Last night, as the temperature dropped sharply toward freezing, I put 4 cups of mixed dried beans on to soak. We had a quart of a previous soup batch for supper. At dawn (skyglow enough to see the path to the barn clearly and go break ice in the horses’ water but not yet sunlight on the tree branches here) it was just below 20F. Horses were already out of the barn, looking for sun to stand in. They still had some hay in their nets. I broke the ice (not very thick ice–the handle of the brush I scrub the water tubs with broke it easily), went back in the house, put a kettle on the stove on high, and filled a bucket with hot water from the tap, carried that back out and dumped it in the tub with the least water. Back in, repeated except with a kettle full of boiling water mixed with the tap’s hot water. Poured that in. One of the two had already drunk a little from the tub, and the ice pieces in the water were mostly melted. Next time I came out, the water was even lower…it reached a temperature the horses liked. Three “hot water” treatments and the tub leveled off. The sun had lit the creek woods, and then touched our west fences and oozed toward the barn itself.
I went back in, got out some of the things to chop up (onions, celery, carrots), pulled out the big pot (the 12 quart–can’t maneuver with the 20 quart ones now), and discovered that I had goofed…I had the soaked beans all plumped up and ready, but we didn’t have the pork hocks I thought we had. R- had had his breakfast so he took off to the nearest store that carries them, and I had a couple of eggs for breakfast, then started peeling and cutting up the basics. Change from usual routine–put some bacon drippings in the big pot and let the onions, celery, and carrots sizzle a bit in that, then added the Ro-Tel tomatoes & green chilis and the beans, with just enough water to cover, and brought them up to temperature. Then started adding seasonings. Peppercorns, spice mix, bay leaves, etc. When R- got back with the pork hocks, about an hour and a half later, I put one package in the pot, adding enough water to cover *that*, and when the pork hocks had warmed up in the soup, added the corn and green beans (both frozen) and a can of diced tomatoes in addition. And finally (well, not *finally* finally, but finally at that point before the next interruption) I retrieved a pound package of venison sausage (gift from Rancherfriends) from the big freezer and started thawing it in the old iron skillet, rolling it from one section to another and peeling off the parts that thawed, then breaking them up, then transferring them to the soup.
The next interruption was expected: Nick from Wells Solar, the company that put in our original solar system, which we’re now expanding some. I’ve been very pleased with Wells Solar from the get-go, happy to use them again. We signed the dotted (actually not dotted) lines today and handed over the first payment. Came back in from that bit of business to find the venison “log” was thawed enough to break into pieces, then quickly broken up to brown a little in the skillet before going into the soup. The venison sausage, processed by someone Rancherfriends know, has a spice mix that I like to edit a little (that’s done) and then R- volunteered to slice up the mushrooms he’d brought home along with the pork hocks. Which he’s now done, and they are also mellowing in the mix. The actual final thing to go in will be the frozen spinach, about a half hour before supper. The house smells *very* enticing. Pork, beans, vegetables, venison, mushrooms, seasonings…I had a non-soup lunch, so will be eager for hot soup after feeding the hayburners their supper. And while writing this, I enjoyed a hot chocolate spiced up with cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and cayenne pepper (very little of that!) . It’s beautiful out, but still pretty cold, though above freezing. I wanted a nap and that hot chocolate will carry me to a good one.
[Addition after nap] A very good nap indeed, and now the boys have had their supper and are working on supper hay. Hay nets filled and ready to be hung after 9 pm. When it’s really cold (it’s not right now but last night was freezing and tonight’s supposed to freeze) they get very “wet” feed, to counter horses’ tendency not to drink much when the water is really cold…and that can lead to colic (which can be fatal, as Mac’s was) and to less efficient digestion of feed (even if they don’t colic with an impaction.) Their pelleted feed and pelleted feed-through wormer will swell up and soften, and when I add a little more water, the horses get some additional water as they eat…and it takes them longer to eat (a good thing, with horses).
When I woke up from the nap, I realized I’d forgotten to put the garlic in the soup…and the pot is already really, really full so I’m not sure how I’m going to get the spinach in there. Minced garlic doesn’t take up as much room as a pound of spinach. I could pull out a quart or two into a saucepan for tonight and then try to divide the frozen spinach into lumps of appropriate size. Or just leave it out until tomorrow. Not sure which, yet.
It smells and tastes good as it is, but there’s always a little more tinkering you can do with soup. One of the easiest is changing which meat or meats you use, and if you use more than one, the proportions between them. Vegetable beef (alone) has a different flavor profile than vegetable pork, or chicken, or lamb. With two, you can shift the flavor toward the dominant or to a perfect match. And of course changing the vegetables in with it changes it, too. I stick to ones we all like, and that don’t cause anyone in the family gastric issues…and that’s so different for different people. But within a family, at least ours, it’s easy to have a basic soup recipe and then produce enough variation between batches so the saved, frozen containers aren’t all the same thing. When reconstituting a frozen soup in an emergency, any fresh vegetables you have (and need to use up before they spoil) can be added in. Last year in the week-long power outage, having two basic soup flavors in the freezer, in sufficient quantity, turned out to be more important than I’d imagined. We pretty much lived on soup, but it was a soup enlarged with whatever else we had in fridge and freezer, kept thick and hearty. Some times it was more beef-based, sometimes smoked-pork based, and I threw in packets of chicken or turkey (originally intended for lighter summer soups later on) for variation with the pork-based containers.
Sun’s going down. Time to get back in the kitchen and decide how we *are* going to have tonight’s soup. And you’ve probably now heard all you ever want to hear about me and soup.