Wintertime always seems full of good cheer and warming foods: hearty soups and stews, bright cranberries and pomegranate seeds, hearty root vegetables.  These foods all provide seasonal nutrients that we need to stay healthy and properly nourished.  In my opinion, probably due to my body’s intense need for it, the heart of cold season nourishing foods is bone broth.

Bone broth is quite simply bones simmered in water with vegetables.  To make a bone broth you can use clean marrow bones with no meat, meaty bones, the leftover carcass of a roasted chicken, duck, goose, etc.  I have even been looking into making pork stock with the bones of a pastured pig after I find a local source here in Arizona.  The possibilities with stock are endless, and can be individualized to what you prefer.  Just know that you are making a traditional food, and one of the most nourishing at that!

January is as good a time as any to begin to incorporate stock into your weekly and daily foods.  Perhaps you already make stock and are used to the process.  Perhaps you are brand new to making stock and seeking a tutorial.  Perhaps you got off track a bit with the holidays and now you need to get back to more stock.  Perhaps the wintertime is hard on your immune system and you have been sick a lot this season.

Why Do I Need Stock?  You know how you crave Taco Bell, or Doritos, or Chinese food?  I don’t know if any of you still eat processed food, but I have not had any for over a year.  And I still think that Taco Bell sounds good, even though I know better.  That is how powerful these food additives are to our brains and body chemistry.  And fortunately I do know better so I can make nourishing choices that truly satisfy a food craving.

I know that the reality is not only that it won’t taste as good as I remember (you tastebuds truly do go through a change when you switch to real food), but I will feel terrible!  Monosodium glutamate (MSG) gives me a racing heart and a fuzzy brain.  After you don’t have MSG in your diet for a while, you can really isolate how it makes you feel when you do have it.

On the Weston A. Price Foundation “Broth is Beautiful” page, it says that:

Research on gelatin came to an end in the 1950s because the food companies discovered how to induce Maillard reactions and produce meat-like flavors in the laboratory. In a General Foods Company report issued in 1947, chemists predicted that almost all natural flavors would soon be chemically synthesized. And following the Second World War, food companies also discovered monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food ingredient the Japanese had invented in 1908 to enhance food flavors, including meat-like flavors. Humans actually have receptors on the tongue for glutamate. It is the protein in food that the human body recognizes as meat.

Any protein can be hydrolyzed to produce a base containing free glutamic acid or MSG. When the industry learned how to make the flavor of meat in the laboratory, using inexpensive proteins from grains and legumes, the door was opened to a flood of new products including bouillon cubes, dehydrated soup mixes, sauce mixes, TV dinners and condiments with a meaty taste. “Homemade” soup in most restaurants begins with a powdered soup base that comes in a package or can and almost all canned soups and stews contain MSG, often found in ingredients called hydrolyzed porteins. The fast food industry could not exist without MSG and artificial meat flavors to make “secret” sauces and spice mixes that beguile the consumer into eating bland and tasteless food.

I like to think of stock as the “real” MSG, but of course I am joking!  It’s more accurate to say that MSG is the Great Homemade Stock Cover-Up.  When you crave MSG, it is your body telling you to eat real food.  You need a real stock for a soup base.  You need real sea salt teeming with minerals.  You need savory stock reduction sauces to ladle over veggies and mashed potatoes.  You don’t need Top Ramen or fast food.  You only think you do.  Don’t be fooled.

I grew up on Top Ramen and other MSG-laden canned soups and snack foods.  I am fortunate that my mom also made a lot of homemade foods for dinner that were much higher quality.  And we really didn’t know any better.  Fortunately there is always more to know!

So you can ditch the packaged foods that say “MSG”, “disodium glutamate”, “autolyzed”, “hydrolyzed”, “citric acid”, or “natural flavors” somewhere in the list of ingredients.  That is where MSG hides, legally.  Put your effort into reading labels at first and omitting these additives from your foods.  Then take the next step and make a stock every week (or every couple of days!)

How Can I Use It?  Beef stock is excellent to make as a base for a hearty stew or for French onion soup.  I have several pounds of beef bones in my chest freezer from ordering an entire cow last fall to split with a few local friends.  Typically there are two kinds of beef bones: marrow bones and meaty bones.  Use a combination of both if you can, but it is not necessary.

And as always, know that stock is incredibly nourishing and healing.  If you are sick, make sure to drink broth.  If you are on the GAPS diet, especially Intro Diet, then you will definitely be making a lot of stock!  A good general rule for stock is to have at least one cup of it per day.  More may be needed for additional healing.

Equipment List:

  • large stockpot, lead-free French oven with lid, or a lead-free slow cooker
  • large lead-free baking dish
  • large mixing bowl and large stainless steel strainer
  • half gallon glass jars and lids for storing

Beef Stock

1 1/2 pounds beef marrow bones, preferably grass-fed (buy grass-fed beef and bones here)
1 1/2 pounds beef meaty bones (knuckle or neck), preferably grass-fed (buy grass-fed beef and bones here)
4-5 whole carrots, unpeeled and whole
4-5 stalks celery, whole
1 onion, unpeeled, cut in half or whole
2 bay leaves (buy organic herbs here)
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns (buy organic spices here)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (buy apple cider vinegar here)
sea salt to taste (buy unrefined sea salt here)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large baking dish, brown the meaty bones for 15-20 minutes or so.  Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes.  Transfer the meaty bones to the a large stock pot, French oven, or slow cooker.
  2. In the large pot with the browned meaty bones, add raw marrow bones to the bottom.  Then add carrots, celery, onion, bay leaves, and peppercorns on top of the bones.  Cover with water, leaving at least an inch below the top of the pot.  Add the apple cider vinegar and leave at room temperature, covered, for 1 hour.
  3. If using a stock pot or French oven, move to the stove and bring to a full boil.  Then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer on low for at least 12 hours and up to 72 hours.  If using a slow cooker, simply turn on high, cover, and let cook for 12-72 hours as well.  (I put my slow cooker in the backyard in summertime.)
  4. If the water level gets too low, simply add more to make sure the bones nad vegetables are submerged.  You can see below that after about 24 hours my slow cooker water level was too low and I had to add some more to get the stock through to the next day for a full 48 hours of simmering.
  5. When the stock is done simmering, turn off the heat and uncover.  Strain the stock through a large strainer and put into a large jar or bowl.  There will be a layer of melted fat on top.  The amount of fat rendered depends on how much fat was in your bones and remaining meaty portions.  In this batch I got several inches of tallow!
  6. If there is a lot of tallow, simply pour it off (I did in the this one, but couldn’t get it all).  Do this carefully so you do not lose any stock.  Then place in the refrigerator to make sure the remaining tallow will harden.  Then strain out the hardened tallow (and save for sauteeing, deep frying, or even making candles!)

*Edited to add: You can reuse the bones in the stock pot at least three times.  Just strain out the stock, discard the vegetables, and start fresh with the beef bones again.  Add new vegetables, cover with water, add vinegar, and simmer another couple of days.  Very economical!