8 April 2014

Vegetable soup with bone marrow

There are fashions in foods as well as clothes. At the moment the food fads seem to be kale, bone broth, any "new" grain such as quinoa, spelt or amaranth, toast (yes, toast), kimchee and other ferments and coconut oil. I'm sure there are others I've failed to notice. If you've been reading here for a while, you'll know I'm not a follower of fashion. I think fashion cheats us. It makes us want something, then when we have it, it says you can't like it anymore, there is something better. Throw out the old, buy this, it's better. Pfffftt! When you've been around as long as I have, you'll realise that most things go in and out of fashion and you should just like what you like, regardless.

If you think I don't care for any of the food fads I've mentioned, think again, because I think they're all great foods. The thing is though that I don't see them as something new, like most of our ancestors, yours included, I've been using all of them for many years and will continue on, even when they've gone out of fashion (again). If you could phone your great grandma right now and ask her about food, she wouldn't know what Big Macs, Pop Tarts or Yoghurt Tubes are but she would know every one of those foods. She might know kimchee as sauerkraut, but she'd not only know fermented cabbage but would be able to show you how to make it.

Overall, having these old foods as fads shows that the trend now is towards healthier foods. Food that needs time, thought and preparation. This is not food you'll find being prepared by teenagers in a fast food joint, this is for home cooks because it's food for growing children and food for families. When I was growing up, there weren't packets of stock on supermarket shelves, most home cooks made their own stock. Bones would be saved from a roast or bought raw from the butcher and a 24 hour slow cooking session would result in the most nutritious stock to make into a soup. That long slow cooking brings the minerals - calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, sulphur, and others, out of the bones, it dissolves the gristle and gives you a form of glucosamine and chondroiton that is easily digestible and beneficial.  Usually you see that being sold as a supplement to help treat arthritis.

Stock can be made out of most bones but if you can add bone marrow to the mix, you've got yourself a super soup. Try to buy free range, grass fed or organic bones if you can but don't fuss over it. Buy what you can afford. You'll have to get the butcher to cut the bones for you because many marrow bones are long bones and won't fit into your stockpot. This is my recipe for winter vegetable soup. It's made of bone stock, bone marrow, root vegetables and barley - my favourite grain of all time. Roasting the bones until they're brown will add to the flavour of the soup but isn't necessary. You could roast the barley too if you wanted to, it will add more flavour but also adds to the time needed to make the soup.

My recipe for this soup isn't really my recipe, it's my family's recipe.; it might even be your family's recipe. My parents made it, my grandmother made it and I have no doubt she watched as her mother and granny made it too. Into a large stockpot (about 8 litres/quarts) add the bones and cover them with water. Add about half a teaspoon of pepper, two tablespoons of vinegar (that helps extract the minerals from the bones), a handful of parsley, two bay leaves and an onion. Bring it to the boil and let it slowly simmer all day. You could let this cook for a couple of days if you wanted to but 24 hours will give you good stock. The larger the bones, the longer you'll need to cook them. You can turn it off overnight if you want to and start it up the following morning. If you have a wood stove, leave it on the stove for the entire cooking time. If you notice scum develop and rise to the top, skim it off with a slotted spoon. When the stock is cooked, strain it through a sieve to remove the bones, herbs and onion. If the bones are marrow bones, put them to the side, you'll use them again soon.

The night before making the soup, pour two cups of barley into a bowl, cover with water and rinse the grains. Grains aren't really dirty but they are stored in silos and transported around and they pick up dust. Rinse them off, run clean water over them and let them sit overnight soaking in a covered bowl. This will soften the grains and start off the sprouting process. 

To make the soup: pour your stock into the stockpot, add the soaked barley and about half a kilo/one pound of diced lean gravy beef, shin beef or any of the cheaper cuts that contain gristle. The gristle will break down during the cooking and add more nutrients to the soup. Bring the mix to the boil, turn the heat down to a simmer, and with the lid on, simmer for an hour or two to soften the meat. Peel and chop or grate one swede/rutabaga, two parsnips, three carrots, three sticks of celery, one chopped onion, a hand full of parsley. Test taste the stock for seasoning and add what you think it needs. As the vegetables are cooking, remove as much marrow as you can from the bones and add it to the soup. Cook for another 30 - 40 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked. You'll often find pockets of marrow that will easily slip out, sometimes you have to dig around with the end of a spoon.  Back 200 years, they routinely had marrow spoons in kitchens. Now you only find them in antique shops, although I've looked for many years and never found one. I use the end of a sharp small spoon - see above.

Often the bones you use will add fat to the stock. You can get rid of it by cooling the stock in the fridge so the fat forms a layer on the top. When it forms it's easy to scrape it off with a spoon.

This is a very hearty and nutritious soup that will fill up even staunch meat eaters. Add some bread on the side if you wish. If the family still need filling, make a nice simple pudding or pie. I made a coconut and blueberry impossible pie last week that would be ideal but custard and fresh banana or milk pudding would be just as good. If you need recipes for puddings, let me know and we can do some recipes for them next week. I hope you love the soup as much as we do. It will certainly be a healthy addition to your winter menu.

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