Farming can be really stressful. The weather can refuse to cooperate, there may not be enough money to pay the bills, or a whole day can go wrong. On top of the stress, add the long hours and physical demands. Farmers deal with a lot on a daily basis.
Truth is, we all have stress in our lives and it is incredibly important that we take the time for self-care. For some, that might mean a vacation or a massage, or some “me time” in the bathtub with a good book. What do I do? I make chicken soup.
Why chicken soup? Certainly, chicken soup has long been seen as a homemade cure-all for common wintertime ailments. Also, we raise chickens on our farm, so using one of our farm’s homegrown chickens makes the process of cooking and then partaking in the meal all the more meaningful. Finally, I use a recipe passed down to me from loved one, so the simple act of cooking a familiar dish, using the same preparation, is nice reminder of family rituals and traditions.
There are two ways to make stock, the base of your chicken soup. You can save up all the bones from a couple roasted chickens, tucking them away in your freezer until needed; OR, you can start with a whole chicken, which gives you a lot of meat for soup or other uses. Either way is fine.
I always throw two chicken feet into every pot of soup I make. The feet accomplish two wonderful things: First, chicken feet are an excellent source of collagen (and gelatin, which is the cooked form of collagen). The result is a richer, tastier broth. Gelatin has been linked to better joint health and improved digestion and its high levels of glycine make it good for calming anxiety and stress.
Second, having a couple of feet floating around in the pot keeps my family out of the kitchen. When they were little, my daughters would play with the feet, learning that the physiology of the tendons still worked when you squeezed the foot just right. But no longer; as teenagers, they have sworn off playing with chicken feet and are happy to steer clear of the kitchen while I am cooking. I value the few quiet moments I get!
Below are my own recipe for self-care chicken stock and perhaps my favorite soup recipe of all time, Mulligatawny Soup. Something about the apples and curry makes it a light and surprising treat for any time of the year. The recipe itself comes right out of my 1962 copy of “Joy of Cooking”, a gift from my mother-in-law before she passed away many years ago.
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
2 chicken feet***
3 T cooking oil or butter
4 stalks celery, roughly chopped
4 carrots, roughly chopped
1-2 onions, roughly chopped
1-2 bay leaves
Herbs--fresh or dried, whatever strikes your fancy (I like rosemary, sage, thyme and parsley)
8-12 cups water
Brown chicken pieces (including feet, back and wing tips) in oil or butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium to medium-low heat. Do this in batches to make sure you get nice browning on the skin. Remove pieces as they are browned (but not cooked) and set aside, working through all your chicken. Once chicken is browned and removed from the pot, add vegetables and sauté until soft. Be careful to not let the browned bits on the bottom burn. Once your veggies are soft, add a little bit of water and start scraping up the brown bits. They should come loose nicely and will further flavor your broth. Add back the chicken pieces, your herbs and bay leaves and fill the pot with the remaining water. Bring to a simmer then turn down to low, skimming off the "foam" from time to time. If you feel you must cover the pot, leave the cover askew. I leave the cover off altogether. Simmer on low for 2-3 hours, until meat is falling of the bones. Remove pot from heat and let it cool completely. I usually put the pot in the fridge and do the rest the following day.
Remove cooked chicken pieces and pull meat off bones, shredding or chopping the meat as you go. Discard feet, skin, and bones. Whether you'll be using your stock for the Mulligatawny or saving it for another use, my preference is to strain the stock. And if you think your chicken was particularly fatty, you can put your stock into a fat separator and adjust the amount of fat to your taste.
1 C onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
1/2 C butter
3 T flour
4 tsp curry powder
8 C chicken stock from above
1/2 C tart apples, diced
1 C cooked white rice
1 C cooked chicken from above
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/4 tsp thyme
1 C warmed cream or half & half
Sauté vegetables in butter until soft, but not browned. Add flour and curry powder. Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add chicken stock and simmer for 30 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients (except cream) and simmer another 15 minutes. Immediately before serving, stir in the cream. Or leave the cream out and pass at the table.
***Where can you get chicken feet? Check out any one of the many chicken vendors at the local farmer’s markets and ask!