Sunday, January 5, 2020

The merits of canning bone broth

Ever since visiting my 92 year old (retired farmer's wife) aunt this fall, I've become so curious about my life-style now compared to my Aunt's.  Or mine compared to my great grandparents.  I'm ready to learn time travel so I can go back and observe---any time now.

This week I've been working on canning bone broth (or stock as they used to call it in the old days).  I'm wondering about the merits of doing all this work for bone broth.  Is it really worth it?  I know it puts an aroma through the house that makes your mouth water.   I wonder if my relatives cut the bones, cooked the bones down enough to get the cartilage and bone marrow out.  How often did they eat it, all winter?  If the wood stove was going, I'm betting they had bones cooking.  (Nobody really used a pressure cooker until WWII)  Maybe they only used chicken bones.  Things to ponder....

My own history with bone marrow started in 1976 when I was in Anaktuvuk Pass for 2 weeks.  Our high school youth group offered to go there and teach Bible School.  This was back in the day when there was one phone for the whole village and no TVs.  The whole village showed up to meet the plane at the runway.  We stayed in James and Anna Nageak's house while they were out of town.  It was one of the few plywood houses in town.  The rest of the houses were very small hovels, some still sod houses.  The bigger the house, the harder it was to heat in the winter.

As luck would have it, our food didn't show up.  We had ordered it at the grocery store in Fairbanks and had it sent from there to Anaktuvuk Pass.  I still don't remember why our food didn't show up.  Maybe the planes were full.  Maybe the clouds came down and the plane over-headed.  But finally one day, Melinda Lord decided she would go to one of her relative's houses and ask for some food. (She was Inupiat from a well known family living in Fairbanks).  She came back triumphant with a frozen caribou leg.  She explained that they took her down into their ice cellar and she could pick out what she wanted.  I wished I would have gone with her now, since the ice cellars are all melting now.

She tossed it on the table and got out a sharp knife.  The rest of us Tunniks (whites) watched as she shaved off thin pieces of meat for us to fry up.  She ate some raw and we were horrified.  Then she got to the bone.  She thought she was going to have to fight for it.  So she asked quietly, "Who wants some marrow?"  I can't even imagine the faces we made.  I only remember her eyes getting really big, and her smile growing across her face, "Really?" she asked.  "Are you sure?"  We were sure.  Then she cracked the bone and started dipping her finger in, as if she were digging into the jelly jar.  She sat and worked that bone until she licked it clean.  How could I make sense of that???

When we got back to Fairbanks, I talked to my parents about that incident.  I was told never to eat raw meat and besides chicken gizzards, or liver, I had never heard of eating ALL of the animal before.  Of course I never really thought about how the Inupiat people survived 10,000 years in Alaska without much fruit or vegetables.  There were vitamins in the marrow.  Vitamins that were essential for survival in the far north.

It wasn't until the last 10 years (after I retired), that I started to be curious about the healing powers of bone broth.  One year we brought our moose to Indian Valley Meats near Girdwood to be processed.  To my surprise when we came back to pick up the boxes of meat, I saw people around several garbage cans.  What in the world? I thought.  In the cans were all the bones from everyone's moose. People were rooting through them to find the best bones.  So that day I brought some home too.

I put them in the sink and scrubbed them.  One moose hair can ruin the taste of the whole batch, so I cleaned them so well they looked fresh.   I put the bones in a regular pot and boiled them all day.  It turned into great soup.  But....not bone broth.  Or so I'm told.

This year I went in to get our yearly supply of Indian Valley's  jalepeno bratwurst.  I was later than usual in the year and it was a Sunday.  I explained how sorry I was that they weren't cutting moose 'cause I wanted some bones.  The gal looked to her boss and asked, "How about we give her that box that those folks never came back to get?"  He nodded and so I ended up carrying out a 50 pound box of carribou legs.

So this week was bone broth week.  I learned some more things.....

This year I used the pressure cooker to conserve fossil fuels. We cook with Natural Gas, so shortening the time it takes to cook down the bones makes it more sustainable. I cooked the bones for 4. 5 hours at 15 pounds of pressure. That gives all of the Collagen, the protein matrix in bones, tendons, ligaments, and other flexible tissues, time to brake down. When I took off the lid the next morning, this is what I saw. Lots of fat on top.

After reading up on fat on the internet, we decided to keep the fat instead of skimming it off.  You only want to keep it, apparently, if the animal has not been farmed.  That's where all the toxins are stored.  Since these bones were from wild caribou, we decided it would be good for us.  I did try some of the fat on my dry hands.  It was good until it wore off.

I noticed, after this first batch, that the marrow couldn't come out of the bones if the bones are still in tact, duh!  So that night, I held the bones and Curt cut them in half with the sawzall.

Although that opened the bone up for the marrow to come out, it didn't just float out.  I ended up sticking the shish kabob skewers in the bone cavity and coaxing the long marrow casings out.  Next time I will cut the joints off the bone instead, so that you can see through the bone when the marrow is gone.  It requires more time sawing, but less time poking and prodding.

Finally I had all the bone broth out and brought it to a boil.   I tried some and I didn't like chunks of things, sometimes meat, sometimes marrow left floating around. So I used my immersion blender to blend it all into small pieces. I added some spices to taste and it was perfect.

I cleaned out the pressure cooker, washed my quart jars in the dishwasher and then filled the jars with broth.  I cooked them for 25 minutes at 15 pounds of pressure.

The jars in the video look grimy because, for the first time ever, the alarm went off on the pressure cooker.  My husband was wondering why we couldn't use the smaller pressure cooker knob instead of the larger one.  Note:  our last pressure cooker had a circular weight that you could place on the top at either a 10, 15 or 20 pound pressure.  Our new one just came with one weight.  In the center of the lid was the pressure gauge.

Somehow it didn't like the littler weight and when we opened it up, two jars had NO lids!  The rings were off.  Yes, I did put them on tight!  And the rubberized seals were off!  The bone broth was mixed in with the water bath.  So of course I couldn't waste it.  I boiled it down and re-canned them with the proper weight on the pressure cooker.

Here's what happened after I pulled them out!  You have to see how they dance!

I called my mom to see if she remembers trying to get marrow out of the bones, but she didn't.  She was 12 years younger than her sister and suspects that she just didn't know what was going on.  But I'm imagining on cold winter nights, my relatives would get out some bone broth from the basement (root cellar), add potatoes and carrots and had a very nice meal with some fresh bread.  At -10 degrees here today....we will be doing the same thing.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

New Year......New Decade....New Committment

Yes....2020.  I see you.  You have arrived.  Something my sister and I never could believe we'd ever see.  Mom was doing laundry in the cement basement with the old washer.  There was an electric ringer she had to put the clothes through before she could hang them up in the basement.  Sandee and I were riding our bikes or trikes around before all the clothes were hung up.  Mom wouldn't let us help.  She thought we'd get our fingers stuck in the ringer and be maimed for life.  So we were contemplating how long we'd live.  It's so funny that I remember that moment so clearly.

I'm guessing it was close to New Years 1967.   I would have been 7 and she, 5.  We were counting the years by 5s, but since she couldn't do that yet, I was announcing each year.  The grey concrete seemed to make my pronouncement of each year more profound in the moist dark basement.  "Could we live to 1975?"  Yeah!  She and I would scream.  Then we would take a lap around the 2 poles that held the basement up.  Could we live to 1980? '85? 90?  Each year was a resounding YEAH!  Until I reached 2000.  My sister screamed NO!!!  We could never live until the year 2000.  So I started figuring it out.  In 2000 we would be 39 and 41, I told her.  Would we live that long?  Well our mom was 29, and we knew plenty of people older than her.  So my sister agreed we could live that long.  And we took our obligatory lap around the poles.

Years later when we were having our 2000 bonfire on the beach near her house in Texas, waiting for the Y2K disaster to strike, I reminded her of this ceremony we had done when we were little.  She had no recollection.  But she was distracted with her 7 kids of various ages (5 adopted) swinging marshmellow sticks around the fire.

It's ominous now....but we continued the game and when I got to 2020, she said no, we would never live to see 2020.  I said we would.  We'd only be 60 and 58.   I can't remember what happened next.  Maybe mom called us to help hang the clothes on the basement clothes line, but I don't remember doing our obligatory race around the poles.

In November 2018 she died of a pulmonary embolism.  She predicted it back when she was little.  So here I am welcoming 2020 without her.  I'm the one left to remember and to document life in the 20s.  So my new decade's resolution is to do more writing about life, not only for my sister....but for my grandchildren and those who come after me.