My good pal, whom I’ll call Janet, has been making bone broth for years, thanks to friends of hers who supply her with bones from their small herd of organically raised cows. After listening to Janet rave about this curative concoction, I decided to accept her offer of a few bones and brew some broth myself. (Note to reader: I regularly make chicken stock, and I have no idea if or why it’s considered inferior to the bovine variety. But based on how much Whole Foods et al. charges for beef-based bone broth, mine is either sadly lacking something or we’re all buying a load of hooey. Perhaps literally. Just saying.)
Janet tells me she’s on her way with fresh bones. I’ve got a few gallon-sized bags at the ready, and I’ve rearranged my freezer to make room for the incoming delivery. Then I open my front door and see Janet straining to lift a bulging, black, industrial-strength garbage bag. I quietly slip the freezer bags back in the drawer.
Inside Janet’s dark sack is a bloody carcass. Well, parts of a bloody carcass, anyway. Oh look! There’s a femur. Why, hello, tibia! I see bits of red and white marbled flesh still clinging to the pure white bones.
This is where I admit I’m a vegetarian in spirit. And I spent fourteen years as a vegetarian in practice. I really, really don’t like touching, preparing or even thinking about meat (I’m looking at you, raw chicken). Even eggs can make me squeamish (what is that weird squiggly thing attached to the yolk, anyway?). If it weren’t for my family members who love nothing more than burgers and steak, I’d pretty happily live on veggies, grains and a few bites of Brie. So right now, peering into the trash bag filled with the heavy, iron-infused odor of raw meat, I feel a little ill.
Regardless, I rearrange my freezer once again. I manage to stuff in the bulky black bag and shove the drawer closed. For the next two days, I periodically open the freezer a crack, peek inside and then slam it shut. When my husband complains there’s no room for ice cream, I haul out the bones and get to work.
The bones are so big they stick out several inches above the top of my tallest soup pot, which I’ve filled with water, onion, carrots, bay leaves, garlic and seasonings, plus a couple tablespoons of white vinegar. Vinegar, Janet assures me, is critical for drawing out the marrow. Marrow, apparently, is where the magic lies. I try to think about other things — like lentils — and turn up the heat under the pot. When the broth starts to bubble, the stench of boiling bones fills the house. Janet tells me I’m to cook this stinky stock for 24 hours. About ten minutes in, I start to gag. I open every window in the house.
“What died in here?” demands one of my boys, coming into the kitchen in search of snacks.
“Something smells disgusting,” declares the other.
I don’t disagree. But then I think about all the incredible health benefits that only bone broth can provide: protection from winter colds! Immunity against Zika! Higher I.Q.! Okay, I made up the last two, but some nutritionists claim the stock can help with inflammation, allergies and fatigue, plus kick our body’s healing process into overdrive. There’s not much scientific evidence to prove or refute these claims, but at this point, I’m just looking for a reason to keep my odiferous elixir simmering for two days straight. I’m going to finish what I started, dammit, Janet.
After two days of constant cooking (plus constant complaining about the smell from my family and constant lurking near the stove by my dog), I declare the bone broth done. Janet asks how it tastes.
“Great!” I lie. Truth is, I simply cannot bring myself to sample what I’ve been simmering around the clock. My inner vegetarian, who finds this entire process somewhat revolting, is revolting. And I haven’t even completed the next fun step: Refrigerating the broth so a thick, dense layer of white cow fat can coagulate on top, which I will then scrape off.
“Don’t throw away the tallow,” says my dad, a dedicated carnivore whose been tracking my bone broth adventure with interest. “That ‘beef butter’ is liquid gold!”
“I’m sure you right,” I tell him as I scrape it into the garbage. Gross.
Another 24 hours later, I’ve strained, measured and poured my bone broth into individually labeled freezer bags, all ready to serve as the base for soup or for sipping straight. Problem is, I still haven’t tasted it. Frankly, I’m not sure I will. (I gave a little to my dog, though, and she seemed to like it. Which is nice.)
Turns out for me, making bone broth was one of those life experiences that you have to go through — all the way through — to figure out if it’s right for you. Now that I’ve done it, I’m officially declaring that bone broth just ain’t right for me.
On the other hand, kombucha. Seems this fermented, vinegary drink also has magical powers, and no living creatures (let alone carcasses) are involved in the making of this beverage. Unless you consider Symbiotic Cultures Of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY) to be living creatures.
Which I don’t.
Willow Older is a nationally and internationally published writer and a long-time professional editor. She lives in Northern California where she runs her own editorial services business and publishes a weekly newsletter called Newsy!.
Originally published at medium.com