Two months into the stay-home order due to COVID-19, I made my first veggie broth.
I’d been reading How to Cook a Wolf by MFK Fisher, published in 1942 when wartime shortages of food and the fuel to cook it were extreme. I turned to this book for comfort because even though Fisher confronts stark and terrifying times, she writes about “getting by” with exuberance.
For example, using up every scrap of leftover food is described not as grim survival but as an “absorbing and profitable pastime.” In her plucky voice, she offers solutions to shortages: Not enough fuel to heat your stove? Put the ingredients in a pot with water, heat to a hard boil, immediately shut off the precious heat source. Place the pot in a box lined with hay and cover it with an oil cloth. Let it sit twice as long as you would have simmered it on a stove in abundant times, and voila: dinner.
I’m not sure how I’d make veggie broth without electricity, and I hope I never have to find out, but saving veggie scraps and turning them into broth eased my pandemic anxiety. It gave me a feeling of alchemical power. Like a magician, I could turn scraps into nourishment.
While prepping vegetables for other meals, I’d stack carrot peelings and onion tops next to the cutting board then stash them in a bag marked “DIY veggie broth” and put it in the freezer. When the bag bulged with swirls of green, orange, and purple, I poured it all into our largest pot, filled it with water, boiled it gently for just over an hour, then strained it through the same colander we use to drain pasta.
I store it in canning jars in the fridge. Each batch of broth comes out a different color and smell, but each one has tasted better than what I’d been buying in a box, and it makes a lush base for creamy orzo, simmering dried beans, and chicken and dumplings.
In 1942, MFK Fisher encouraged readers to keep an empty gin bottle in the ice box to collect leftover vegetable juices—everything from dregs of that morning’s tomato juice to liquid from canned beans. She called this elixir a “veritable treasure jug for vitamins and minerals that otherwise would have gone down the drain.” Pour a glassful of this elixir now and then, she advised, and you will “feel astonishingly energetic—almost human, really.”
I’m still waiting to feel astonishingly energetic, but making veggie broth calms my nerves and grounds me. It reminds me of how little I truly need to survive, how much satisfaction those few things provide, and the comfort I feel when I slow down to pay attention to the basics.