15 May 2007

Soup's On

I'm typing this as I'm waiting for my bowl of chicken soup to cool enough to eat.

One of the unexpected benefits of having a farm overrun with laying hens and laying ducks is that these birds make wonderful soups and stocks when culling time comes. A laying hen has a good productive life of two years; for a laying duck, it's usually about three years. We color coordinate our hens each year, so we can always know the age of the various birds within the flock. Three years ago, we had Rhode Island Reds. Two years ago, we had Black Australorps. Last fall, when eggs slowed to a trickle, I filled the freezer with Rhode Island Reds. This spring, we will be raising Buff Orpingtons, a gold-colored chicken. This fall, once the Buffs start laying, the Australorps will all go in the freezer.

We then make soup with those birds all year long. Typically, I take one out of the freezer and let it thaw until Saturday afternoon. Saturday evening, I put it in a stock pot (feet and all - the feet are filled with gelatin) with some apple cider vinegar, a carrot, and an onion. It sits for an hour or so, then I put it on the heat. Once it boils, I skim any scum off the top (usually there's very little), then replace the cover, reduce the heat, and let it simmer all night. In the morning, I pour everything through a colander into a second stock pot. The chicken meat stays in the colander to cool, while I slice onions, potatoes, and carrots to add to the liquid. I also add salt, pepper, basil, and oregano. By the time the liquid returns to a boil, I've usually managed to de-bone the chicken. I tear the meat into small pieces, and add it to the liquid. Let simmer for another hour or so, and turn off the heat. Let it cool all afternoon, and in the evening I ladle all the soup into quart jars for refrigeration. There's usually enough soup for 1.5 quarts each day for lunch. Once I run low, I get another bird out of the freezer.

The procedure is basically the same with ducks, but since Khaki Campbell ducks are so small we usually use two at a time. Sometimes, for variety, I'll use neck bones from our sheep.

These soups are incredibly rich in nutrients, and absolutely delicious. Also very convenient, because a whole week's worth can be easily made at once. Try it just once, and you'll never again be able to eat the stuff that comes from a can. Especially when you compare the life of a chicken-noodle-soup hen with that of a free range farm hen.

Time to eat lunch.

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