My seedlings are in that stage where I’m just waiting for them to get big enough to begin hardening off. The only news on that front is that about half of my mouse melons, aka Mexican Sour Gherkins, sprouted yesterday- this is my first year growing them, and I am very excited about that! I was surprised that it only took about 4 days for them to begin poking up through the soil! My seedlings are all in that stage that requires an abundance of patience, as I watch and wait for them to get big enough to begin hardening off. I have a circulating fan that will be set up to blow on them later today, and I’ll probably begin re-potting and thinning the tomatoes tomorrow. So anyway, that’s the ‘State of the Garden’ report.
Since I don’t have any garden tips today, I figured that this would be a good time to share one method of stretching the food budget. There is a lot of food waste in this country, and I often shake my head at the price of convenience. I try very hard to use up everything I can, and waste as little as possible. As well as being earth-friendly, it’s usually good for the body and less expensive than making ‘convenience’ purchases, too. I’m not going to go all preachy about that stuff, though. I’ll simply say that there was a time when boxed or canned broths were not available, and people needed to make them from scratch. With all of the food allergies and sensitivities people are beginning to recognize, it’s become a necessity for some of us, but it’s surprisingly easy to do, and is a great way to give your recipes an extra punch of both flavor and nutrition, and bonus- it’s pretty much free!
I keep a couple of zipper bags in the freezer for clean veggie scraps. Because celery can have a pretty intense flavor, it gets its own bag, and if I have a lot of onion scraps, I’ll do another bag just for onion scraps as well. Everything else gets dumped into a mixed bag, though. When the gallon-size mixed veggie bag is full, I know that I have enough scraps to make a batch of broth.
That bag gets the ends and tips of carrots and parsnips (as long as they’re clean and not slimy or sprouting), ends of summer squash, veggie skins (including onion and carrot), and uneaten leftover veggies from meals, such as carrots, spinach, green beans, peas, corn (but only if they are pure veg- no butter, oil, or seasonings), even bits of plain lettuce. I do not add starchy vegetables/tubers such as potatoes, winter squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, because they will just break down and you’ll have a cloudy broth. I compost any bits that are showing signs of being bad- a little soft isn’t terrible, but discoloration, slime, or otherwise inedible bits do not go into my broth. I also do not season my broth, since I prefer to do that when I’m making whatever it is to be used in. It’s important to squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag each time you add something to it, though, to avoid freezer burn.
My process is simple- when the bag is full, I dump it, completely frozen, into my stock pot, then I add some celery bits- maybe a cup of celery to a gallon bag of other stuff. (I have a lightweight 22-quart pot that is perfect for making broth/stock. If you don’t have a stock pot, you can use your favorite spaghetti pot or your crockpot- if you’re using your crockpot or your spaghetti pot is less than 7 inches tall, you will probably want to store your scraps in a quart-sized bag and make smaller batches of broth.) Then I cover it with water, put the lid on, and bring it up to a gentle boil. Allow it to simmer for a while, maybe an hour or 2? Or, if you’re using the crockpot, just put it on low in the morning, then remove the lid and turn it off before supper. Allow it to cool for a little bit, and then strain the veggie bits out. I have a large mesh sieve that I use, but before I got that I used my pasta strainer. The drawback to the pasta strainer is that it will let some larger pieces through… not a really big deal, unless you’re a fuss-budget like me, LOL. Anyway, from here, you can either package up your broth for storage in the freezer or refrigerator, can it as is, or cook it down into stock. I usually allow it to simmer uncovered for about 2 hours to reduce it by somewhere around one-third to one-half, and then can it.
Now mind you, this whole process usually takes me 2-3 days to complete, from start to finish. Day 1 is making and straining the initial broth, then it’s refrigerated overnight and day 2 is cooking it down and getting it into the canning jars. If I have time, I will also process the jars on day 2, but sometimes they go into the fridge and get processed on day 3. (Beware, though- you don’t want to take your canning jars straight from the fridge and start processing them right away- that can cause thermal shock to the glass, and some jars may break. If you refrigerate your jars prior to processing, allow them to sit on the counter for 30 minutes or so to begin losing the chill. Then pt them in a basin or pot and run water over them as you fill it at least halfway up the jars. That allows the temperature to equalize a bit. Once that’s all done, set up your pressure canner, add the recommended amount of water, put in the jars, and turn on the heat.)
Personally, I process my reduced broth (aka stock) according to the instructions for Vegetable Stock recipe in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preservation- that’s 35 minutes in the pressure canner at 10 pounds of pressure. I don’t follow the ingredients in their recipe though- I just use what I have. If you do not have access to a pressure canner, then it would be wise to just work in smaller batches and freeze your stock. (I usually have a bag in the freezer with veggie stock ice cubes, for those times when I just need a couple of tablespoons and don’t want to open a full jar.)
So there you have it- making your veggie broth from scratch using stuff that would have probably headed to the trash or compost pile otherwise and some water. It takes a bit of time, but very little of it is ‘hands on’, and isn’t it worth a little effort to know exactly what’s in there?