17 Tips for Easy Homemade Broth

Chicken, vegetable, and other broths are some of the most versatile and easy-to-make staples in the kitchen. They turn a spent carcass or papery onion skins into one more meal– almost for free! Most importantly, homemade broth is dramatically superior to what you can buy in a can or box at the market, and without the additives and preservatives.

There are myriad ways to make great broth, and here are some tips from our kitchen.

Save bones and trimmings in the freezer. Keep separate bags for cooked and raw; different meats; and smoked or non-smoked, which impart flavors best for different dishes. Be sure to date your bags or containers, so you use the oldest first and within a few months of freezing.

Save veggies, too! Stick to aromatic leftovers, like onion skins and root, carrot ends and skin, celery trimmings, mushroom stems, pea pods, and corn cobs. Skins are the most nutritious parts of most vegetables, so broth salvages nutrients otherwise lost in peeling.

Season as you go. This can be contentious, but I’m a firm believer in producing a broth that’s immediately drinkable. Otherwise, you don’t know what you’ve got until the soup or dish is done. You can always omit salt from the final recipe. So salt the meat before cooking, salt the liquid, and adjust seasoning on the finished product. You don’t want “salty,” but you do want full flavor.

Sweat your meat and vegetables. The key is drawing out the flavorful juices from the meat, bones, and veggies. So if you’re using raw chicken, brown it in a little oil (or better yet, rendered fat) in the stew pot. Add the onions and brown those, too, then cover and sweat for 10 minutes over low heat. Don’t open the lid. At the end, the ingredients will be swimming in rich juices. Sweating is especially useful for a quick broth. If you’re using cooked meat or bones, or are making vegetable broth, sweat the onions– and mushrooms if you’re using fresh ones.

For a nice rich stock, break up the bones, keep it slow, and skim often. At the end of several hours over low heat, the resulting stock should turn to firm jelly when cooled. Skimming improves clarity.

For vegetarian broth, keep dehydrated mushrooms on-hand. Leftover stems are great, too. Fungi offer great umami and depth of flavor.

Don’t add garlic (until the end.) Garlic can turn bitter if cooked too long. Too much celery can do the same, as will brassicas, potatoes, and a number of other vegetables.

Plan ahead and vary flavors for different uses. For an Asian noodle soup I love to make, I add lemongrass and basil to the broth. For many others I add dried chilis or coriander. It’s a great way to inject flavor from something you don’t want winding up in your soup spoon, like a bay leaf.

On the other hand, for standard uses, stick to the basic recipe. I don’t add herbs or other special seasonings unless I know how I want my dish flavored. For basic chicken broth, I use chicken, onions, carrots, celery, peppercorns, and salt. That’s it.

Don’t peel your onions. Do wash them. When using whole onions, there’s no need to peel them since the skins have good flavor, too. Just chop them up like a potato before tossing in the pot. However, be sure to wash them since the outside can have germs and pesticides. On that note, for this use in particular, I highly recommend buying organic.

Grill the odd bits. If you remove the back or breastbone of the chicken when you’re piecing it, or if no one likes to eat the neck or giblets, cook them up anyway along with the parts for dinner. That way they’re ready to go for broth. Giblets and feet make great, flavorful broth. If your family isn’t into eating the offal, save them up in the freezer for this.

After skimming your broth, give the spent meat to the dog. Our dogs are always happy when I’m picking through the leftovers. They like the carrots, too.

Best of all, if you keep delicious homemade broth on-hand, whenever you’re sick (or hung over) it’s a piece of cake to make a lifesaving mug of spicy garlic broth. Nothing like it!

Making Mustard From Wild Seed

When the mustard flowers were flush and the fields bright yellow, we spared several patches when mowing for the benefit of the bees and butterflies. Then as the petals dropped and the plants grew brown and brittle, I decided to collect their seed and make the beloved condiment. My husband suggested making mustard a while back, and my retort was that mustard seed is more expensive than Grey Poupon! Not so with the gregarious wild stuff, though, so for the significant input of time, we yielded a worthy product. This mustard has the sweet, smooth flavor of dijon with the mouthy crunch of wholegrain brown. DSC02263 DSC02268 I gathered the dried stalks and crushed them over a flour sack towel to extract the dark brown and black seeds. Then I threshed and winnowed– the traditional practice of popping the seeds from their hulls and tossing into the air to allow the breeze to carry off the lighter casings. DSC02274 I continued to sift out brown matter over time, and for several weeks the jarful of seed sat and eventually made the trip with us to our new home. Finally, last week, I pickled the seed in vinegar and wine, then ground them into the final product. Overall, this project was time-consuming but pleasant, and the results were better than expected. To highlight its flavor with a celebratory meal, we rubbed a pork shoulder with mustard, brown sugar, and seasonings, then smoked it all afternoon. It sealed the success on another wild food project. Homemade Mustard 1-1/2 cups mustard seed 1/2 cup dry white wine 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar 1 t salt 1 t sugar Combine all ingredients in a jar and soak for a week in a cool, dark place. Then grind the seeds with a mortar and pestle or in a food processor, including as much liquid as desired for consistency. Then refrigerate.

Pickled Cat’s Ear Buds

The population of edible plants growing from our driveway down to the creek and up the hillside is astounding and exciting– beyond the salad greens we eat almost daily to include vegetables for roasting and stir-frying, fermenting and pickling.

I have been topping our daily wild salads with dandelion buds for months, split in half to reveal their bright petal heart. Munched just atop the green leafy halo, they are sweet and palatable straight from the plant.

But as dandelion season wanes and now with an overabundance of cat’s ear shooting skyward, I knew I wanted to utilize them in a way that would aptly tame their bitterness. So I pickled a jarful. Among them I added the last of the dandelion buds as well as clusters of sow thistle and spiny sow thistle buds, all significantly less bitter than cat’s ear.

When gathering, keep in mind that all secrete a staining white sap, but cat’s ear is worst of all and will leave skin and clothing marked brown indefinitely.

Cat’s ear is widely mistaken for dandelion because their leaf rosettes are rather similarly shaped and their bright-yellow blossoms are indistinguishable from a distance (to the unfamiliar). Dandelion flowers tend not to stand as tall, nor are its leaves markedly furry as are cat’s ear. Both, however, vary greatly in their leaf-shape and size. Cat’s ear buds lack dandelion’s ring of small leaves just above the top of the stem.

Cat’s ear leaves on the left; dandelion leaves on the right for comparison.

   

The good news is that both are edible and highly nutritious. Cat’s ear buds along with the top several inches of stem are fantastically delicious cooked as asparagus– we roast them briefly with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Sow thistle and spiny sow thistle plants, for their due mention, are edible but unappetizing by appearance: one is armored with long spikes; the other is limp and milky. Their tiny drum-shaped buds, though, show the signs of palatability. They may be picked individually or in clusters.

Another important note for gathering edible wild buds: All of the above flowers open and then close into a bud form.  Only the pre-flowering stage is worth eating as the latter is turning to seed. Pick only tightly closed, blunt buds with no tip of yellow or browned petal clusters emerging at the end.

Pickled Wild Buds

This pickle yields a rainbow of flavors, from tangy to sweet to bitter at the end. The bitterness wanes over time, so if they are too bitter for your taste, let them brine for longer in the fridge. They are a nutritious snack and zippy addition to salads and sandwiches.

1-1/2 cups wild buds

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup water

2 T sugar or honey

1 T salt

10 whole black peppercorns

10 coriander seeds

1 dried hot chili, such as Thai chili — or — 1 t red chili flakes

3 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled

1 bay leaf

Rinse the buds in a colander to remove brown sap stain and any bugs. Drain. Then place in a clean canning jar.

Combine all other ingredients in a small saucepan and heat to a low simmer. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. Turn off immediately and cool to just-warm. Pour the contents over the buds and cool to room temperature. Seal with a lid (canning is not necessary). Place in the refrigerator for at least one week.

More wild food recipes for the weeds in your yard:

Superpowers of Stinging Nettles

Wild Greens with Polenta and Chutney Vinaigrette (And a Note on Foraging)

Sauteed Wild Mustard Greens with Dock, Garlic and Onions

Roasted Wild Mustard Buds

Eating Mustard Flowers

Meadow and Brown Field Mushrooms

Firsts Among Fungi

Shaggy Mane Mushrooms

Making Plum Wine

 

After early blossoming, the plum trees already have surprisingly sizable fruit showing, and it has me thinking about last year’s wonderfully successful venture of country winemaking. Plum was my first attempt, and it’s been one of the best among apple, mint, nettle, pumpkin, mead, pomegranate mead, jujube, and rosehip.

Until last year, I was mostly unaware that wine can be made from pretty much any fruit or vegetable matter, from peaches to rhubarb, parsnips to zucchini, even nettles and flowers. And contrary to standard grape winemaking practices, the basics are, well, very basic.

Essentially: Prepare fruit or whatever you’re using; add sugar, yeast and (sometimes) water; ferment once; strain; ferment some more. There are other varying steps of straining or racking , boiling the fruit, and so on, depending on what your basis is, but for the most part, that’s the process.

The plum and other trees have faired poorly in the drought, and last year’s fruit failed to ever completely ripen.  The largest among them were tiny, greenish, and olive-like, many beginning to shrivel.

In spite of my husband’s skepticism, I picked the tree clean: six quarts of unappealing marbles. Then, while he was out of town, during our baby’s naptimes, I made them into wine.

Since  I gave absolutely no consideration to peeling and pitting the plums, I rinsed them and removed the stems, then dumped them into our 20-quart stainless pot. I poured in 14 quarts of water, then boiled them until they had plumped up like about-to-burst cranberries. I scooped many against the side to squeeze out the flesh, but didn’t bother with most. To my surprise, the aroma was wonderfully sweet and plummy.

I then waited a few hours, enough time to pop (start) the packet of liquid yeast that happened to have been sitting in our fridge and also have my husband purchase an enormous bag of white sugar. By then the plum mixture had cooled to room temperature, and I measured in 11 cups of white sugar and stirred it well to dissolve and aerate. Then I dumped in the yeast, stirred some more, covered it loosely, and set the pot on a large baking tray in an out-of-the-way place (a good choice, since it overflowed in a sticky mess as it fermented wildly).

I’d been worried that the yeast was too old to work properly, but after a day, the concoction came to life with frothy, foaming activity. It smelled lovely, and when I stirred it twice daily, a white fizz erupted from beneath the leavened plums.

Five days after cooking, the fermentation had slowed down slightly and I was excited to move along when my daughter went down for her afternoon nap. I filled a six-gallon brewing tub with no-rinse sterilizer solution and dropped in my stirring implements, strainers and syphoning hose. Then I syphoned the solution into a 5-gallon carboy.

Next, I scooped my plum must through a medium mesh strainer into the tub, pressing out liquid and depositing the solids into the chicken bowl (meanwhile wondering if the chickens would be staggering around with a buzz). I let the liquid sit overnight, covered.

In the morning, the surface looked like a freshly baked cookie.

At morning naptime, I again scooped the concoction through a strainer, our finer mesh conical style, and agitated it as the liquid slowly drained through leaving a saucy deposit that again went to the chickens. Then I added 10 more cups of sugar, the remainder of the 10-pound bag. I stirred it up and let that settle until afternoon naptime.

Finally, that afternoon, I syphoned the mix, keeping the hose below the surface but above the level of sediment at the bottom, into the carboy.

I racked the wine once more, after a month or so, then bottled it. The clarity had improved and the flavor was surprisingly marvelous– sweet, plummy, with well balanced alcohol. While I didn’t measure the initial potential alcohol and therefore could not measure the final product, I would guess by its effects that it contained as much as a strong zin: certainly a percentage in the high teens. When we drank it, we always used small glasses.

Plum wine was a wonderful inspiration that set me off into the world of country winemaking, and a fantastic lesson in the value of otherwise useless fruit.

Shared on the Homestead Blog Hop.

No-‘Poo Hair Care

I’m now four months shampoo-free and in love with the results! My hair has never been so soft, frizz-free, quick-drying and easy to brush out. It feels healthier, and if I do say so myself, it looks great.

Shampoo and conditioner were the last products in my shower rack loaded with carcinogenic chemicals. After a year and a half of struggling with acne–brought on initially by pregnancy hormones, and persistent after my daughter’s birth–I ditched the half-dozen expensive facial cleansers that seemed to sustain my skin woes and against all advice began to use our homemade soap on my face. The results were almost instantaneous– finally, clear skin. Add to that the knowledge that I was saving money and sparing my body the exposure to the proven toxins in bath and body products, I couldn’t be happier.

My hair is very, very thick, coarse, and wavy. Since I don’t blow-dry, washing it means hours of wet-head, and if I dare to put it up in a pinch, it will stay wet easily all day long. When I used to blow-dry, the process took at least 45 minutes to an hour and resulted in ultra-frizz. Even washing takes forever. Since I dread it so much, I wash about every 4 to 7 days.

The thought to try out an alternative hair care came late last fall. As cold weather set in, dry scalp was another annoying issue that I hoped a new method would solve. Fortunately, it was. I read an article in Tree Hugger about a baking soda and cider vinegar treatment, and I gave it a shot. With a few modifications, it’s what I do to this day and foresee no change. I’m hooked.

The moment the vinegar goes into my hair, I can hardly describe the silk. I can run my fingers through the coarse locks instantly, and combing is totally optional.

Here’s what I do: We keep a bottle full of cider vinegar in our shower rack, as well as an enameled metal camping mug. We keep a box of baking soda in a bathroom cupboard. When I’m planning to wash my hair, I grab the mug and shake about a tablespoon of baking soda in (that’s for my heavy-duty hair; my husband uses about a teaspoon). Then I put it back on the shower rack. When my hair is wet, I fill the mug– right under the shower head, so it gets mixed well– with about a cup of water and swirl it around to be sure none is stuck to the mug. (Reminder from third grade: residual baking soda + vinegar = volcano!) I squeeze a bit of water out of my hair to help absorb, and pour the baking soda right onto my scalp. I scrub a bit with my fingers, then rinse really well.

Next I add about 2 tablespoons of vinegar. (Again, considerations for hair quantity.) I mix with another cup or cup-and-a-half of water, give my hair another squeeze, and pour it over. I let it just drip down into my hair, then rinse immediately. Yes, it smells like vinegar at first. Expect it, and you’ll get over it fast. It doesn’t bother me at all. And run your fingers through and you’ll forget the smell. After a good rinse, there is zero residual odor, I promise.

When I do have any dry scalp or flakiness, the solution is simple. About an hour before I am going to wash my hair, I rub about a teaspoon or so of coconut oil into my scalp and give it a good brush to distribute and open the pores. Then I proceed as usual. Results are immediate.

It takes about five weeks for the natural scalp oils to regain their rhythm, which better prevents frizz. In the first couple of weeks, I used a tiny amount of coconut oil rubbed into my fingers to tame the fluff. It can be done wet or dry. But when I applied it wet, it tended to be uneven– some areas still fluffy, others visibly oily. Once the natural rhythm of oils returned, my hair stopped looking greasy, no matter how long I go without washing.

My new hair regimen is incredibly affordable. An 80-cent box of baking soda and few-dollar gallon bottle of cider vinegar goes a long way. And the coconut oil I’ve used regularly has amounted to probably a tablespoon or two at most. Plus, all ingredients are always on-hand at all times, at least at our house.

This post was shared on the Homestead Blog Hop.

Comfort Food: Split Pea and Ham Soup

Split pea and ham is one of my all-time favorite soups. It’s rich, delicious, and easy to make. It also uses the inexpensive ham hock and a short list of ingredients we usually have on-hand, so it’s a very cheap meal with plenty of leftovers.

The sugar in this recipe caramelizes the juices of the vegetables, perfectly offsetting the salty-smokiness of the ham, and creating a heart-warming comfort food. The vinegar brings a brightening acid.

Split Pea and Ham Soup

2-1/2 Lbs smoked ham hock, whole

4 qts water

1 bay leaf

1 T neutral oil, such as vegetable or avocado

2 large yellow onions, chopped medium

3 ribs of celery with leaves, sliced 1/4-in. thick

3 carrots, sliced 1/4-in. thick

1 T sugar

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 Lb split peas, rinsed and picked through

3 waxy potatoes, such as Yukon gold, in 1/2-in. dice

1 t dried thyme

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Balsamic vinegar

In a large pot, add the ham hock, water and bay leaf, and bring the water to a simmer. Reduce to very low, cover, and simmer for 2-1/2 hours. Remove the ham hock and place in a bowl to cool. Reserve the broth in another pot or bowl, and discard the bay leaf. When the ham hock is cool enough to handle, pick the meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Discard the fat, skin, and bones.

Meanwhile, in the original pot, heat the oil over medium-high. Add the onions and cook until they’re becoming translucent, about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Then add the carrots and celery. Cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the sugar. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally, for 15 minutes until a brown crust forms and the vegetables are tender. Then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Return the broth that the ham hocks simmered in to the pot and scrape the bottom well. Return to a simmer over medium-low, then add the split peas. Cook the peas until they are just tender, about 20 minutes. Then add the potatoes, ham and thyme. Cook until the potatoes are very tender and some of the peas are beginning to dissolve, thickening the soup. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

Serve in bowls with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Sautéed Wild Mustard Greens with Dock, Garlic and Onions

We gather wild greens from the field daily, and mustard is currently the  star attraction– buds as broccoli, flowers and young greens in salads, and cooked older leaves. I think these hold up even better, in flavor and texture, to sauteing than does spinach. We often mix with dock leaves for a bright lemony accent.

Mustard greens are easy to prepare, incredibly healthful, and delicious. They are a wonderful side to all sorts of meat, fish, polenta, or grain. We enjoyed them last night with fried pork chops and sweet potatoes.

Sautéed Wild Mustard Greens with Dock, Garlic and Onions

The dash of hot sauce adds no heat to speak of– only a bit of vinegar and spark of extra flavor. Serves 3-4.

2 T butter

1 white onion, chopped medium

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup dry white wine

3 large handfuls of large mustard leaves, stems trimmed and chopped in 1-inch lengths, separate, and leaves sliced 1 inch wide

1 large handful of curly dock leaves (optional), stems trimmed, leaves sliced 1 inch wide

1 t homemade hot sauce or other vinegar-based hot sauce, such as Tabasco

Salt

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and begin to brown, about 5 minutes or so. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds. Stir in the mustard stems and cook for 30 more seconds. Add the greens and turn over several times as they begin to wilt. After a 30 seconds or so, add the white wine and continue to turn the greens while scraping the pan until they’re wilted. Cook until tender, only a couple of minutes or so, depending on how tough or old the leaves were. Season with the hot sauce and salt to taste. Serve immediately.