The boiling bag.

thWe had a marvelous soup the other night, based on a friend’s recipe for sausage-potato-kale soup. Ours utilized some of the kale we dehydrated last year (boy, has that stuff hung on), some potatoes freshly dug from our garden and some sausage bought months ago at a deep discount. (I love my freezer.)

It was supposed to have been kielbasa but spicy Cajun links were what we had. I sliced two links into coins and sauteed them until slightly crisp in a cast-iron skillet in which onions had already caramelized. Decided that a finely diced carrot wouldn’t hurt a bit, either.

The base was the real star, however — a rich homemade stock the likes of which we will never taste again. No two of our stocks ever taste exactly the same. That’s because the contents of the boiling bag vary every time.

The boiling bag is a bag in the freezer that receives vegetable scraps, bones and sometimes even bits of fruit. This batch had several apple cores and there was a slight sweetness under the richness of the other ingredients — which this time included beet and turnip greens and stems, onion skins, carrot tops, and both pork and chicken bones. Put it all in the slow cooker overnight and you wake up to a lovely, intriguing aroma.

Boy, was that soup delicious. It’s all that DF and I had for dinner. No bread, no salad — just soup.

Giving scraps one more chance at usefulness

We amused ourselves by trying to figure out how much that meal cost, since the ingredients were all at hand. Sure, we paid for the seed potatoes and at some point had paid for the beet and turnip seeds (they were a few years old but still sprouted). The Cajun sausage had been on sale and I used only two of the approximately 14 links in the package.

And the stock? I consider it free, given that (a) it was made of things that would have otherwise have been tossed and (b) eight hour of slow-cooker use on the “low” setting barely registers on our monthly electric bill.

So let’s just say that it was a darned cheap supper — one among many, since every time the boiling bag fills up we make stock and freeze it. Thus all we have to do is grab some stock and add whatever vegetables and/or meat and/or starch we have on hand.

I’d urge you to start a boiling bag of your own. Throw in whatever you’ve pared off the veggies, and toss in those gnawed-upon chicken drumsticks or pork-chop bones. As noted, I’ve taken to throwing in apple cores because why not?

When you’ve got a full bag, throw in some salt and boil for at least an hour. We like the slow cooker because it uses practically no energy and there’s no need to worry about it boiling dry.

Every soup we’ve ever made has been different, as noted, but they have two things in common: They’re incredibly cheap and quite delicious. DF says our meals taste great because they’re prepared and shared with love. Agreed. But a good stock helps, too.

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  1. I have just started making soups with whatever I have left over. I think the boiling bag would be a good thing for me to try. Chicken noodle has been a favorite since last year…it is so easy to make. I usually use the leftover chicken on the full chicken that just doesn’t get eaten otherwise. I clean out my fresh veggie drawer with soon to be thrown away celery, carrots, onions and it is delicious and easy. I made a chuck roast for beef bbq that we are having on our last camping trip and the juice was so thick, I put it in the refrigerator to make french onion soup for Sunday football. I love saving a few $ on the food bill!

    • Donna Freedman

      Definitely a good way to use up a chicken carcass. From time to time we get one of those lovely Costco rotisserie chickens and although we pick it pretty cleanly there’s still flavor left on the bones.
      Whenever DF roasts a beef or fowl he saves the drippings, defats them and puts them in the freezer for future gravies or, sometimes, to add to soup/stew. We both believe that wasting food is wrong.

  2. Excellent idea and I will take your example. I think though, I will stop short of the ‘gnawed-upon chicken drumsticks’. I don’t like the idea of someone else’s chicken bone even though it has been well boiled. Thanks for the idea.

  3. I think this is a good idea because you aren’t wasting extra items and the food is developing more flavor as well.

    • Donna Freedman

      Agreed — stuff that would have been tossed gets one more shot at usefulness. Well, a next-to-last shot: The boiled veggie scraps (but not the bones) that get strained out are tossed into the compost.
      It’s great to have the makings for another soup or gravy on hand. Oh, and yesterday I boiled a ton of black beans, seasoned and with a touch of olive oil; we ate some and will freeze the rest for later taquitos or soup, and DF reduced the black bean broth in a skillet on the stove to a little under two cups. That got frozen, too, and will be used in a future soup.
      We’re all about the recycling here. In her book “An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace,” Tamar Adler calls it “catching your tail.”

  4. My best stock was post Thanksgiving when I had both chicken and turkey, that was liquid gold! We’ve just picked up bone in pork so I’m hoping that’ll create a master stock.

    I tend to strip the meat off the bones and toss the bones into the boiling bag but never kept the trimmed off tops and tails of veggies (since I don’t wash those bits first) or fruit cores so that’ll be a new thing to try. Do you just toss it into the crockpot and add water or do you put it in some sort of cheesecloth sort of thing for easier clean up after?

    • Kathleen Benson

      I was wondering the same about the “boiling bag” — is it cheesecloth? This is something that I definitely want to start doing

    • Donna Freedman

      Nope, just empty it into the slow cooker and add water and salt. It’s a bit sloppy to clean up — we pour it through a colander — but I personally don’t want to use and toss a lot of cheesecloth. “Boiling bag” is just the freezer bag in which it’s stored, although it’s not even a freezer bag but rather an empty bread bag.
      Wonder what a post-Thanksgiving stock made of turducken would taste like?

      • Ooooh …. I suggested trying turducken to PiC but since it might just be the two of us this year, I don’t think he’s going for it. Maybe we should get some roast duck from the local Chinese place; it’s so rich that I bet just a few servings’ worth of bones will add great flavor.

        Boiling bag: I just use an old vegetable bag too, and cook stovetop with a straining thing as it’s easier on me but using the crockpot to save energy is compelling.

  5. Lazyretirementgirl

    At the moment, I have a ham hock bone, two corncobs and the skin and seeds from a giant spaghetti squash in my bag of tricks in the freezer. Needs an onion and some dried mushrooms to attain nirvana, in the big crockpot. Yum.

    • Donna Freedman

      We have several ham bones in the freezer and also what DF calls “hammy essence” — again, the defatted drippings. When I come back from my East Coast trip I am going to make the nicest pot of pinto beans, with cornbread on the side. Just the thing for a cold winter night.

  6. jestjack

    Thank you for the timely article. Don’t know about up North but food prices in this neck of the woods are just nuts….especially red meat. My Grandfather used to what you describe. He would save his leftovers from the week and on Friday night would make what he called “goulash”. Sometimes it was a soup other times it was a bit thicker and went on a bed of rice. Thanks again for the article…

    • Donna Freedman

      Here, too. Our cutoff point for red meat is $5 a pound; anything less than that and we might consider buying it. But we sure are eating a lot less of it due to the price hike. I don’t know how families are managing with food as expensive as it is.

  7. How much water do you add to the crockpot? I admit I have to start being more frugal that I am. Two years ago I used a large pot and boiled all the turkey bones leftover from Thanksgiving, and just covered to top of bones. All I seemed to get was a ton of grease that I took off and tasteless broth. Maybe I am doing something wrong?

    • Donna Freedman

      A few cups, maybe. You want the stock to be concentrated, not watery. Definitely add salt, and you could add herbs or other seasonings if you like; we just wait and season the soup.
      When boiling turkey bones I let it sit overnight and skim off the fat. For chicken carcasses I skim off the fat and use it to saute onions; never did that with turkey fat, but I expect it would work just as well. And for either type of poultry I add onion and maybe some celery if we have it; then again the boiling bag always has onion skins in it and often carrot tops.
      And I would recommend borrowing or buying that Tamar Adler book to which I linked in another comment on the page. It will have you looking at food and meal planning differently. If you only want to read it and it’s not in your library, ask for an inter-library loan. Or when someone asks what you want for your birthday, name that book.
      Good luck with your frugal journey. Food is still the area in our budgets with the most wiggle room. My recommendation is to start very, very gradually so you don’t get discouraged. Celebrate every victory, too.

  8. So what size bag, to how much water? A gallon bag with _____ cups of water? I’m having a hard time visualizing this. I’ve recently been saving my chicken broth stuff from the crocpot, and regret all the years I wasted it, this should interesting too.

    • Donna Freedman

      We use one of those Oroweat bread bags, the kind that holds a 24-ounce loaf of bread. It can cradle quite a lot of vegetable/fruit scraps, greens and bones, too. I guess we add three cups of water or so; since the lid is on and it’s a slow cooker, the water doesn’t evaporate as steam.
      Do stir it now and then, so anything sticking out of the water gets a turn underneath.
      Remember: It’s a surprise every time. We’ve never had a batch taste the same twice. Check my recipe for “garbage soup” in the related reading section, too.

  9. We’ve used the “boiling bag” for along time. My husband is a fresh veggie nut and eats pounds of onions and celery. We save all the we can’t use out of the onion and the odd parts of the celery and freeze them. When the bag is full, we add some garlic, maybe some carrots and turn the crock pot on. Wonderful veggie stock (unsalted — we add that later)that goes into cooking soups or rice and the scraps go into the compost. It just doesn’t get any easier.

  10. Donna, add a tablespoon of sour cream to that soup (in the bowl) just before you serve it — even better.

  11. Aunt Leesie

    I’m currently feeding six adults every week on a budget. The rapidly rising costs in the grocery store mean I HAVE to be creative while aiming for no waste whatsoever. Our elderly neighbors (that I cook for) bring two bags of fresh produce every week in “payment” for my cooking… he volunteers at the weekly Farmer’s Market and gets what the sellers don’t want to have to haul away or aren’t pretty enough for shoppers. LOL! What I’ve done is boil trimmings of veggies right away. Thanks so much for the tip about freezing those trimmings! Love that idea!

    • Donna Freedman

      I don’t know how parents of always-hungry kids are managing these days. Well, I know how some of them are managing: trying to fill up on cheaper, starchier foods (I’m looking at you, mac ‘n’ cheese) and/or going into debt to pay for it.
      Oh, and the more we have to spend on food the less there is for the emergency fund and retirement planning. Sigh.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  12. Kim Porter

    That is such a wonderful idea! I’ve been “frugaling” my cooking forever, but for some reason never thought of doing such a thing to make stock! I save leftover scraps and the little two-bites-left-over of veggies and stuff like that in a plastic bowl with a lid; when it’s full I make stew out of it all. But never thought of going that one step further and making stock with the throwaway parts! I’m excited to go peel things now! LOL! 🙂

    • Donna Freedman

      It’s nice to have a stock of stock, as it were, in the freezer; as noted, whenever you don’t really feel like cooking, or if the weather is gray and cold and nasty, you just thaw some stock and start adding goodness. Bonus points if you can also bake some bread, cornbread or biscuits. The house smells like a home.

  13. I worked at a Deli for a couple years so I got to see first hand how they made their chicken stock. They would take the largest pots you could imagine. After the dozens of whole chickens were baked and picked of the meat (which was used for other recipes) they would throw all the chicken carcasses in including any of the skin, the scraps from peeling carrots, celery and onions. They would fill the pots with water about 4 inches from the top, but this pot was maybe 10 gallons. It took two guys to lift on and off the stove. It would cook on the stove for an entire shift. The cook would season it only after it had been on the stove for at least five hours, salt, pepper, thyme, etc. It would then be strained into 5 gallon buckets and put in the walk in cooler over night. In the morning the schmaltz (fat) would be skimmed of the top and used for other recipes.

    Try some chicken stock in homemade or even boxed dry mashed potatoes.

    Meat fat drippings are perfect starters for homemade gravies.
    A few drips into the dry dog food will be a welcome treat to the pup.

  14. I love using apple cores and skins when I make broth/stock from the freezer. Especially when I don’t have any bones to include – the natural pectin in the apple gives it a nice mouth feel. I do make a point to leave out the apple seeds, though. No need for arsenic, even if it is a tiny amount.

  15. I know I’m late to the party but just wanted to say thank you. I’ve been doing the boiling bag for years but had no idea you couldadd apple cores or corn cobs. Those puppies are now going into the trash soup bag along with the rest of the vegetable/meat discards.

    • Donna Freedman

      Both items have worked well for us. Our boiling bag sees some odd stuff. Last year DF had romaine in the garden, and when he cut it he left the stalk in the ground. It regenerated and provided more lettuce leaves by the end of the season; after we used the leaves, he cut up the denuded stalk and threw it in the boiling bag. I don’t know if it added flavor but I bet there were nutrients — otherwise, why would moose be so interested in gardens even in September and October?
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.


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