tomatoes, quartered
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 thyme sprig
5 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
5 peppercorns
1 tablespoon salt

Brown the meat in a lightly oiled skillet, then place it in a kettle with the water. Pour the wine into the skillet and use it to scrape up the browned meat juices, then add this mix to the kettle. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer partly covered for 2 hours, occasionally skimming froth from the stock's surface. Then add remaining ingredients, and simmer for 2 hours more. Remove meat and bones, reserving meat for some other use. Strain stock through a coarse vegetable sieve, then through a double layer of cheesecloth. Cool stock to room temperature before refrigerating or freezing.

Do not defat stock if storing, for the fat will rise and congeal on the surface, acting as a sealant. Prior to use, it can easily be removed. (Since freezing separates ingredients, thawed stock should be briefly reboiled.)

If fresh stock is to be used immediately, however, spoon off as much fat as possible from the surface. Floating an ice cube in the stock will congeal the rest, or you can sweep the surface with a chilled lettuce leaf. To clarify either fresh or stored stock, add to each quart an egg white slightly beaten in 2 teaspoons water, and 1 crushed eggshell. Stir, heat, and boil for 2 minutes, then let stand unstirred for 20 minutes. Strain through a double layer of cheesecloth. Now you're ready to make some serious soup, perhaps this winter staple from the heartland:

Iowa Vegetable Soup Recipe

When Sylvia and Bob Chenault of Walcot, Iowa, sent MOTHER this recipe, it was December 2 and the temperature on their farm hovered right around the five degree mark. Simple to prepare, the Chenaults' warming recipe relies heavily on produce from the family's garden.

4 quarts beef stock
1-1/2 pounds soup meat
1/2 cup sliced onions
1 cup diced green pepper
1 cup diced kohlrabi
2 cups sliced carrots
1 cup snow peas (or shelled peas)
1 cup long-grain brown rice
1 quart home-canned tomatoes
1 pint tomato sauce
Salt and garlic powder to taste

Warm beef stock, add meat, and let simmer about 1/2 hour. Add other ingredients, and simmer 1 hour or until vegetables are tender. Makes 5 quarts, appetites robust, and cheeks rosy.

Chicken Stock Recipe

5 pounds chicken, cut up, with giblets (less the liver)
3 quarts cold water
2 onions, quartered
2 carrots, chopped
2 leeks and tops, chopped
5 parsley sprigs
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
4 peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 tablespoon salt

Add chicken and giblets to water and slowly bring to rapid boil. Simmer for 1 hour, periodically skimming off the froth. Add remaining ingredients, except salt, cover, and simmer for 1 more hour. Remove meat from bones but return them to kettle, then add salt, and simmer 45 minutes. Strain through fine sieve, and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate or freeze in covered container or use at once.

Hundreds of recipes call for this versatile base, but here is one that is utterly simple and appropriately seasonal:

Chestnut Soup Recipe

1 cup chestnuts
2 quarts chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Shell and blanch the chestnuts. Place 2 cups of the chicken stock in a large pot, and cook the chestnuts in it until they are tender. Remove the chestnuts with a slotted spoon, salt them lightly, and set them aside. Add the remainder of the stock to the hot stock in the pot, and bring to a boil. Put the chestnuts in a soup tureen, pour the stock over them, and serve at once.

Fish Stock Recipe

2 pounds fish heads, bones, skin, tails, but no gills
2 small onions, diced
2 stalks celery with tops, chopped
2-1/2 cups cold water
2 cups dry white wine
3 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 thyme sprig
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
5 peppercorns
Salt to taste

Combine everything but salt in kettle, bring to boil, and simmer covered for 45 minutes, now and then skimming off froth. Add salt at the last moment. Strain, cool at room temperature, and then refrigerate in closed container. The stock can be stored and frozen, although, as with just about every thing, fresh is best. The following gumbo is a favorite in New Orleans:

Shrimp Gumbo Recipe

2 shallots, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cups okra, sliced
2 stalks celery with tops, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups water
1 pound small, peeled, deveined shrimp
2-1/2 cups fish stock
1 cup long-grain rice, co
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté shallots and peppers in olive oil. Add okra, celery, salt, and water, and bring to boil. Cover and simmer at low heat for 10 minutes. Add shrimp and stock, and simmer 5 minutes more, no longer; shrimp are delicate. Add rice, stir, and season with salt and pepper.