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.

| January/February 1987

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    The education of a soup maker inevitably begins with stocks.

  • 103-070-01i3

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.

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