This past weekend, I spent the better part of Saturday making jam with my Aunt Belinda. It was a blast from the past — while I’ve taken up the family mantle of jam-making for a while now, my “Auntie Bel” and her mother, my late Great Aunt Mim, were the ones responsible for teaching me how to make jam in the first place.
In late summer, Bel and I would drive to Mim’s house, where she’d already set up everything for the annual jamming session. The kitchen would be invariably spotless, all of the counters lined with towels in anticipation of splatters of boiling jam as it sputtered in (and out of) the pot.
I’d like to think I was a good little helper back then, helping to measure out sugar, cut and mash the strawberries, stir the boiling jam, and wipe off the jars before we’d seal them closed. Some of the scarier parts of the process (lifting the jars in and out of the boiling water bath and ladling the hot jam) were out of my purview, but I was just happy to be involved.
Now that I’ve been cooking for years, my fingertips are about as sensitive as asbestos mitts. And yet, it was still a relief when my Aunt Bel offered to be the jam ladler this year. It is no small feat to gauge just how full to fill the jars, and I usually manage to make an impressive mess despite using a jam funnel. Belinda has a few more decades of jam-making experience than I do, and it shows.
After making four batches of jam (three strawberry-rhubarb and one peach), we were finally finished. 16 pounds of fruit, ungodly amounts of organic cane sugar, and a whole lot of stirring yielded about three dozen jars, which I look forward to giving out as holiday gifts in a couple months. I may make a few other batches of canned holiday treats this year (I’m thinking of trying my hand at apple or pumpkin butter, and perhaps a cranberry chutney), but the big push is over.
It’s time to dig into some other cooking projects, including the long-simmered soups and stews I look forward to making every year. This week’s recipe for Beef Shank Soup is a fall staple around here, and the recipe yields about a quart and a half of extra broth, perfect for incorporating into risotto, gravy, or other savory soups later in the week.
The recipe consists of two parts — first, you simmer the shanks together with aromatics to make the broth. Next, the broth is strained, some is set aside, and the rest is combined with the meat and some fresh vegetables, simmered until just tender. If you’d like to make this recipe on a weekday, the broth-making part of the recipe can be done in a crock pot — just combine everything in the pot, set it on low, and let it simmer all day long. Then when you come home, all that’s left to do is strain the broth and make the soup, which can be done in about a half hour’s time.
Beef Shank Soup (printer-friendly version)
serves 4 (with extra broth)
2 cross-cut beef shanks (about 1 lb. each)
2 lbs. beef soup bones
3 medium carrots, halved and cut into 3″ pieces
1 medium parsnip, halved and cut into 3″ pieces
2 bay leaves
10 black peppercorns
2 medium carrots, peeled, halved, and sliced 1/8″ thick
1/2 small head of cabbage, cored and sliced into 1″ squares
1/2 a medium yellow onion, diced into 1/2″ pieces
1/4 lb. (about 8 medium) crimini mushrooms, halved and sliced 1/8″ thick
1 tsp. kosher salt
1. Place the beef shanks, soup bones, carrots, parsnip, bay leaves, and peppercorns in a large (6-quart) soup pot. Add water to cover ingredients by 3 inches.
2. Over medium heat, bring the pot up to a simmer. Turn heat down to low, cover, and let simmer for 3 hours.
3. Use a slotted spoon to remove the shanks and place them on a cutting board or plate to cool — they will fall apart easily, so be careful when lifting them out of the hot broth. Once cool, remove all of the shank meat from the bones and break it into bite-sized pieces.
4. Strain the broth to remove the carrots, parsnips, and remaining bones. Add 3 cups of the broth back to the soup pot, reserving the rest for later use.
5. To the soup pot with the 3 cups of broth, add the beef shank meat, along with the sliced carrots, cabbage, onion, mushrooms, and salt. Place over medium heat, bring up to a boil, then turn down to low and let simmer for 20 minutes.
6. Taste for seasoning, add additional salt if desired, then ladle into bowls and serve.