As I’m writing this, T-Day is two days past, but still feels like an appropriate topic. I’m engaging in one of my favorite post-Thanksgiving rituals: making stock from the turkey carcass. I simmered it for hours yesterday and then set the pot out to cool overnight. Now I have to lift out the fat and solids, reheat the broth, and strain through cheesecloth. Then, voila! Nectar.
It’s relaxing for me and something I do so regularly that I’m surprised I still enjoy it so much. And I think a post-Thanksgiving stock is something special; it’s a communal private affair, so to speak, as stoves across the land share in making soup.
I consider many activities, stock making among them, spiritual practices. Utilitarians would say that there’s nothing spiritual about homemade stock and that it’s just a simple and cheap way to prepare something better than you can buy at the store. True enough, but meaning is where you find it. And the tradition carries rich associations for me, thinking of centuries of pots on the fire, filling homes with good smells.
“Spiritual” is, in any case, a word fraught with peril as it can mean, well, almost anything. Those with a philosophic bent, in particular, often find its use fuzzy, if not downright lazy-minded. I’m well aware of all this (being of such mind myself) but am going to completely ignore that discussion and my use of the word for now.
Here’s how you treat your next turkey. Pull out a big stockpot. Toss in the carcass and any other leftover bones and skin. And please, don’t pick it clean, as all those juicy bits will flavor the stock. Cut just the tip of the root end off of a couple of large onions. Quarter them and add to the pot, skin and all, along with a few stalks of celery, and a couple of bay leaves. Or other aromatics, your call. Fill the pot nearly to the top with cold water, and bring to a simmer, not a boil.
Now, this isn’t really a food column, just that a good deal of my musings while making stock have to do with the pleasures of the season and the intersection of the secular with the spiritual and religious. And I can’t think of an easier connection than the table. The communion of the kitchen bears a small “C” but can still, I think, be a sacrament of sorts, religious or otherwise.
Just let the stock simmer, the longer the better, skimming off foam and fat now and then. I like to leave it on for several hours, and I’m trying a new wrinkle this year, having read a recipe that called for leaving the carcass in overnight. Hence, the porch.
My stock making isn’t a religious experience but that doesn’t mean it lacks meaning. That holiday carcass isn’t empty; I fill it with communal import, and use it to inaugurate the season of giving thanks (more so than the rest of the year), and sharing goodwill and fellowship.
When I make Thanksgiving dinner, I’m part of a community, as it’s as close to a nationally shared event as anything this diverse country has these days. My wife and I just had turkey for two, but there were phone calls through the day, and a lingering feeling of benevolence.
That seems to me reason enough for both religious and not-so-much-so folks to share the season’s offerings. So here’s to all of you. Take stock (and make stock) in a shared spirit of peace and goodwill for all.