About a year ago I gave myself permission to label all the activities that I waste my time on as “hobbies.” Sudoku? One of my hobbies now. Driving randomly around on the county roads near my house, then seeing if I can get home without GPS even though all I see is cornfields? (Weird) hobby. Watching dog training videos, even though I don’t have a dog yet? Hobby. Teaching myself to cook Korean food based on internet bloggers? Delicious, delicious hobby. But when the temperature starts to dip (please start to dip soon), then all I want to do is make soup stock.
There is something deeply satisfying about taking all of the scraps out of my fridge and turning it into an enormous pot of unctuous liquid gold that I can freeze and use anytime I want. Part of this is my Mormon frugality. I grew up with an enormous garden in the backyard and adventures of picking plums off a wild tree in the empty lot to make jelly. The huge concord grape vine that acts as a privacy fence in the backyard also makes intensely flavored bottled juice that we enjoyed all winter. Our big raspberry and strawberry patches supplied tastes of sunshine that we could freeze or bottle and open back up when we started to forget the tastes of summer. Stocking food for winter is probably in my northern DNA somewhere—a guard against the vagaries of long winters.
But making soup stock is also a kind of magic alchemy for me. How much flavor can I coax out of bones and scraps and wilted celery leaves? What do I have around the house that I can throw in? A saggy carrot, annoyingly small onions, pan drippings from dinner a couple of days ago that I carefully scraped and tupperwared away. Then I see how low of a simmer I can maintain, skim foam off the top, and wait. I usually go to bed with the pot lightly simmering and wake up to the most magical smell. I order 4 cup plastic “takeout” soup containers in bulk. I fill them with the cooled and strained stock and stack them in my deep freeze like an adult minecraft game. Chicken, pork, beef pho. All ready to defrost when I need them.
This kind of physical production is fairly far removed from my mostly intellectual profession. It requires me to engage different parts of my brain and different senses. I have to be creative and patient. It is a solitary activity, but somehow connects me to the women who have gone on before me—using every scrap they had to feed their families. It is my profoundly comforting hobby.