Who Needs Yoga When Making Soup Is a Form of Meditation?

Who Needs Yoga When Making Soup Is a Form of Meditation?

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Anne Bramley
Apr 22, 2017
(Image credit: GettyImages)

The world is changing. This isn't just an understatement about politics. It's a truism about the equinox, that sliver of time when one season becomes another, when we exhale the old life and breathe in the new. Some of us free our houses from every last crumb for Passover. Some fill it with Peeps for Easter. Plenty use spring to make a fresh start, and for others still it's a whole new (Persian) year. I am cleaning the winter out of my freezer. I have bones to pick.

Back in September, as I turned from quick, cool summer food back to the patient warmth of the oven, I plotted a long line of roasts: a rare rib of beef, the occasional lamb leg, but mostly many frugal chickens. In October and November, after I'd carved a roasted bird and we'd all feasted, I stashed the leftover carcass along with the abandoned wings and a menagerie of gnawed bones in the freezer. When I warmed the house on a cold night in January or February with slow braising breasts and thighs, I started with a whole bird, jointed it, and then banked the discarded back, with its hard-to-reach flesh, where it would be safe until I needed it.

I come from a long line of women who have eked out dinners from whatever was left behind. From them I learned to take something ossified and make it flow long before bone broth became a thing. Water and salt can stretch the merest insinuation of meat much further than you can imagine. (The glorious rich fat rendered from cast-off skin helps.) And although my life is different from theirs, I still rely on a bird that can make at least two more meals of soup when it's already fed three twice.


But as spring begins to edge out soup season, I dig back into the freezer for any forgotten remnants and pull out my stock pot one last time for a bone-picking ritual.


Yes, I dip into the reserves all winter, experimenting with pho(ish) stocks deep with anise and nam pla, or soups running red with Mexican ancho. I rotate through stretchers like barley and brown rice and the dirty-faced potatoes and celeriac of cold months. And there is always plenty of old-fashioned chicken noodle soup — heavy on the onions and carrots. But as spring begins to edge out soup season, I dig back into the freezer for any forgotten remnants and pull out my stock pot one last time for a bone-picking ritual.

Here's what you do: Take a pot and dump into it every last wing, femur, and neck you've squirreled away since autumn began. It doesn't matter if it's raw or already half-baked. Cover with water and stoke the flame. Walk away. Read a book. Clean the house. Plan the resistance. Research the history of making soup from bones: Discover the phrase "time immemorial." Skim if you want to, but it really isn't necessary. It's all about whether you prefer clarity or depth. Write a thank-you letter to the person who taught you not to let an opportunity go to waste. Commit blasphemy: Toss in an old-fashioned stock cube (especially if your bone bank balance was running a little low). Add a diced onion to sweeten the broth as it melts and almost disappears. (Add it just at the end instead if you like life with more bite.) When those old bones have had a good, long, steaming soak for several hours, when they've rendered up their essence and have no more life to give, fish them out and let them rest. Then pick.


There's something amazingly contemplative about picking the meat from bones. It's quiet. It's rhythmic. It's purposeful and productive. It's better than yoga or meditation. You can keep your thoughts right there in the minute or let them wander off along contemplative paths to all the things you never have time to think about.


There's something amazingly contemplative about picking the meat from bones. It's quiet. It's rhythmic. It's purposeful and productive. It's better than yoga or meditation. You can keep your thoughts right there in the minute or let them wander off along contemplative paths to all the things you never have time to think about.

Like spring itself, soup has that way of making something out of nothing. Soup is nourishment ex nihilo. Think stone soup and soup kitchens. It builds community through the making and the ladling and the slurping. Both comfort and abundance are always built right into soup even if it masquerades as frugality.

You can make soup and pick bones anytime you want. But this freezer-clearing, winter-passing ritual of turning all your leftovers into a celebration of plenty is a great way to give up the past and look forward to the future. This last soup of the season tells us something new and fresh is yet to come (again).

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