From Earthsprings Kitchen

Several of you asked me for recipes from last weekend’s retreat. Here are recipes for Simple Pork Chops and Salmon Loaf.

Simple Pork Chops

Have ready: Slice enough onions (1/2 inch thick slices) to completely cover in one layer all the pork chops you plan to cook, plus a few extra onion slices.

Using any thickness of pork chops (this weekend’s were medium thickness boneless), trim away any fat bits around the edges. Wash the chops, pat them dry with paper towels, salt and pepper each chop, and rub a bit of dried powdered sage onto one surface of each chop.

In a heavy skillet that has a fitting lid, preferably one large enough to hold all the pork chops in one layer, place a thin film of oil.

(Now the question has come up before about “which oil” to use for what. All cooking oils have distinct flavors and characteristics. I suggest you experiment a bit with each kind to determine your preference as to flavor; for cooking, I use a light olive oil for Italian food and Mexican food, sunflower or safflower oil for a lighter, more subtle flavor, canola oil when flavor doesn’t matter at all, and sometimes peanut oil or corn oil for Chinese food. For these pork chops this weekend, I used sunflower oil. And, incidentally, I almost always use safflower oil to make the salad dressing and tomato marinade I make so often.)

Over medium to high heat, brown the pork chops in the very small amount of oil in the skillet, turning them once to brown them on each side. Lay the sliced onions on top of the browned chops, completely covering them. Add a small amount of water, enough to come up about 1/4th of the way on the chops. Cover the skillet tightly with the lid, lower the temperature to the lowest point under the skillet, and simmer slowly until the chops are very fork tender (more than 30 minutes), periodically removing the lid to check the amount of water and juice in the pan, adding a bit more water as you go to keep the chops from burning. The liquid accumulating in the skillet (the water, the disintegrating onions, the juices from the chops) makes the gravy, so don’t add so much water that the gravy is too weak and flavorless; just add enough water to keep the chops from burning and to end up with some gravy. If your chops are thick, you may need to turn them over once during cooking. Pull any remaining onions back on top of the chops, and keep cooking.

That’s it. I usually make mashed potatoes to go with this, as the pork chop gravy over the mashed potatoes is delicious.

Salmon Loaf

Ingredients: Canned salmon, bread, whole egg, salt, pepper, seasonings, crunchies such as finely chopped pecans, onions, parsley, chopped celery.

This easy, fun recipe allows you to experiment with what you have on hand. The trick is to get the right amount of liquid with the right amount of the rest of the stuff before baking it.

Drain and reserve the liquid off canned salmon. Put the salmon in a large bowl. With a fork, thoroughly munch up the salmon, then combine it with not quite an equal amount of thoroughly munched up dry bread. This weekend we had a person trying to limit his gluten intake, so instead of the usual whole wheat bread, I used scalded cornbread (see recipe below). Whatever bread you use, crumble or mush it up completely.

Add crunchiness (finely chopped celery, chopped pecans, chopped parsley, finely chopped white onion, etc). Add salt and pepper and any or all of the following or other seasonings to your taste: dill, tarragon, sage, nutmeg etc. Taste at this point; it should taste a little stronger than you want it come out. Add whole egg (one or two depending on how big a loaf you are making; the egg is the binder that makes it all stick together when it bakes), stir all together very well. The mixture should not be so dry it falls apart easily, but not be so liquid it is runny.

Put in a very lightly oiled loaf pan; bake in a slow oven (325) for maybe an hour or a little more, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and until the edges of the loaf are beginning to brown. The top of the loaf looks rather drab; you can put a bit of butter over the top for a few minutes before removing and let this brown if you like. (I usually cheat and cut a knife into the loaf to be sure it’s all done before taking it out, but I’ve been known to cook it too long and make it too dry or burn it. Just pay attention to it.)

The experimental salmon loaf sauce I made this weekend:

In a skillet over medium heat, place 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of white flour, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. Add salt and pepper. Cook while stirring until this “roux” turns golden brown. Add one cup of the reserved liquid from the canned salmon (add water to make a cup of there is not enough of the liquid). Continue stirring and cooking over low heat as you add … (oh, my, what all did I add this time??? onion powder, dried dill, sage, nutmeg, tarragon, cardamon, a pinch of brown sugar, a pouring of white cooking wine, etc.; honestly, I can’t remember, I just put a bit of this and that: you can too!)

After about five minutes of cooking and stirring, taste. If it still tastes floury, keep cooking, without burning. It should be a medium sauce, not a thick gravy. Set aside.

In a small pot, melt butter, maybe ½ a stick, until it turns golden brown. Add some of this to some of the reserved sauce, whisking thoroughly with a wire whisk. Taste, then adjust the amount of each, and adding more cooking wine if needed, or more seasonings, until you get it to your liking, whisking all the time.

To serve, reheat the sauce, whisking thoroughly. Slice the salmon loaf thickly, put a generous portion of toasted slivered almonds over each slice, and cover it about ½ way with the sauce, pouring a bit more sauce around slice, leaving some of the salmon slice unsauced. Parsley sprigs brighten up the drab look of the delicious dish.

Homemade cooked cranberries is delicious with this.

Scalded Cornbread:

Place in a big bowl any amount of cornmeal with a bit of salt. Pour BOILING water into the cornmeal, just enough to make the cornmeal stick together. Note: It is absolutely essential that the water be boiling or the meal won’t stick together. While the cornmeal is still hot, form it into flat patties about ¾ inches thick and about 2 ½ inches across.

These are near neighbors to hushpuppies, but hushpuppies are cooked by being immersed completely in a lot of hot oil; these flat patties can be pan fried in a very small amount of oil over high heat. They brown (or burn quickly); the outside will be crisp, the inside might be slightly mushy, but is thoroughly cooked already by the boiling water. Old timers in my family made these scalded cornbread cakes , over a campfire, on a freezing cold day when camping out or when out in the distant fields hoeing crops (sometimes these are called “hoe cakes” because the farmer or rancher, far from a kitchen, simply cleaned the flat hoe, then used it for a surface on which to cook the “cakes” over a low campfire; they got to be hushpuppies because the cook would throw one or two of the cakes to the ever-faithful but insistent dog standing at his feet, with a “Hush, puppy” command. Or so I’m told.). Think about the hearty old timers when you cook and eat these quick, easy, delicious corn cakes.

Eat the scalded cornbread cakes hot with butter and honey or cane syrup or molasses , or with fish, or crumbled up in black-eyed peas or butterbeans, or as “filler” in things like salmon loaf (or stacked up intermittently with onion, cheese ,stewed tomatoes, chili powder, salt and pepper and baked;this called “depression casserole” from days when meat was scarce).

Thanks for requesting the recipes. I loved the weekend.

Posted in Recipes | 3 Comments

Today in the Garden

Each day something new, each day something bloomed and gone. Each day I walk and worship and wish for you here to see and share. I think of a quote by Ted O’Neil in his little book Gardening Therapy:

“God also planted a garden in your imagination. You can create a wildflower meadow in your mind no matter where you are.”

Nonetheless, I send this along to inspire you from today’s blooming at Earthsprings:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Primavera! Loving our Veggies…

All those springtime veggies are now available to us, and it’s time to fall in love again with simplicity. It’s also a time for experimentation. I hope you are checking out those organic yummies. Here’s how I made my lunch today:

Brown almond slivers in a toaster oven or broiler and set aside. (Careful not to burn them, as I often do…) In boiling water, cook an appropriate amount of pasta such as Barilla Plus Penne or Farfalle. While it is cooking, in a skillet sauté in a very small amount of a light oil such as sunflower or safflower equal portions of fresh thinly sliced onions, red pepper, yellow squash, and asparagus. Do not overcook; veggies should still have a bit of crunch. When the pasta is done, drain the pasta, combine it with veggies, toasted almonds, and some grated fresh parmesan cheese. It is so colorful! Serve with some fresh grapes or mango or other fruit,, and enjoy perhaps a glass of water with a hint of lemon or lime or raspberry or pineapple or whatever else you have on hand or like. This meal is so easy, and so light, tasty, and healthy! Enjoy. Then I hope you go out and smell the roses, the lilies, the other springtime flowers…Ahhhhh, breathe deep and sigh. It is spring!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Nature is so Resilient

I’ve been working steadily, picking up limbs, cutting brush, and mowing into the edges of the woods after the recent control burn, getting ready for another summer that could be like the last one with its fire hazard. It’s hard work, but totally rewarding. Now I see again how resilient Mother Nature is. Already the black on the ground is going away, grass is coming up, charred bushes are greening up again, and the irises are blooming everywhere. Maybe it’s important to remember that we are part of nature, that we too are more resilient than we realize, and that old sayings have truth; remember the saying that “God never closes a door without opening a window?” Well, I think the wild flowers are the ‘open windows’ here in this area; when something changes, such as a clear cut, a fire, snow, or whatever, the flowers come out almost immediately in such abundance, covering over the changes, giving us brand new reasons to rejoice. And it is so at Earthsprings right now. The wild flowers are more diverse and more plentiful than ever before. There are even bluebonnets and indian paint brush and some little orange things that I can’t name, and on and on. Every day a new miracle of beauty and abundance. And so, today, even in the rain, I ventured out with my camera let you see for yourself.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


The control burn is finished, smoke gone, ash slowly dissolving, ant hills reappearing (white sand against black ash strikingly lovely despite my innate complaint with the pesky ants, though I do admire that they apparently really know how to go to ground to be safe from everything!)…and meanwhile, in the unburned portion of the land, blooming is happening, with something new and lovely every day, even the dogwoods I thought last summer’s drought had killed….

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Controlled burning

Yesterday was quite a day at Earthsprings Retreat Center, which is tucked into the corner of Davy Crockett National Forest. Because of the terribly hot dry conditions we had last summer when almost all of Texas was on fire, this spring, now, preventive “control burns” are underway all over East Texas. In these carefully monitored, low-burning fires, some of the fuel, some of the underbrush, fallen debris, and standing dead trees are eliminated without damaging anything else. This helps to prevent the horrific big fires that take down everything, as happened so much last summer.

Yesterday both Earthsprings and the adjacent National Forest received a control burn. I left for the day to avoid the smoke, spending most of the day thinking about the little plants, insects, animals, birds, young trees, asking forgiveness for causing harm to some in order to save the larger whole. (That kind of judgment is always dicey and never yields a comfortable decision.)

Shortly before dark, I went back home. For three miles, as I was driving on the road through the National Forest before getting to Earthsprings, I saw that the ground on either side of the road was blackened; a good burn day, I realized. It isn’t always so; the wind has to be just right, the humidity, the temperature, the wetness of the earth, all of it. Two years ago the burn at Earthsprings was not so good. This day, though, things had no doubt been very hot out there for awhile, there low to the ground. Lots of things burned back, some destroyed, no doubt. A solemn moment for me.

But just as I came to the gate at Earthsprings, a squirrel ran across the road in front of me, making me brake the car, and making me grateful to see that some small animals, at least, know how to survive such fires. Where do they go, I wondered, the squirrels, the birds, the rabbits, etc. Do they go up in trees, underground into holes, run fast to the creek, what?

And too, when I parked the car and stepped out, I noticed immediately and gladly the sound of many birds, the familiar, ordinary sound of birds making their twilight noises, settling into the still standing towering trees everywhere. “Talking about this day, though, I’ll bet you birds are chattering about it!” I thought.

But, it was a good burn, and everywhere I looked, smoke, blackness, ash. The ground itself looked black everywhere, except for some carefully reserved areas, like the green grass in the meadow and around the buildings, and the roads and the trails that were kept clear of fire and so now made long brown slashes through the black soot. And oddly there were certain kinds of bushes still standing stubbornly, apparently immune to fire, even some I had hoped would be tempered and thinned, like the hearty switch cane and the yaupon that reproduce so much and make such thickets.

I knew the blackness was only a surface layer of burned leaves and brush. I knew what to expect, because we’ve been through control burns before, and I know that in a few weeks everything will green up again, and one then won’t even notice anything burned. In fact, some trees and plants, like the longleaf pine, only grow after a burn! But it is always an eerie shock to drive up and see the top layer of leaves on the ground all burned, so that at ground level everything, everywhere is all black. Smoky air, gray ash. Eerie indeed.

I went hurriedly for a walk, all over the property, checking things out. Here and there, in the smoky, gathering dusk, I could see various low fires burning in fallen logs or dead trees. A scrambling sound, too loud to be a squirrel, told me that some bigger animal was making its way down from a tree as I passed by. Near the creek there were beaver footprints going from the mud into the ash; those busy folks are already gathering the now handy harvest of perfect-sized and trimmed (if slightly burned) limbs for their beaver dams, I thought. “So stop chewing on the rest of the trees, darn you!” I muttered at them.

Exhausted, just before dark, I stopped finally near an unfamiliar large standing oak that, I could see, was hollow, had been hollow a long time, and the inside of this hollow tree had been burning all day and was now all red on the inside! The outside of the tree looked perfectly normal, with its gray, cool-looking bark, while the inside was red-hot and glowing brilliantly! It looked like a tree geode. It was so beautiful!

I hurried back to the car to get my camera, and then I took pictures, trying numerous settings, hoping to get a good shot, despite the gathering darkness of the evening and the sharp contrast of the inside and outside of the tree. None of the shots did it justice, but here are two:

When I got very close to the tree, about a foot from it, to try to take a close up picture, the air sizzled and was quite hot, and I backed away, as a new flame emerged on the edge of the transition space between the outer and the inner realm of the hollow tree. Of course, I was talking to the tree the whole time, admiring this amazing sight, noticing how it was still standing so tall after obviously being hollow for a long time. The tree was leaning slightly away from me, toward the west. Then, suddenly, the thought came to me, as if, I felt, from the tree itself: “This is not safe. This tree, or any of these trees, could fall. If this tree fell, it would fall away from you, but it could kick back onto you its fiery base. Get back!” So I did.

After taking one more picture, and saying a prayer , remarking the enormity of transition everywhere (in the tree, in me, wherever the outside looks so normal, but the inside is burning, all of it beautiful), I went to the house to gather some things, ready to leave again until morning.

At the doorway I paused as I heard the familiar sound of deer nearby, one of them snorting out the familiar warning sound to the other deer, a sound that says “There’s something, something, we’d better pay attention, run quickly…” and I heard the deer running away , leaving hoof prints in the ashes I would see later, I was sure. Deer are so curious; they always come to check things out after a burn, almost while the ground is still hot. Usually they don’t run from me so rapidly, they know me, and know I mean them no harm, but it must have been sort of spooky for them too. “Thank you for letting me hear from you, though; I’m glad you are alright,” I thought.

Then, a few minutes later, just as I was about to drive away, I noticed in the darkening night another low fire, not too far from the Lodge. So I stopped the car, and then walked back over there to be sure all was safe.

And suddenly I heard, somewhere about maybe 100 feet or less, safely off to the left of me, a sound like firecrackers, and, looking, I saw a huge shower of sparks going up, and then there was the slow sound of this tree falling, falling through the surrounding pines, till it broke apart just as it hit the ground. It was the hollow tree, the one I had been with a few minutes earlier.

I stood in shock and amazement for quite a few minutes, then I thanked the spirit of the tree, the Spirit of everything, the spirit of my own innate intelligence…whatever…I thanked everything that I had not been standing there so close to that hot, heavy, dangerous tree when it actually fell.

“However,” I said aloud, finally, “I’m so glad I was here to witness, and to have been able to take pictures of your last standing moments, your last living breaths, fiery as they were.”

It was completely dark then, and I went away, but the image of that hollowed tree, radiant, burning inside, stayed with me, as a symbol, somehow, of all the dramatic changes taking place, all the controlled burning, and more than that, what stayed with me was the moment of warning, the moment when I felt that somehow the tree itself told me to step back, did not take me down with it and destroy me in its final thundering crash, even though I was the one to authorize the control burn that had caused its own falling now instead of later. I’ll keep that last image of the flame in the darkness always.

This morning I came back, and sure enough, the tree, when it fell, had kicked back about six feet, and its base now completely covered the place where I had been standing last night. The tree’s interior fire was out, so I could reach out and touch the base of the tree and, once again, let my wordless emotions pour out to the forest, to the ancient energy of the living forest, with all my love, devotion, promises of future care-giving, all of it. My relationship to the earth and to the forest is one of the strongest things about me.

And lastly this. I stayed overnight at my friend Christina’s house to be out of the smoke. After dinner and after I had fallen exhausted into bed, she came into the room where I was and reminded me that last summer I had left some clothes there at her house, clothes she had back then washed and left for me to take home, and I had apparently not seen them. “What are they?” I asked, too tired to go see for myself. “Oh, I don’t know, just some work clothes,” she said. “You can get them in the morning.”

This morning I got up at daybreak, quietly making my way around her house so as not to wake her. I decided to find those work clothes and put them on for the day. When I found them, there was a pair of my work pants. And there was a stained up tee shirt, one I’ve worn for years. It had come to me as part of a fund-raising effort for Earthsprings way back when we were selling tee shirts.

This particular shirt has a design printed on it, an image of a whole variety of animals looking out at you through some trees and brush. Underneath are the words, “The Living Forest.”

Seeing that particular shirt, those particular words, waiting there all this time, all unbeknownst to me, waiting for just this particular morning for me to see these animals and read those words—it felt like a whisper of grace, a note of understanding, acceptance, promise from another dimension where our actions and feelings and intentions and compromises and worries are all woven together somehow into a larger meaning, a larger whole, an inter-active universe—of preventive fires, and falling trees, and living squirrels and deer and beaver and birds, and even of this human person doing her elderly best to serve life, even when it is not easy to choose what to do.

The living forest. The woods here at Earthsprings are indeed still living, and the wild flowers are still blooming in the meadow, and I’m wearing those words next to my heart as I make my way around today, down to the creek, up to the wet northeast end of the land where the bogs didn’t burn so well but where maybe the fire drove the dangerous wild hogs away, for awhile, anyway. I make my way here and there, looking, listening, touching, praying, interacting always

The living forest. Living, in every sense of the word. May it ever be so, especially here at Earthsprings. And may I never, ever forget that I am co-extensive with all life, in all circumstances, and that all life is love, loving, ongoing, communicating, resonating, regenerating, and, especially, sacred, always.

Posted in News and Views | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Already the Paperwhites and Daffodills!

After such a summer and such a fall, winter is just as unique here at Earthsprings. Who can tell if it’s really winter or spring? I still haven’t gotten my winter chores begun properly–cleaning up the garden area, adding hearty mulch and compost everywhere, tidying up the barn, checking out my seed catalogues, sharpening tools (after finding them wherever I left them when the weather last sent me scurrying inside) and already the meadow is full of paperwhites, the scent so intoxicating one is drunk on Spring just walking between the house and the medicine lodge! How bravely the plants are struggling back again after such hardship of last summer’s drought and unrelenting heat and all the rest, how brave they are. The first daffodil opened its bright yellow flag of hope only a few days behind the first violets and the first bloom on the tulip tree, all ahead of their usual schedule…and, well, really, I don’t have time to go on about all this, as I’m off to plant sweet peas and pea pods and lettuce and onions and…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Autumn Foliage

Posted in News and Views | 1 Comment

The unlikely season

In all my years, I’ve never seen anything like it.

I guess that after so many trees died or almost died in last summer’s hot drought or in the raging summer fires, those trees still here are now greatly rejoicing at actually being alive. Or perhaps they fear that this is their last hurrah. Either way, the forest is glorious, glorious in autumn splendor, and it just goes on and on and on, clear into winter. There’s surely never been an autumn like this one. Each day I think, “OK, this is the peak, this is as good as it gets.” Then the next day, and then the next, another set of trees blazes forth with new vivid color.

Everywhere, the forest looks like it’s on fire, but this time it’s with turning leaves , splendid in red and gold and yellow and scarlet and umber and orange and a hundred other shades of color I can’t match with all my watercolors put together. Week by week, the sheen from every deciduous tree, one by one, blazes out vividly against the dark evergreen pines around me. Even the dogwoods that last summer I thought were dying somehow managed in the last few months to regrow enough leaves to be now red in leaf and berry, as if to say, “I’m still here! Look at me, I’m still here.”

I know, it’s true enough, not only the trees are behaving strangely, the whole vegetative world down here is confused with the severe climate changes we are experiencing. The yellow jasmine is blooming, as though it were spring. The faithful tomatoes, like the trees, suffered the severe summer heat ,and I got not a tomato one all summer, but this fall, amazingly quickly, the tomato bushes set fruit, and there were many tomatoes to be picked, however green, by the bucket full before first frost (something that I’ve never done before); these determined tomatoes, survivors, have since stayed on the floor in my study, ripening slowly and sweetly, and now I have fresh homegrown organic tomatoes midwinter—another reminder that this is a December unlike any other I can remember.

The message is clear, of course. Life holds on, and when threatened, puts forth its best and most amazing efforts. Its beauty and vitality is most tenaciously revealed after there is the threat of its loss altogether.

A lesson I take to heart. Walking today on a quiet trail, the wind tossing a shower of gold all around me, I remember who I am, why I am, what this all is, and why I care. I sing my praises yet again, in the chant that came to me years ago while walking, then, beside the Pacific Ocean, “…oh, so beautiful…how beautiful thou art….”

Of course, that is the proverbial message of the season.

From the beginning, there were the ancient celebrations of the winter solstice, when first humans began to realize that the freezing and darkening times would cyclically change back to warmth and light, no matter how unlikely that seemed.

Later, there were the Hebrews, celebrating the magical replenishment of oil for light and heat long past time when anyone could imagine it possible.

And there was also the story of the birth of a godly child, not in a temple or a castle or any other imagined appropriate place, but in a stable, and this child was born indeed, not to a king or a priestess, but to a simple couple without a home to shelter them during the birthing.

When many in my world are homeless, hopeless, without the strength to reimagine their lives in a new strange season, I turn again to this winter message. A message of hope. Of endurance. Of courage. Of stamina brought forth by nature in trying times. The message of the trees, the jasmine, the tomatoes, the survivors.

And so, because I care, I send you, herewith, a bouquet of golden leaves, a harvest of ripe tomatoes, a walk beside a natural spring of water that did not dry up, even in the terrible drought. I send you, setting aside occasional miscellaneous moods to the contrary, my own ecstatic joy, my precious simple bliss at the miracle of being.

Here. Still. Look at me. Look at us. All of us. In this life, and the life to come, wherever, however it may be, surely it is, will be, yet, shining, glorious, like the trees.

In the turning times, in the changing seasons and changing circumstances, we turn again to praise the beauty of the earth, of life, of each other, while every spiritual tradition, each in its own way, is saying, also, “Yes, this! Rejoice and praise this! Take heart and hope. Raise high the anthem, any circumstance to the contrary, there is goodness, there is beauty, life and love are good, very, very good!”

May you have a peaceful, joyful, happy, fruitful holiday. I hold you in my heart, most tenderly, most prayerfully.

Glenda Taylor
Earthsprings Retreat Center
Winter, 2011

Posted in News and Views | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Hearty Winter Soup

After a cold, windy walk in the woods this morning, I realized that this is the perfect time for winter soup. Something about a hearty warm soup puts me back into an ancient hunter-gatherer place where we are sitting around a campfire in a cave, with something nutritious bubbling hot in some hand-crafted container hung on a tripod over the flames.

Short of that, it makes me look in the refrigerator for what I have to throw into a pot for my own soup.

Making soup is so creative, each time unique. There are hundreds of variations. But the basic process is simple; once you understand that, you can vary it to make all those well-named special soups in the cookbook or those special soups you sample at your favorite restaurant. Your don’t even have to know all the technical names: bouillon, consommé, stock, broth, bisque, chowder, etc. These all are variations, depending on how thick or thin, how strained and clear or thick and chunky, how creamy or how jellied or whatever. Don’t worry about all that. Just get down the basics and soon enough you’ll be making every kind of soup imaginable!

I speak of winter soup because there are other kinds of soup, those especially delightful in summer, for example, cold, light, refreshing, vegetarian, whatever. All good. But those aren’t so agreeable me when the temperature is 30 degrees outside. So, for now, here’s ideas for hearty winter soups made with meat.

Read all the way through before beginning. Retaining the most vitamins and minerals for the most nutrition is an important part of the process. I’ll give the basic process first, then list some usual variations at the end.

1) Making the basic broth

For making soup, choose meat that has the most flavor, not necessarily the most tenderness. The process of soup making will tenderize even the tough cuts of meat, and ironically, the toughest cuts of meat often have the most flavor and sometimes the most nutrition. (If you don’t know the difference in the cuts of meat in this regard, query me in the comment section below, and some time later, I’ll elaborate.)

Preferably choose meat with bone in it, as the bone has the most concentration of minerals, and again, the soup making process extracts the minerals out into the broth of the soup where it is accessible to our digestion, one of the reasons for making soup in the first place. Markets sell “soup bones,” with most of the meat cut away, and these are comparatively inexpensive, and a good idea to use, even along with other cuts of meat. The more bone the more minerals.

It doesn’t matter what meats you decide to use, really—beef, chicken, turkey, fish, ham, etc. The process is basically the same. You can even use them all (each added at different times in the cooking). If you are mixing several meats in one soup, you just need to put the toughest meats in first and let them cook for awhile, and then add the more tender ones later so they don’t cook to pieces before the tougher meats get tender.

My own soup making usually starts with rummaging in the freezer to see what bits and pieces of meat—cooked and uncooked, bones and boneless—I have stashed away for just this occasion. Left over chicken, turkey, beef, pork, whatever. I usually have a few soup bones in the freezer, ready for any occasion.

So. Put the bones and toughest cuts of uncooked meat in a big heavy duty pot, preferably stainless steel. (If the pot is not heavy duty, the soup at a later stage is more likely to burn on the bottom, not a good thing; heavy duty pots hold the heat differently so that things don’t burn as easily.)
Depending on the amount of meat and the size of the pot, add enough water not only to cover the meat, but about three times that amount if you have bones and tough meats. (Don’t worry about being exact here; you’ll probably add more water as needed as you go along.) Bring the water and meat to a boil. (Don’t add anything else yet.)

When the ingredients have boiled for a few minutes, a foam will gather at the top of the pot. For some reason I don’t remember now, I was taught to remove this foam and discard it. Then turn the heat under the pot down to a slow simmer.

Add a whole onion chopped, a carrot or two, a stalk or two of celery sliced into chunks (along with the leafy bits of celery tops), several stalks of parsley chopped, a bay leaf, several peppercorns, some salt, and for some soups, some whole cloves (see below).

Here is now a particular place you can choose for yourself. Salt and vinegar together will extract more minerals from the bones and this is desirable, but you don’t want a vinegary tasting broth when you are done. If everything cooks long enough (up to an hour or two), the vinegar taste dilutes and goes away; if the cooking is too short, the vinegar taste may linger and disturb the flavor of the soup. You have to decide, depending on the type of meat and bones you are cooking whether to add the vinegar. If I am using big beef bones, I add salt and some vinegar here at the start of cooking (I’d advise you to use a teaspoon of vinegar the first time, just to be sure you don’t overdo it). I rarely add vinegar when I am cooking chicken or fish since it cooks so quickly.

Put a lid on the pot and let everything simmer slowly, until the meat begins to be tender (for raw beef at least about an hour, possibly two). While this time is happening, check occasionally, stir, add more water if necessary.

Now take the lid off the pot and bring the heat up to boil for just few minutes, just to dispel the last of vinegar taste. Then set the pot off the heat. Strain the broth into another container, removing bones , meat, and whatever else, and setting the bones aside (for the dog or even to boil again for more broth later). Add the strained broth back into the cooking pot. Let it sit for a few minutes, and then remove the fat that accumulates at the top of the broth.

Now you have your basic broth. You can proceed to add to it other ingredients (including the meat you just removed from the pot) and use the broth immediately, or you can freeze it for later use (I freeze some in ice trays to make cubes of seasoned broth to have ready to throw into various other things I cook).

2) Add other ingredients one at a time to make one of a variety of soups.

Here’s the fun part of soup making. You can add whatever you want or have on hand, experimenting as you choose. The broth you have already created is the basis of almost every other soup recipe you can imagine.

Possible additions: Add these one at a time, depending on how long they need to cook to get tender. You don’t want your tender vegetables cooked to mush before the tougher vegetables get tender, for example.

Already cooked meats.
Pasta, rice, or barley, (adding these uncooked add what I consider to be too much starch, so I cook them first and then add them; even cooked, they can thicken the broth, soaking up the liquid, so plan accordingly with plenty of broth).
Cooked beans.
Herbs and seasonings, usually added last, to taste.
Potatoes, Vegetables, etc.
Leftovers. get in the habit of freezing any and all leftovers, however small amounts, to have to add to the soup pot. More vitamins, taste, benefit to the budget, etc.
Milk or cream

Now here is a trick. If you throw all your vegetables in the soup pot and let it all cook together, you get a very nice soup. If, however, at the end of the broth making process, you have time and patience, you may want to sauté or steam each vegetable separately until it is just right and then quickly add to the soup pot at the very end. Doing this causes each vegetable to retain more nutrients and its individual flavor rather than all the vegetables tasting the same, as they do when they all cook up together. Either way is fine. (You’ll get the most raves if you do the latter….).

Also note that some vitamins can cook away in boiling liquid, so that is why we simmer the soup now rather than boiling it after the meat is tender. Also, it is easier to burn the soup if the heat is too high.

So, go at it. Now it’s your unique soup, each one different from the last, depending on what gets thrown in. Here are some categories, just for fun:

Onion soup: Hot broth with already sautéed thinly sliced onions, brought to a high heat , then quickly placed in serving bowls with a bit of toasted bread and grated white cheese (take your pick of flavors of cheese) on top. Serve immediately. (Quick and easy if you already have frozen broth!)

Chicken soup: The proverbial cure-all. Warm broth in a mug when you come in from the cold, so you don’t get sick. Warm broth when your abdomen is unruly and doesn’t want to be busy digesting. Broth with vegetables. Broth with beans. Broth with anything. Made with love.

White Bean soup with ham bone: I used to work in Washington DC, and I had the Senate’s traditional Navy Bean Soup for lunch in the Senate Dining Room, between sessions of listening to Congressmen in committee hearings, and I got addicted to this soup. I usually add about 6 to 10 whole cloves stuck into an onion in the water when I begin cooking the ham bone. Cloves are healthy and give the soup a distinctive flavor. After about an hour of cooking, do not remove the ham bone, but remove any fat that has accumulated. Add the washed and sorted beans. Cook until beans are tender (if you soak them ahead of time, they cook faster and give you less gas…). Stir frequently so as not to burn. Bruise a few beans before serving.

Fish soup: Cook the fish into broth in the same way as above, but fish cooks much faster. I like some fresh tarragon for seasoning fish. To the basic fish stock (CAREFULLY STRAINED) , add a variety of seafood, with or without vegetables, cream, etc. (Seafood gumbo is another matter, and will be addressed in a future recipe all on its own.)

Beef Barley Soup: To plenty of cooked broth, add uncooked barley and cook until the barley is tender. Be sure to have enough broth. Add vegetables if you desire, or just do beef-barley with small chunks of tender meat.

Creamed soups: To a small bit of broth add strained and blended vegetables of your choice, combine gently, and then add a bit of milk or cream. You decide on the proportions of each. Season. Do not boil (milk can separate). Make carrot soup, squash soup, whatever. Add seasonings to suit yourself. Think about adding a bit of savory seasoning, etc. This is so easy and quick.

Tomato Soup. Add just a bit of broth to your cooked tomatoes and season.

Tortilla Soup. Make it to suit yourself, spicy hot or gringo gentle. To your basic broth, add tomatoes, green chilies, and Mexican seasonings to taste (cumin, etc.). To serve, add on top of the soup in the serving bowl bits of broken cooked tortillas or chips, chopped cilantro, and grated farmer or Mexican flavored cheese. Serve hot.

And on and on and on. Be creative with ingredients and seasonings. Work in those herbs that doctors tell you are especially good for your needs. Make soup taste of India or Mexico or Maine. Serve with salad, good bread, and enjoy a hearty winter soup! Good Health!

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , | Leave a comment