Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bone Broth--Delicious, Nutritious, Healing & Sustainable

A few weeks ago, I visited local farming friends and mentors, Jonas & Judi Stoltzfus who own JuJo Acres over in Perry County where they've been raising Certified Organic, Animal Welfare Approved, 100% grass-fed Limousin beef since 1972. As soon as I got out of my car, the aroma hit me like a wave. Something delicious was cooking and I secretly hoped that was lunch.

"Come here. I've got something to show you," Jonas said excitedly as he greeted me. Walking down behind their farmhouse we approached a huge bubbling stock pot. I don't mean the kind you can jars in or even deep fry turkeys in, I mean a HUGE stockpot--probably 40-50 gallons in size--and it was full of beef bones simmering away.

Jonas is a firm believer that good bone broth from grass-fed animals (not just beef) is not only nutritious and delicious, it's also healing. As a personal testament to his belief, four years ago I suffered a knee injury when I was violently kicked, hyper-extending my leg completely backwards. While I was fortunate enough not to suffer and breaks or tears, the tissue damage and instability had me petrified that I would endure joint problems for the rest of my life.

Fortunately, the injury happened in the early fall, when my bone supply is always at an all-time high. Squirreling away plenty for myself, each week I made a huge pot of my own broth, eating it in soups and stews as well as drinking it like tea. Veal bones, beef bones, pork bones, goat bones, lamb bones, turkey & chicken feet--each week a different type of broth simmered away in my slow cooker.

I stayed off my leg for nearly a month, thanks to friends helping out with farm chores. Gradually, I added in walking daily. I lost weight. I wore a brace. I cut out inflammatory foods, such as grains, dairy and processed sugar and I kept consuming bone broth--as much as quart--daily. 

Six months later without any surgery or medication, I hiked to the top of Blue Mountain atop the tunnels of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It was slow going and coming down was actually harder than going up, but I made it without any pain during or after.

A year later when I returned to see the orthopedist who told me initially that I would eventually need surgery, they were shocked to see that no scar tissue had formed. "If I didn't know how old you were, I'd say I was looking at the knee of a woman 15 years younger," I was told and considered myself healed.

The analogy I like to use when talking about food and our bodies is think about your car....if you put crappy fuel and oil into the engine, it's not going to run very well or for an extended period of time without significant problems. It's really that simple.

Sure, there are plenty of vitamins, supplements, pills, potions, lotions and elixirs all claiming to enhance our performance and keep us healthy. And you know what? They are all expensive. On top of that, you can not verify the quality of ingredients used in their production.

A few years ago, I was asked to write a guest post on a Paleo/Primal blog that catered to people interested in fitness training after I made a comment about whey powder from a farmers perspective. (You can read it here.) I was amazed at the responses I received from people I'd never met before thanking me for getting them off their powdered protein drinks. "I can't believe how much money I wasted on that stuff before discovering bone broth" and "Wow, I can't believe how much better I feel" were two of the most common statements.

Consider this, a bag of bones, depending on the size and type, will cost anywhere between $5-25 dollars and yield 1-3 gallons of bone broth while a 24 ounce tub of organic, gluten-free protein powder will set you back $45. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a fat-soluble antioxidant is $30 for a 120 capsules. Cellular supplement capsules with organic gelatin for younger looking skin will empty your wallet $48 for a 60-day supply.

"According to Sally Fallon's cookbook, Nourishing Traditions which has become the tome for the Weston A. Price Foundation, there are numerous health benefits to natural gelatin alone include:
  • Hair, nail & skin health
  • Joint recovery and maintenance
  • Aids digestion
  • Dietary collagen
  • Helps build muscle  
Composed primarily of the amino acids glycine and proline (which many people don't consume in adequate amounts from the Standard American Diet), gelatin is found in the bones, fibrous tissues and organs of animals. But here's the kicker....these amino acids are needed not only for proper skin, hair and nail health, but for optimal immune function and weight regulation! Considering Americans spend over $50 billion dollars a year on weight loss products, who would consider a bag of bones in a pot with some water could make your butt smaller?

Anyone who knows me understands that for me, it's all about quality. I can't say it enough, Life is too short to eat bad food. Nothing makes the difference between mediocre and out-of-this-world food than a rich base of good stock made from meaty bones, especially ones with lots of natural gelatin like joints, ribs, feet, heads and especially the bones of young animals such as veal, lamb and kid goats. Unlike commercial broths and stocks, there's silkiness imparted by home made broths than can't even begin to compare. And nothing beats the aroma! 

But the question that always comes up when I talk about making bone broth and stock is "How do store it?"  You can:
  • Freeze it. I like to use 1 quart freezer bag. (Hint: lay them flat on a tray to freeze first before storing. They will stack neatly. Also, freeze in ice cube trays and then store in bags. Works great when you just need a few tablespoons of liquid for cooking.)
  • Can it. Don't have room in your freezer? Don't like using plastic?  Processing in glass jars means no energy needed for storage. 
  • Use it. During the winter, I like to always keep a slow cooker (Crock Pot) going with bone broth. Or store it in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to a week. 
There are so many recipes and ways to use a good bone broth as a base--stews, soups, bisque, pho. It's also a great liquid for braising larger cuts of meat. 

And if you really want to be decadent, first, roast the nice marrow bones and then scoop out the luscious goodness, spread it on little points of sourdough toasts or just eat it plain if you're eschewing grains & gluten. Marrow is food of the Gods. Then you may make stock out of the leftover bones.  

As a livestock producer, I spend most of my time raising animals for food. Outside feeding, cleaning, birthing, raising and taking to the processor in all sorts of weather, nothing irks me more than having to waste a single part of the animals which I've so lovingly cared for in order to feed others.  Nothing goes to waste.

In my recent Painted Hand Farm Newsletter, I wrote about using poultry heads and feed for stock after receiving a barrage of negative comments when and image was posted to my Facebook page of a slow cooker full of the offending objects. Despite the trendiness of sustainability, farm-to-table and nose-to-tail eating, acceptance of using as much of the animal as possible for food is still far from hitting the mark. 

And I say this because myself, as well as every other livestock producer I know, ends up with a freezer full of bones, feet & heads originally destined to our customers for broth and stock, but we often use them ourselves, feed them to our animals, give them away or throw them out. What we want to be doing is selling them to our customers. That's why we're in this business. It takes money to raise, process and bring products to market--even the bones! Many producers rely on selling their bones and offal to offset the ever-increasing costs of processing. As regulations become more stringent, energy and labor costs rise along with that of equipment and packaging, our butchers pass those costs on to us. We need to sell every piece of the animal possible if we're going to remain in business. When customers demand cuts such as tenderloins, New York strips, kabob and stew meat, etc., we're faced with significant cut-out weights. That's why those cuts are often so expensive.  

This is not the first time I've written about bones on this blog. You can read about my adventures in bone broth HERE (Waste Nothing), HERE (One Last Hurrah) and  HERE (Dem Bones) which also includes my basic recipe for bone stock.    

Ready to give bone stock a try? See me (or any of your favorite farmers market meat vendors) at your local market & CSA and ask them about their bones. As always, you can find recipes at HERE or at the Painted Hand Farm stand at market.