Stock that never declines in value

Recipes she learned from her mother, raised in the Depression, have new currency.

The news from Wall Street may still be grim, but I own lots of stock that will never decline in value.

It's in my freezer.

In the current economy, my stock is actually increasing in value. I have been making it with bone, meat, and vegetable scraps from every meal I cook. My mother, raised during the Depression, taught me to crack chicken bones to release the thickening marrow, to add a bay leaf, herbs, an onion, carrot, and celery, cover with water and boil in a big kettle for at least four hours.

She was the kind of cook who gave quarts of frozen soup as a baby shower gift, packaged up in a recycled foam shipping box. She enclosed a card that read, "Put down the laundry and play with the baby." The house always smells so good when I am making stock and this appetizing aroma is just one of its great dividends.

These days I am more careful than ever to make full use of everything that comes into my kitchen. Giving chicken bones a second chance to nourish and inspire further cooking feels nourishing in itself. Now I can even compost the boiled-down bones with our city's recycling service.

When I was growing up, my mother and her friends created an informal "soup exchange" to trade frozen quarts of soup from the large batches they cooked up using their caches of freezer stock. The exchange grew even more important if one of the women became a widow. Then it was harder to cook for one person, and by meeting to trade or eat soup together, they had a built-in way of staying in touch. Their priceless soup dividend was love, support, and time together.

My husband became unemployed a year ago, and we declared our home an official soup kitchen. Since then we have been making stock and soup every week so that we always have a pot of something delicious to warm up. Some of our favorites are: Canadian yellow split pea with ham, muskugellum (my father's name for every vegetable ripe in the garden), Indian dal, borscht, and turkey with rice (using stock from holiday birds). I have also found a market that sells inexpensive fresh fish scraps that make a delicious base for chowders.

There are wonderful dividends from cooking together with my husband, something we had far less time for when he was working. We relish planning our next soup creation incorporating local and seasonal ingredients.

Now we always have an easy meal on hand and are not tempted to eat out when we are too tired to cook. To accompany our soups I am dusting off my bread-baking skills. We are much more likely now to invite friends to dinner to share our riches, and the soup exchange has been renewed in my generation. Our holiday gifts this year will be lovingly personalized soups.

Another unexpected dividend has been the time spent looking at old recipe files that belonged to my mother, aunt, and grandmother. It feels almost as if they are in the kitchen cooking alongside me. I'm glad they aren't around to suffer through another depression, worrying about me, as I know they would. Gratefully using valuable skills they taught me, I cook the soups that fed me as a child and feel my mother's reassurance that everything will be all right.

When our household entered this period of economizing, I knew it was important not to let our spirits go the way of our bank balance. Practicing frugality does not have to mean deprivation. In fact, I can say that today I feel far richer than I did before the start of my home soup kitchen and the parade of soups that have warmed us around our table.

Looking into my freezer I feel the way my farming ancestors must have once the harvest was safely stored in the barn. With a freezer full of soup stock, I am prepared for anything – a snow day, people moving in next door, a potluck dinner, cooking at church for the local shelter, an earthquake, or a simple meal with my husband that we make with our own hands. I have camping stoves handy and backup coolers should the electricity go out. My freezer is full of so much more than frozen food.

My stock is the currency of caring. It will nourish our family and friends through these hard times.

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Mom's High-Yield Stock

Bones, skin, and scraps from one or more cooked chickens or turkey (smash larger bones with hammer to release marrow)

1-2 carrots, sliced lengthwise

2-4 celery stalks and leaves, cut in half

1 medium onion (or small leek), quartered

1-3 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns

1 teaspoon salt (optional)

Place all the ingredients in a large stockpot and cover with cold water plus an extra two inches.

Bring to a boil; skim foam at this point if you want a clearer stock.

Reduce heat and simmer covered for 2 to 4 hours. Longer cooking yields richer stock.

Strain and cool to lukewarm.

Chill covered in refrigerator overnight; skim solid fat from surface (stock underneath may be thick or jellied, a sign of good quality).

Freeze in quart containers or season to taste and use immediately.

Note: Stock will keep in refrigerator for several days with a layer of fat on top.

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