Monday, December 6, 2010

Defining SOLE and Making Soup

Some things are more difficult than others. Making soup is easy. I love it, do it almost weekly, and feel pretty darn good about it. Deciding whether or not I can consider my soup sustainable, organic, local, and ethical (the objectives of the dark days challenge) is a bit more difficult.

I actually made this particular soup last Wednesday, day one of the dark days challenge. I had planned for my first dark days dinner to be freshly killed duck glazed with chokecherry barbecue sauce paired with a local chokecherry wine (that ended up being the second meal, a post will come) but I had an awful cold on Wednesday and I didn't want to eat glazed duck. I wanted soup. I decided to wait until I felt better to make my dark days debut meal. I started to plan the soup.

I was already writing about our friend Marty and all the beans I had purchased in preparation for the dark days, so I had given myself a taste for beans. Our porch has a bag of lovely carrots our neighbor grew, so I had the requisite root vegetables. I have some dried sage hanging around that I harvested from the hoop house a few month back and dried in the fridge (a frost free refrigerator is a great way to dry small quantities of herbs by the way), so I had some herbs to accompany my beans. The soup would be simple, but tasty, and hey - the ingredients I had come up with would satisfy the dark days challenge after all. I could make my first dark days challenge meal on the first day of the challenge and still satisfy my "sick bed" cravings. 

Except...the stock and meat that I was planning to use came from leftover Thanksgiving turkey my husband had set simmering on the stove earlier in the day. Leftover turkey my mom bought downstate. It may have been local to her, she wasn't really clear on that, but I don't think so. She did try to get a local one, bless her, but I think she ended up with a nice, possibly organic, bird shipped in from parts unknown. It was a tasty one though.

I was left in a quandary. There was no question as to whether I would make the soup. I would, did, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. But, should I post it for dark days? I really want to take this challenge seriously. I want to consider the source of my food before it goes on my table, find the most local and sustainable options, and share my finds with other interested folks. The truth is though, I have given a lot of thought to the meat that I eat already. Non-local meat, especially poultry, is something of a rarity in my house these days. Other than the occasional ground beef purchase made when we are returning home late and hungry and need something substantial we can cook up fast, our meat is either raised (or sometimes hunted) by ourselves or by a farm about 10 miles away. The turkey was kind of an anomaly.

My mom always makes turkey soup after Thanksgiving, but my parents are getting ready to move so she wouldn't be able to. She gave me the carcass because she knew I would do it justice, though my soup didn't feature the rice and frozen mixed vegetables she favors. 

I had to make a decision about the challenge, how to define my parameters, and whether or not to post my soup.

The word sustainable is what finally made me decide that this soup, while not entirely local and probably not entirely organic, fits the challenge just fine. Using every last piece of turkey while it was still good was the most sustainable thing I could do in the situation. People, including me, waste a surprising amount of food, and, as a food producer, it makes me sad.

I know that this issue (and unforeseen others) is going to come up again in the challenge. I will need to decide whether to use items I already have (for example, 20 pounds of wheat berries grown in Montana) or purchase new items just for the challenge. As you can tell from my decision about the soup, I am leaning towards using the resources I have before buying new. Using the things on hand to nourish my self and family feels like the right thing to do, but maybe I am just taking the easy way out? I  would love to know how other participants plan to deal with this dilemma if it comes up for them. Please let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts on the subject.

The other thing that pushed me towards posting this dinner was the beans. They were the star of the soup. I used some of the hutterites we grew. Hutterite soup beans are on the Slow Food Ark of Taste list, a catalog of food items Slow Food considers both delicious and endangered. This was my first opportunity to taste them, and I agree, hutterites are delicious. They are extremely soft and buttery with excellent white bean flavor. They were also really easy to grow and high yielding. I can't imagine why they would be endangered, perhaps there just isn't enough people out there growing heirloom beans. We got our seed from Fedco if you are interested in growing some yourself.

As the stars, the beans deserved special treatment. If you are intimidated by dry beans, don't be. Their treatment takes a little time and planning, but not that much, and the actual cooking of them is as simple as boiling water.

On the left is a series of pictures showing the beans through all the steps it takes to get them ready for cooking. Step one, pick over the dry beans and wash them, as you would any fresh vegetable. Step two, place them in a pan, cover with water, bring the water to a boil. Use about two cups water for every cup of beans. The beans will get wrinkly as the water heats up. Step three, cover the pan and remove it from the heat. This picture shows the beans through a glass lid, all saggy skinned in their steamy bath. Step four, soak the beans for at least an hour, or until you are ready to use them. the last picture shows the beans after about five hours of soaking.

That's it. All I did was boil water and the beans are ready to use in my soup.

Hutterite Bean Soup with Turkey and Sage

What you see below looks like a recipe, but it isn't really. It's more a description of some soup I made. This is simply how I cook day to day. I bring foods I have together to make something (hopefully) good. Often, that something is soup. If you want to do something similar chicken would be good in place of the turkey. Hopefully you have used up your Thanksgiving turkey by now.
  • 1 1/2 cups dry hutterite soup beans, prepared as above
  • 3 cups turkey stock and/or bean soaking liquid
  • 1 teaspoon (or more, depending on the strength of your sage) dried sage, crumbled
  • freshly ground pepper
  • two medium carrots, sliced into coins
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cooked turkey (mine had been roasted, and simmered as the stock cooked)
  • a handful of dried chard, or other greens, fresh is fine too, or leave them out.
1. Combine the beans, stock, sage and pepper. You could also add onions, salt, and other seasonings. My stock was extra flavorful because the turkey still had stuffing in it when it was put to simmer. I didn't need to add salt, onions, or much in the way of seasoning to my soup.

2. Simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.

3. Add carrots and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.

4. Add turkey, simmer for about 10 more minutes or until the turkey is hot and the beans are very tender.

5. Remove from the heat and stir in your chosen greens. I almost always finish soup with greens.

The finished soup (I like them thick). It served 2 adults and one toddler,
with leftovers for one lunch the next day.


  1. I am having similar thoughts on SOLE food and my future posts. For me it has come down to deciding if I am using the challenge to improve my eating/shopping habits or if it is just an exercise in perfection. I have decided that I will be using what I have in the house rather than waste food (which like you said, is not sustainable anyway). Look forward to reading more of your challenge posts!

  2. The way I see it SOLE ingredients are a great guiding set of principles, and local is what you make it and how you define it. I'm betting some meals you make for the challenge will have more SOLE ingredients then others.
    It isn't a competition, its all about the spirit and idea of the challenge.
    My approach to the challenge is 'make the best you can out of what you got!'
    I can't wait to see what you'll be cooking up all winter!

  3. Good points both. I frequently turn things into "excerises in perfection" and can be remarkably competitive as well. Hmm...maybe I will end up learning more about myself than about my food choices through this challenge. I do already eat a lot of local foods though. I just don't want to let my posts for this challenge turn into me simply showing off the way I have been eating for years. I look forward to reading what you both cook up too! Thanks for the input.

  4. Looks really good! I tried hutterites a year or two ago (my dad spent some time growing up in a hutterite community, in Ohio I think) but the beans just didn't do well

  5. Too bad they didn't work out. They grew great for us. We had a longer than usual season last year though, so I hope we have success with them in the future. We pulled them just before the first hard freeze and they could have used another 2 or 3 days in the field if we had been able to leave them. They were honestly the best soup bean I have ever cooked with though, so it will be worth it if we have to fuss over them some years.