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A Recipe for Gratitude Soup
By Jessica Shepherd
Ah, the subtle beauty and sumptuous bounty of autumn. After a summer of fishing and gardening, the freezer bursts with salmon, blanched vegetables, berries, and locally procured chicken, while the pantry brims with jars of raspberry and cherry jam, green beans, salsa, and rhubarb chutney. This cornucopia gives me a sense of well-being akin to a snug nest. Against a wintery backdrop of dizzying snowflakes, I don an apron to cook up something wonderful.
I start with rendered fat from a mountain goat (one of the benefits of living near a game meat processor) melted in the bottom of a Dutch oven. Next, I add chicken bones from a bird raised by hand just down the road, a few cloves of garlic, minced, a light dusting of sea salt, and enough water to cover the bones. This will form the stock. I bring it to a boil, then cover it and turn it down to the lowest setting.
The stock simmers until the meat begins to fall from the bones. At that point, I separate them from the broth and set them aside to cool. Meanwhile, brushing the dirt from a large yellow onion, I chop it and add it to a large frying pan with a bit more of the buttery fat. As the onion cooks, I slice and add sweet carrots, scrubbed potatoes, and celery. Once they begin to soften, I combine them with the chicken stock.
We are fortunate here in Homer to have an abundance of local foods in addition to what we produce or harvest. All summer, the farmer’s market is a kaleidoscope of fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, local canned goods, herbs, teas, freshly baked goods, and homey crafts. We have a small-scale meat producer who sells vacuum-sealed chickens and geese ready to cook or freeze, pork and lamb by the half or whole, and eggs. If I want beef, I can about point to the cow, thanks to my neighbor who raises them at the head of the bay and walks them up the road past my house come fall. Several CSAs (Community-supported Agriculture) offer a weekly bounty of the freshest and most beautiful vegetables imaginable. We have pick-your-own raspberries and beekeepers who sell liquid gold by the jar. And, of course, an estuarine bay that yields all five species of Pacific salmon along with halibut, rockfish, and cod.
While the vegetables finish cooking, I work the meat off the bones and add it to the soup along with pepper, fresh thyme and dill, and a bit more salt. Stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, I turn off the heat when the potatoes and carrots are tender but still hold their shape.
As the western sky blushes with the forthcoming sunset, I serve the soup with cheesy corn muffins, hot from the oven, along with plenty of butter. I give silent thanks to the plants and animals that sustain us. I know many people, even within the affluent community of Homer, have limited access to the kind of bounty we readily harvest, net, and purchase. I remember lean times in my past and am deeply grateful for the food that fills our bellies and the secure shelter this warm little cabin provides.
Looking at Hal, who blows on his soup and nods his approval after the first spoonful, I am grateful for this time in our lives. Experience tells us to savor this lull between the inevitable storms life delivers. I am grateful too for the bonds of family and friends, near and far, and the opportunity to gather, even with Covid still tailing us in the rear-view mirror. And this year, an election year, I am grateful that the outcome didn’t end in violence or political upheaval as we had feared. Let us all offer up gratitude when rational minds prevail.