The other night John invited me over to have a turkey dinner cooked by his roommate, Kevin (yes, I am back in John, no we are not a couple). After ensuring safe food handling had been observed (long story) I accepted, being hungry with no money to buy groceries. It was a well-cooked turkey, but the gravy was from a jar. I asked "what are you going to do with the bones?" Kevin shrugged and said "some people know how to make soup out of 'em, I don't." I looked up from under my hair, I'm sure my eyes were green as they are when I am passionate and said, almost in a movie-witch whisper "I do." My price for taking the bones was that I had to pick the carcass, which wasn't hard. I enjoy picking chicken carcasses so this was no different, and got me a gallon bag full of bones. But there was another problem: the pan drippings, which had not been made into gravy, sat a half inch deep in the roasting pan. I wanted them. All night, I would hover in the kitchen over the pan, which had not been taken care of, longing for them. And finally, when the turkey and the bag it had been cooked in had been cleared away and all the other food, that pan and the tantalizing drippings, now semi-congealed with the richness of the collagen in the bones and cartilage, sat there still. I deemed it mine for the taking, and John said if I could find a container with a lid, I could have it. I poured that golden goodness off and happily pranced with it and my bag of bones to my car, to stash them in my freezer when I got home later on.
I am, like the crow that is my animal guide, a scavenger by nature, I always have been, but it was my mother who taught me the value of bones. I grew up watching her after Thanksgiving and Christmas, once the bird was divest of its flesh, take the bones and roast them for hours in the oven and come away with a small amount of very concentrated, flavorful stock. After the Easter ham was done, she would boil the bone for pea soup (yuck). Short ribs, with their long, flat bones, were excellent for beef and barley. So having learned this, I always saved my chicken carcasses in the freezer. When buying cuts of meat, I look at the whole package and say "can these bones be of use to me?" (I've recently discovered a use for pork bones, which pleases me).
Yesterday, I took the bones from my freezer, as well as some my mother had given me from Thanksgiving, and a turkey leg I had bought in a package of three and then bagged separately to boost quick chicken soups with flavor, and placed them in a roasting pan with onion, carrots, and a head of garlic and some water. In a slow oven, they roasted all day as I gradually added water and the broth got richer and more flavorful with each passing hour. My house smelled incredible, as if I was roasting a turkey for myself (I wish! I ordered pizza) and a few hours before I stopped the whole operation, I pulled the meaty drumstick out, cut the meat from it, and threw the bone back in the become brown with the rest. The cats and I enjoyed a tasty morsel, for even I can enjoy dark meat cooked in that broth. All in all it only yielded a quart and a half of stock, but this is valuable stuff, because a little goes a long way. One quart of it will flavor several quarts of soup. I can't wait to make some.
Yes, as I made this bone soup and thought forward to today's baking (banana bread) the thought "we keep the old ways here" kept running through my head. And it's true, as I think on my spiritual reawakening this summer and reconnection to the forest. But it's also true, cooking down bones to make stock, that these are the old ways and the youth of today (even a 40 year old man) don't know these things. It is one of those infinitesimally comforting things to know that should I truly hit rock bottom, and I'm at the butcher or the grocery store, I can ask for bones, which in today's society is throw-away trash, and make something nourishing out of it. And as I think on it, probably the best recipes have evolved from poverty, when you had to make something from nothing. So, gentle readers, if you have a chicken or turkey carcass, I will happily take your bones. If you have a prime rib, I will take the ribs. If you remove the bones from bone-in pork chops, I will take those too. This crow shall make a mighty feast on your bones.