The makings of greatness. (Photo/Janet Silver Ghent)
The makings of greatness. (Photo/Janet Silver Ghent)

Don’t discard that poultry carcass! Send it my way — giblets, too

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

In 1998, when my first granddaughter was born and I flew to San Diego to meet her, an empty eight-quart soup pot came along for the ride.

In my new role as Granny Janny the Soup Grandma, I wanted to ensure that baby Lindsay got a whiff of chicken soup, the stock that sustains us. Unfortunately, neither Lindsay nor her sister, Kelsey, ranks chicken soup among their favorites.

Where did I go wrong?

Text from Lindsay, now a nurse-supervisor: “I never really eat soup. I don’t think I like it. … But I’m sure your soup is great!”

From Kelsey, now a college senior: “I don’t dislike it, but I don’t find anything special in it, except maybe Panera’s soups.”

I’d like to say my soups are products of my childhood memories, but they didn’t come from my mother’s kitchen, even though she loved homemade soup. Nor did they come from my grandmother, as she was the only Jewish grandmother in my recollection who didn’t cook.

What I do remember is that when I was sick, a neighbor in our Queens apartment building would send over a pot of chicken soup.

These days, I am the soup-toting neighbor. The chicken soup may not be the stock of my childhood, but I hope it makes others feel better. I know it works for me.

I own a stash of cookbooks, but my soups never come out the same way twice. There are too many variables, including the chicken itself. I keep a bone bag in the freezer. Yes, I collect bones after family dinners, though I’m reluctant for dinner guests to catch me in the act.

When I’ve amassed at least three pounds — a turkey carcass is the best — it’s time to make stock. I fill a pot with water, toss in the bones, bring the pot to a boil and add an array of root vegetables, herbs and spices. When the scum rises to the surface, I use a small measuring cup to skim off the goop.

After the stock simmers for at least another couple of hours, I strain it again using a colander, this time removing all the bones and vegetables. Then I add sautéd vegetables and cooked rice or barley to the stock and call it soup. I may add leftover chicken or turkey at the last minute. Overcooked bird doesn’t fly in my kitchen.

Unfortunately, noodles don’t work terribly well either unless you’re going to eat right away.

Meanwhile, I keep experimenting. Penzeys’ Old World and Krakow Nights spice mixes help approximate some of the aromas I remember from decades back. I favor parsnips, celery, carrots, onions, leeks, garlic and soupçons of herbs from my garden. I tried to grow dill, but critters would polish it off before it landed in my soup, so I sometimes add fennel fronds.

My chicken soup is not like Grandma Sylvia’s, Aunt Sadie’s or Bubbie Frieda’s, nor is it the soup my husband’s mother made. She used chicken feet, which I can’t find in the supermarkets around here, though I found a website that sells them for $16.95 a pound. There are other techniques too. One friend plunges a whole uncooked chicken into a pot of water. She then serves the soup with bones in the bowl as well as vegetables that have been cooked to oblivion. It is tasty, bringing up memories of the legendary Lindy’s in New York, but it would not go over well with my family. While I’ve been known to enjoy mushy carrots and chicken that cooked for hours, my husband likes his carrots crunchy and his poultry minimally cooked.

When I bring soup to sick friends or relatives, their praise is effusive, and they share their own childhood memories. But after my stepdaughter’s first child was born, she commented on the “strange animal protein” floating in her bowl. Was it a fly? No, it was dark meat! Her family favors white meat, boneless and skinless. My other stepdaughter is freaked out by what she calls “carcass,” and one year when I added giblets to the turkey gravy on Thanksgiving, both sisters greeted it with cries of “eww, gross.”

Soup is all about time, and while an Instant Pot or a pressure cooker can speed the process, soup is still a time-consuming affair, what with shopping, chopping and straining. Maybe that’s why it’s the province of grandmas like me. What I’m really doing is creating memories.

So instead of discarding that carcass, send it my way. Ditto on the giblets.

This column is adapted from Janet Silver Ghent’s forthcoming memoir, “Love Atop a Keyboard.”

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of “Love Atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].