Monday, February 23, 2009

Garbage Soup

My Grandma could cook you a 5 course tasting menu, using nothing but dust and cobwebs and you would swear it was made by an Iron Chef. I would imagine that this owes equally to being a child of the depression and then the single mother of a large family. Even though she became much more comfortable financially over the years, there are some habits that she never lost, primarily that the woman does not waste food. Now I don't just mean she eats her leftovers before they spoil, I mean she could give the Native Americans a run for their money with that every part of the Buffalo jazz. There is not a single scrap, clipping, bone, skin, or anything else goes unused in her home.

When I was a kid, I used to poke fun at some of her stranger habits. The one that I remember the most, is Garbage Soup. When making dinner, my grandmother always kept two salad bowls on the counter, one for meat scraps and one for veggie scraps. Everything that was trimmed off of either was saved in the respective salad bowl. I mean everything, cores, skins, stems, everything. When she was cleaning up, she would empty the bowls into matching gallon ziplock bags in her freezer. When these bags got full, she made what I jokingly called garbage soup.

As I have gotten older I have a lot more respect for the whole process. Basically, my grandmother was saving money by making her own veggie and meat stocks, from food that she had already paid for and most people would have just thrown away. This is a skill that she learned because between the depression and being a single mom, she never had any other option. Having grown up under much easier circumstances, skills like this are something that my generation (and those after it) for the most part totally lack. For most of us, that isn't a problem. We just go out and buy whatever we need to eat. Most people I know would not even buy veggie stock (let alone make it,) because that means actually cooking from scratch which is something that is becoming more and more rare in the age of box mixes, canned stew and microwave dinners. Everyone would really be doing themselves a service to try and learn to not only make meals from scratch, but to make ingredients from scratch. For vegans, I think that it is essential.
I am sure to revisit this topic in future posts, but today lets just talk about veggie stock (I obviously don't care to make meat stock.)

Home Made Veggie Stock
The recipe here is going to involve mainly just process instructions, since the ingredients just end up being whatever you have left over.

To start
Get yourself a big airtight container, to keep in the freezer. I usually just use a gallon size ziplock bag. Every time you cut up a vegetable put all your scraps in the freezer. I seriously save everything, from carrot peels to broccoli stems. I once accidentally saved a whole bunch of cerano chile cores and ginger scraps from a Thai meal. The resulting broth was so spicy and delicious, that I now make it a point to try and get some pepper cores and ginger into every batch. You might want to skip the pepper cores if you don't like spice, but it is important to try and get a variety of veggies in there. It will make your end product a lot tastier, and it is also a good way to remind yourself to eat a variety of veggies, which is super important if you don't want a vitamin deficiency.

1 - gallon bag of vegetable scraps
A heck of a lot of water
salt and seasoning to taste

The largest sauce pot you have
A large open container, like another sauce pot or a big salad bowl
A pasta strainer
A Clean dish towel (paper towels don't work)

  • Put all the scraps in your pot, and put it on your stove over high heat until boiling.
  • The idea here, is to just let it boil away. Every time the liquid in the pot reduces by a quarter, fill it back up to the top. Keep doing this until the liquid in the pot is the color of a glass of iced tea, then remove it from the heat. (I like to use a ladle to pour some into a clear glass so I can peek at the color.) This will probably take a few hours.
  • Once the pot cools, line the strainer with the clean dish towel, and pour the broth slowly through it, collecting the liquid in your large container.
  • all of the solid veggie scraps should now be all gross and mushy. There is really no nutritional value left to them. Throw them in your trash or compost, or feed them to a pet.
  • Put the liquid back in the pot and bring it back up to a simmer.
  • This is when you are going to add your other flavors. I like to wait until the broth is reduced, because it is really easy to over flavor, since any flavors that you add are going to become more potent as it reduces.
  • I always add salt (a little bit at a time until it tastes right) and usually about 1 tbsp of Italian seasoning, you can use whatever spices you like though, and I often change it up depending on what I plan to use the broth for. Or if I am not sure, I just don't add any seasoning at all and I worry about the spice later when I am actually cooking.
  • Whatever the case, add your spices, simmer for 5 minutes, and then remove from the heat.
  • I usually get somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/2 gallon of stock out of this recipe. It will differ from batch to batch though, so don't get to worked up if you end up with more or less.

This stock doesn't have any preservatives in it, so it won't last more than a few days in the fridge. Either make it and use it right away, or freeze it in a sealed container In the freezer, it will last about 3 months.


  1. Mmmm ... stock. I started making stock recently and can't believe how easy it is. You can also reboil it to keep it from spoiling in the fridge.

  2. I am a little lazy for reboiling. I usually either use it all or portion and freeze it.

  3. I like to reduce my stock all to hell and then freeze it in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, transfer to an airtight freezer container and they're good for months. You can add 'em to a stock pot for soup, using water to reconstitute them to regular potency, or use them in sauces.