Is there anything in the world like homemade chicken noodle soup? My mom used to make the absolute best soups, no doubt a direct result of her Mennonite heritage. So many delicious varieties–some based on chicken stock, others with beef, others with ham–all unique and heavenly. I followed her around, making notes of how much of various seasonings she would put in the spice ball for each kind.
Thus, I’ve gotten pretty good at making soup, too, which is a good thing because my mom’s been gone now for a few years. Jim and I have been committed to local Real Food all our married life. To us, this meant buying a large deep freeze (now that we’re on the farm, we own several) and investing in a side of beef or pork, or buying ten chickens at a time from a neighboring farmer. (Yes, we put a lot of vegetables and fruit in our freezers, too, but this post isn’t about that!) Animals, you may recall, have bones, and these bones are a great source of calcium and other minerals.
Nourishing Traditions expert Sally Fallon says: “Science validates what our grandmothers knew. Rich homemade chicken broths help cure colds. Stock contains minerals in a form the body can absorb easily—not just calcium but also magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. It contains the broken down material from cartilage and tendons–stuff like chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, now sold as expensive supplements for arthritis and joint pain.”
When multiple chickens are available to us at one time, I like to cut most of them up before freezing them, leaving a few whole for roasting. I like to have ziploc bags full of legs, wings, and deboned breasts for quick, easy meals. The remaining carcasses, including any extra fat or skin, get tossed into a large stock pot. If I’ve collected the carcasses of roasted chickens, I add those as well.
I pour water in to cover all the chicken parts and bring it to a boil. Then I turn my gas burner on very low and leave it simmering overnight. Because I use a pressure canner as my stock pot, I’m not worried about anything sticking to the bottom.
In the morning, I turn the burner off and remove the lid, and leave it until everything is just cool enough to handle. Of course, you need to be careful not to leave it sitting out at room temperature for too long–use your best judgment.
I set three large bowls or pans out in a row. The first is for the carcass pieces as the come out of the stock pot. This gives them a chance to cool a little. Then I take a piece–remember, these are super well cooked, so they’re falling apart in your hands!–and pick the meat off into one of the other bowls. If you haven’t done this before, take heart. It doesn’t take too many birds before you begin to remember where the good bits are! The picked-over bones and fat go into the third bowl. I put these out for the farm cats to go through before sending the remains into the garbage.
When you’ve gotten to the bottom of the stock pot, you’ll want to strain the remaining liquid. I usually get Jim to help with this step as my canner is heavy, especially full of soup! I anchor the strainer over a large bucket or another large pot while he pours it through. The dredges caught in the strainer go in with the cat bowl.
Now we have a large amount of stock and a bowl full of meat. You can either make a meaty soup out of all of it or, if you often purchase chicken broth for recipes, you may want to divert some of the stock to freeze or can without meat.
If you’re freezing, measure out 2 cups (16 ounces, about the amount in a can) into small ziplocs, seal, and lay flat to freeze.
If you’re canning, you need a pressure canner. No ands, ifs, buts, or maybes. A “regular” water bath canner will NOT do chicken soup safely. Fill sterilized pint jars to about 3/4 inch from the top, add 1/4 teaspoon salt (if desired) to each jar, clean the rims, top with boiling snap lids and screw lids, then place in your canner with about an inch of water. Bolt down your lid and process for 90 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. If you need more information, consult your pressure canner manual. If you’d prefer to hear it from me (lol) say so in comments, and I can give a more detailed tutorial on that process in an upcoming post.
I’m assuming you still want some actual, ready-to-eat chicken soup as well. Because this post is already rather long, I’ll give specific recipes in Friday’s post. I’ll talk about classic chicken noodle soup and chicken mushroom barley soup. If you’re a subscriber to God’s Green Acres newsletter, you’ve seen the second one. Click if you want a headstart on Friday’s post by reading the February 8 newsletter.
What about you? Did your mom or grandma make the best soup ever? Did you learn how?