Mid-November, cold and blah. I begin the day by counting my blessings. And writing a check... Every year Food Bank of the Hudson Valley does a Thanksgiving fund drive and a while back I made a commitment that even in lean months – oh yes, there have been many of those – I would donate to this local charity. Food being a "cause" near & dear to my heart, I like to give a little extra at this holiday that celebrates the abundance of harvest. It's my form of tithing and helps to keep the flow of gratitude going in my life.
I also clean out the freezer.
Huh. Where's the tie-in? Well. Borne of thrifty habit from years past, and now by preference, I save just about every food scrap imaginable: onion skins, carrot ends, mushroom trimmings, leafy bits of celery, kale stalks, bones, drippings, gristle, fat. All popped into zip-loks and tucked in the freezer. Eventually things start spilling over, my stash of frozen stock is depleted, the thermostat drops... and I know it's time to get boiling again.
A stock pot simmering on hearth or stove has been the backbone of all world cuisines for millennia, and the tradition continues in restaurants today. In times past this was a way to get a lot of nourishment from a small amount of ingredients. "Food historians tell us the history of soup is probably as old as the history of cooking. The act of combining various ingredients in a large pot to create a nutritious, filling, easily digested, simple to make/serve food was inevitable. This made it the perfect choice for both sedentary and travelling cultures, rich and poor, healthy people and invalids. Soup (and stews, pottages, porridges, gruels, etc.) evolved according to local ingredients and tastes. New England chowder, Spanish gazpacho, Russian borscht, Italian minestrone, French onion, Chinese won ton and Campbell's tomato...are all variations on the same theme... The modern restaurant industry is said to be based on soup. Restoratifs (where the word "restaurant" comes from) were the first items served in public eateries in 18th century Paris [including] broth (Pot-au-feu), bouillion, and consomme." www.foodtimeline.org/foodsoups.html
Beholding the unspeakable mess that resided in the upper part of the fridge, I knew it was time. Out came the giant stock pot and in went bag after bag of the above-mentioned items. And a few bonus containers of potato & veggie water (left over from steaming or cooking). I sometimes do "bone broth," or a pure vegan/veggie broth, or just chicken or beef, but this particular stock was a mishmash; a beautiful, rich golden-orange color thanks to a lot of squash innards, a rich woodsy flavor from the wild mushrooms. The bones & fat contributed a silky, unctuous texture. It smelled incredible. I couldn't wait to taste the soups that come from it.
All this from things that would have been thrown away! Garbage, some might call it. The process brought to mind the old children's tale, Stone Soup, in which the stingy villagers are cleverly tricked by a band of traveling soldiers into contributing their precious hoarded food to a communal stew. In the end they are amazed at how delicious the meal turned out, and shower their visitors with gifts of food for their journey home. The soldiers tell them, "There is no secret, but this is certain: it is only by sharing that we may make a feast."
As a forager & gardener I'm in a constant state of awe at Earth's abundance. Nature gives and gives, freely and without recompense. Even in this chilly month there's seldom a hike in the woods, a stroll along the rail trail, or a visit to my sadly-neglected garden, that does not bless me with something edible and amazing. Similarly, when there might appear to be cash "no" instead of cash "flow," I try to look around & find a way to give. It could be actual money, material goods, love, or time, or kindness. Generosity is the kissing cousin of abundance – one can't exist without the other. It's one of life's confusing but glorious paradoxes, and one tiny secret to maintaining happiness. And yes, this country, the entire world, may appear to be on the highway to Hell, with cruelty, disconnect, loneliness and greed running rampant. Yet here is my part: on this day of thanks, when I sit down to a bounteous table surrounded by loved ones, I'll remember: there's no such thing as a feast for one. It is only by sharing that we make a feast. Bright Blessings! Happy Thanksgiving!