Stock is an excellent value-added product for the farmer, one that ensures he gets a fair price for the entire cow. I was fortunate to witness stock making at an Amish butcher shop. The process can easily be carried out on the farm, even in the open air.
The main piece of equipment involved is a large cast iron pot that holds 120 gallons. They are no longer made but you can often pick them up for about $2000 from butchers who are modernizing or going out of business. They are heated by a propane-powered burner underneath.
Here’s how it’s done: After butchering and cutting up the cow, cut the bones into large pieces. Fill the kettle with the carcass parts, including the heads. Cover with water and vinegar and let sit cold for as long as 12 hours.
Next, heat the kettles at a low temperature for about 20-25 hours. The liquid should never boil, just simmer slowly. Midway through add chopped celery and carrots.
At the end of cooking, some of the bones are soft enough to crush by hand and the skulls crumble as they are lifted out of the kettle. The bones are clean of meat, marrow and connective tissue.
Lift the larger pieces of bone out individually. They can be discarded but even better would be to grind them up and add to the compost heap.
Strain the smaller pieces of bone, meat and vegetables into a bucket through cheesecloth. You can attach the cheesecloth to the bucket with clothes pins. Press the strained material with a ladle to remove all the liquid.
When the stock is cool, skim as much of the fat as possible from the surface. Transfer to containers and freeze or refrigerate.
The actual work involved–cutting up the bones and vegetables, straining and putting into containers–adds up to about three hours. The result is about 50 quarts of stock, which sell for $9 per quart. That’s $150 per hour of labor to make a nutritious product out of materials that would otherwise be thrown away.
And that doesn’t count the leftover strained material, which can be given to the chickens!
Nine dollars per quart is actually a bargain for the consumer because this stock is very rich. It can be diluted with equal parts of water and still have enough flavor and richness for soups, stews and gravies.
To streamline the process, don’t worry about skimming any scum, or removing all the fat that congeals. The final consumer can do this if she or he wants a clear “fancy” stock.
The photos opposite were taken after butchering a cow, but you can also make stock with deer bones. During hunting season, I buy the deer bones from my local Amish butcher. They are much less expensive than cow bones and would otherwise be thrown away. I haven’t noticed any significant flavor differences, and I like the idea of using this under-appreciated and under-utilized native resource. When making your own stock at home, you can save all the soft meat leftover after straining (unless you have chickens, of course). Picking the meat from the bones is a tedious process, but it is worth the trouble, because this wonderful tender meat can be used in stews, sloppy joes, tacos, etc. And your dog will love tucking in to the soft bones.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2004.