It must be the first day of hunting season. I’m sitting in my kitchen, drinking my morning coffee and I hear a gun shot – one very loud one. The hunting kind. Not the sort of “I got a new gun and I’m tryin’ her out” kind of shots we occasionally hear. One single shot. I wonder if it was our neighbor, Sam. I wonder if he got a deer. He aims for one per season – enough to fill his freezer and kindly spare a couple of pounds of meat for his neighbors, including us.
Teddy, our Great Pyr, is lying on the kitchen floor when the shot breaks the steady sound of morning crickets and cicadas. He should be outside with the chickens and cows, but instead he lays on the cool, wood floor inside. He has the biology of a guardian dog, but came to us before we had the workings of a farm, so we are his flock – his human livestock. The shot is enough to wake him and he runs to the door, barking his baritone that is enough to travel the back woods. I open the door and off he goes, at a pace that surprises me he was asleep only moments before.
We didn’t hear gun shots when we lived in town. We moved here and plenty changed, yet we still have traces of life in town inside of us. I heard a woman say, regarding a man close to me, “he has one foot in heaven and one on Earth.” I’d never heard anything that sounded so true. A life divided. Life on a farm, slightly removed from town but close enough to see the new, made-for-the-masses line of couture at Target. One moment, I am barefoot in the garden or gutting a chicken, the next I am typing on my laptop. These two lives can work together, it’s just trying to decide how the percentages split.
The humans on this farm, split between caring for the land and growing food and a grocery store that has it all waiting for us. Our dogs, biologically-wired to protect others outside, yet have known the comfort of a cool floor indoors. Our lives in this modern society, in the part of the world I live, are easy. Boxes delivered to our front door the next day. Groceries bagged and ready when we get to the market. I sometimes wonder what life was like to have the responsibility of survival on one’s shoulders – to not have the choice of either growing my own food or driving to the large building to buy it.
I do know this – the days when I do the work are the days I feel best. The mornings I get out of bed when it is still dark, my stomach muscles doing their best to convince me that I do not need to sit up from underneath the covers. And yet, I somehow gather the courage each morning to ignore them, to put my feet on the ground, to go outside to feed and water the sheep. Joe takes care of the chickens. The cool air in our lungs. The sun making its purple/red appearance over the tree line. My mind wants to talk me out of this each morning, but once I am outside, a feeling of resilience rises. The feeling that we are capable of more than we give ourselves credit for and that sometimes the inventions of man are more than we need.
I remember living on Indiana Avenue my sophomore year at Indiana University. It was one of those sweet, little off-campus houses with a kitchen mostly used for holding cereal boxes and milk and reheating take-out Indian food. I shared it with three other girls, and while we had a lot of fun together, sous chefs we were not.
That spring, I came down with the most awful cold. I still remember it. It was one of those colds that you begged your roommate to take a note to your Accounting professor because you were too ill to go to class on a day you knew you had to be there. And it was also the days of no email and running to the computer lab at 11:45pm to print your paper before they closed at midnight, but whatever. Go-ahead and bask in your Inkjet at home while I date myself over here.
Back to the story – I had a cold. And one of my sweet roommates generously offered to make a bowl of chicken noodle soup for me. Which is to say, she opened a can, plopped it into a bowl, pushed a few buttons, and brought it to me in bed. To say I was thrilled is an understatement, because anyone loves being taken care of when they are sick. But now, after all these years, I truly understand the “chicken noodle soup while sick” situation.
It is so chockfull of vitamins and minerals- so much goodness. It is good for joints, for your immune system, for your gut. Homemade bone broth is truly the golden nectar of the Gods. And once you have soup made with it, the stuff in the can or in the box at the grocery store pales in comparison. I will sometimes have a hot cup of broth in the mornings, especially during the winter, if a scratchy throat presents itself.
So, here is my recipe for homemade chicken bone broth.
You will need:
-1 chicken carcass – I leave the neck attached, but if your is separated, go ahead and put that in the mix as well.
– any vegetables you want to throw in – I like to use carrots, celery, and onions. No need to peel anything. Simply wash and toss in. All of those outer layers have goodness, too.
– garlic, about 4- 6 cloves
– chicken feet – not necessary, but a great addition. If you buy your chicken from a local farmer, or go to a farmer’s market, there is a good chance they will have feet to sell you.
– herbs of choice – I usually just add thyme
– a 1/4 – 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar. This aids in pulling the goodness out of the bones.
– filtered water
Optional first step – If you do use chicken feet, they need to be prepped. Our hens are free range, which means their feet get gross. The best option is to remove the skin. So, we do a quick ten minute simmer on the stove to clean them and and loosen the skin so it can be peeled. Place your chicken feet in a small pot on the stove, bring to a boil, then simmer for ten minutes. During this time, get a bowl of ice water ready. At the ten minute mark, remove the feet and blanch them in the cold water. Then, once cooled, peel the skin. It should come off fairly easily. Below, another pic of feet now peeled and vegetables ready to go into the pot.
Now, we put all of it in a large stockpot or 6-qt slow cooker. I prefer the slow cooker – this way, you can put everything in at night after you eat, set it on low, and let it go for the 24 hours it should have for maximum bone broth goodness.
Now fill the pot roughly two inches below the top with water, put the lid on, turn on to low, and let go until the next evening. Note: Make sure to fill the pot as much as you can. As the cooking progresses, some of the water will evaporate, so you want to make sure you have as much as possible in the pot.
And that’s it until 24 hours later.
Pull out a large bowl and scoop out the large pieces of veggies with tongs and a slotted spoon for small pieces. (If you don’t currently compost, now is the perfect time to start! These veggies are a perfect way to begin…maybe that should be a future post?)
Then, I use my 2-cup measuring cup with a spout to pour the broth, through a sieve, into a large mason jar.
And there you have it. Delicious bone broth.
I usually keep one large jar in the fridge for the aforementioned morning hot mugs or if I plan to make soup within the next couple of days. Otherwise, I buy freezer quart bags, fill them with 1 cup of broth, lay the filled bags out on a cookie tray so they lie flat, then stick in the freezer for a day. This way, they freeze evenly and thaw easily. Then remove from the cookie sheet and keep in your freezer to store for future use. Side note: when pulling these bags out of the freezer to thaw, it’s always good to place the bags in a bowl. Occasionally, a bag will pop a small hole and once thawed, your broth will be a puddle on your counter top.
And there it is! And here is to all of the delicious broth and chicken noodle soup in your future!
We didn’t know it would lead to this when we first moved here. I mean, I guess we should’ve known. When two people move their children to the country to have a deeper connection with the land and a deeper connection with their food, it’s not a far stretch to imagine us eventually butchering our own animals. I’d heard tales of my grandmother killing a chicken for dinner, insides turning a little bit at the details of it. I still couldn’t picture myself doing it. When we moved here, we knew we would garden, we knew we would have chickens for eggs. But the more I desired to know what was in our food, how it was raised, I personally had to come to terms with the fact that I ate meat, but wouldn’t raise and process it myself. It’s not for everyone and I get it. That is what farmers are for. But just like building a house or writing a book, some feel perfectly fine about outsourcing it and others wanting to do it themselves. Joe and I both felt it was something we wanted to be a part of, and so here we are – chicken farmers.
Like all new adventures, we have had our share of ups and downs. There was the time the chicken tractor (a coop on wheels, so we can move the flock frequently for fresh grass and bugs) broke off the tractor and rolled into the ravine. Luckily, it’s heavily treed, so it didn’t go that far down. I remember just standing in the field, watching it happen like a car crash…Joe running after it, me standing there two hundred feet away with my mouth agape. No chickens injured, though lots of stress-induced feather loss, thankfully. Coyotes, hawks, name the predator and we have dealt with it, have all gotten the best of us at least once. But the benefits – having animals on pasture, rotationally-grazing them, actually pulls carbon out of the air we breathe (good for the environment!), delicious meat, raising food we know lived their best lives before nourishing us – makes any struggle worth it.
Having said that, you don’t need to kill your own chickens. If you have the choice and are able, buy from a local farmer. They work hard to ethically raise food that is good for you and good for the environment. It’s not inexpensive, but if you are willing to buy a coffee-to-go a few times a week, then you have the money to buy a locally-raised chicken.
So having said all of the above, we eat a lot of chicken. We raise them, bring them up to the barn, thank them for the life they are giving us, then, well, you know. I’ll spare you the details (if you want them, I am happy to share on a later post!)
I now have a lot of practice at roasting our birds and how to get the best out of them. What follows is my favorite way to use a whole chicken, with tips and tricks gleaned from several different sources. The more time we live here, being new to so many practices, I feel like the way I learn best is to listen to the people who have done it for several years. I have learned that anytime someone with more experience than you offers up the lessons they learned the hard way, you listen.
Okay, enough talk. What follows is my favorite way to roast a chicken. And in my opinion, a really easy way as well!
Roast Chicken a la Woods Edge Farm
1 – 3-5 lb whole chicken
1 lemon, quartered
3-4 cloves of garlic
a few sprigs of thyme (dried thyme works as well, including from a spice jar)
1/2 yellow onion
4 medium sweet potatoes (optional)
Heat your oven to 425 degrees.
If you love sweet potatoes, start here. Wash and cut into 1/2″ cubes and cover bottom of roasting pan. Roughly chop the onion and toss in with sweet potatoes. (I give my friend, Sarah Tosick 100% credit for this idea. It has become one of my favorite parts of roasting a chicken, so thank you, Sarah!!)
Next, rinse the inside of your chicken and dry with paper towels (these can compost if you compost). If the neck is still attached, it is up to you whether or not to remove it. Either way, do not throw this away. This is valuable for broth, which will be in the next post.
Salt and pepper the inside of your chicken, then stuff with lemon, cloves of garlic and thyme. Now truss that baby up, salt and pepper the outside of the bird, and you are ready to place in the oven.
Note: Some recipes call for butter or olive oil rubbed into the skin. This isn’t necessary when buying a fresh, grass-grazed chicken. The skin is tender enough without the added fat. But, if you are dead set on giving it a good butter bath (like my husband is – and I have it admit, it is really good. But not necessary if you are trying to avoid butter or oil), then feel free to do that as you like.
Roast for 90 minutes, checking doneness around the 60 minute mark and every thirty minutes after that. The smaller your bird, the quicker this goes. Once the chicken reaches 165 degrees, you are ready to pull her out of the oven and let her rest on a cutting board for 10-15 minutes before cutting.
All of the yummy juices from your chicken will drip onto your potatoes and onions underneath and make for a delicious side dish. And if there is any left after supper, an amazing side with your eggs the next morning.
Important note: once you eat your delicious chicken, save the bones and the neck from earlier. The soup and broth post is coming up next!
I hope you love this recipe. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know!