Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Preserving Floyd: The Bone Collector

"Can I have your carcass?"
"Your turkey carcass.  If you're not using it.   And the neck and giblet bag too."
"Using it?  What would I be using it for?  I throw it out."
"NO!! uh, I mean, no.  Don't do that.  Just wrap it in foil and I'll come get it on Friday."
"And if you have any leftover veggies, after eating leftovers, I'll take those too."
"Uh, okay."
"I'm making stock."

My first usual pre-holiday conversation with new friends.  The old ones have it figured out and make their own stock now.

Thanksgiving and other holidays offer a bonanza of bones and vegetable scraps for making a giant potful of turkey stock that will provide the base for soups, stews, sauces, and anything else that will benefit from cooking in a nice broth.  It freezes nicely and if you have a pressure canner (NOT a pressure cooker) it cans nicely, sits on your shelf ready for use, and saves valuable real estate in your freezer.

Day 1
I save all the washed vegetable trimmings from my feast preparations: onions, celery bits, carrot peelings, herb stems and leaves.  After the feast and the post feast leftover meals I save any veg that was served whole (like buttered green beans) but not as a casserole or mashed, and if there's still a bit of gravy I save that too.  I go on my rounds and pick up carcasses.  I come home, get out my OMG-sized stock pot and pile everything into it, throw in some whole carrots, celery, parsley and onions for good measure and then fill the pot up with cold water until it covers the contents by an inch.  I then heft the pot onto the stove, bring it to a boil, and then turn down the heat to a simmer leaving the pot uncovered.  The simmer that I'm looking for is one where the bubbles spiral lazily to the surface and pop.  A very slow simmer.  That pot sits there doing it's thing for at least 24 hours.  I check the water level occasionally but rarely have to add any to keep the contents covered.

Day 2
After 24 hours, the carcasses have fallen apart, collagen from the cartilage and bones has rendered (this is what makes stock jell and gives it a nice mouth feel) and all of the flavor has cooked out of the meat bits and veggies and into the liquid.  I strain out the bones and debris and ladle the stock into gallon jars to cool before going into the fridge.

Day 3
I remove the jars from the fridge and lift off the cap of fat that's formed on top.  The stock gets carefully poured back into the pot, taking care not to pour in any of the sediment that's formed on the bottom.  If you have a fine strainer, you can pour the stock through that to catch any bits.  Once again I bring the uncovered pot to a boil and then turn the heat down to a fast simmer allowing the stock to reduce to half the volume.

While the stock is reducing I set up my canning jars, tools and pressure canner.  Meat stocks are a low acid food and must be pressure canned.  It simply can't be done in a boiling water bath because the contents of the jars won't get hot enough to kill off the nasties.  Steam under pressure is much hotter than boiling water and will raise the jar contents to the temperature needed for safe canning.

Once the stock is reduced I ladle it into pint and quart jars through a screen and funnel to catch more particles.
Your jars should be sparkling clean and warm to guard against cracking from abrupt temperature change but according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation they no longer need to be sterilized if they are going to be processed for more than 10 minutes.  Fill the jars leaving a generous 1" of head space.
Wipe the rim of the jar with a cloth dampened with vinegar to make sure any grease or stock is removed from the rim.  Place a lid on top and hold in place with a ring screwed on finger-tight.  I define finger-tight as the way you screw the lid back on the mayo jar.  Don't crank it down.  Place the jar in the canner and move on to the next one.
Fill and seal only the number of jars that will fit in the canner.  You will want the rest of the stock to be piping hot when it goes in the jars for subsequent load so you want to be able to put the stock pot back on the heat.  If you are doing quarts and pints do the same size together since the different sizes have different processing times.

Put the lid on the canner and bring it to 10 lbs of pressure (at sea level) according to your manufacturer's directions.  Adjust the poundage for your altitude.  For example, I can at 2,300 ft. of altitude so I bring the pressure to 11 lbs.
Once the canner reaches the proper pressure, adjust the heat to maintain that pressure and begin timing.  Quarts take 25 minutes and pints take 20 minutes.  Keep an eye on the gauge and adjust the heat as necessary to stay at the proper pressure.  If it drops below you'll have to bring it back up to the proper poundage and begin timing all over again.

When the time for your load is up, carefully move the pot off the heat, preferably on to the cold burner beside it.  Allow the pressure to zero out of its own accord. Do not try to hurry it.  Once depressurized, allow the canner to sit unopened for another half hour, then carefully open the lid AWAY from you (no steam burns!).  Remove the jars to sit on a towel or newspaper padded surface to guard against abrupt temperature change.  Allow to cool completely without disturbing.  You may or may not hear pops as the vacuum in the jars is created.  Once the jars are completely cool, remove the rings and try to lift them by the lids only.  If you can, you have a good seal.  Wash the outside of the jars thoroughly, dry, label and date, and store in a dark cupboard.

Tip:  Not all burners on your stove heat alike.  Always use the same burner for your canner and maintaining the heat will become much easier as you become familiar with it.

For those of you who have the space, freezing is the easy option.  Just ladle your stock into freezer safe containers leaving a little room at the top for expansion, label, date, and freeze.  I like to freeze some stock in ice cube trays and then store the cubes in plastic bags so I can grab a cube or two to toss in sauces without having to open or thaw a bigger container.
So remember, don't be shy.  Bug your friends for their bones.


  1. Yes! Saving bones is the only way. I collect all my guests' bones after a meal and use them for stock later. No bone ever gets thrown out in this house until it's been cooked twice.

  2. Followed your link from Joel's Well Preserved blog. Stock is in the air...literally! My stock is burbling away-only 19 hours to go! Great tip about using vinegar to clean the rim of the jar. That would never have occurred to me.