I awoke to a winter wonderland this morning. Fresh snow fell overnight and dusted the forest that surrounds our house in white. The world outside has been turned into a monochrome postcard. These are my favorite winter days. Calm, soundless days, the sky the same color as the ground, an off-white, grey streaked canvas with thick, soft powder. My Beagles’ normally, pure white fur, is almost grey in comparison as they dart about wildly through the snow, messing up the perfect stillness. Everyone is giddy with excitement, it’s been declared a snow day. It’s a fried bananas, blueberry pancakes and coffee in bed kinda day. A morning of sledding is a must; it’s not often that the temperature is only zero with the sun shining and soft, fresh powder on the hills.
By late afternoon, I count 40 starlings that have descended on our apple tree to devour the last of the frozen apples still hanging on, and within minutes they have cleaned the tree. I have formed a fondness for Juniper berries, their strong aromatic smell often finding themselves wafting from my spice pot I boil up to perfume the house. They have become my symbol of cold arctic temperatures, the only spice to grow in cold northern temperatures. They are still on trees in our forest, spared for now, from hungry birds. When they are fresh in the summer, they are thick squishy balls of purple ink, by February they are dried out black, iced beads.
The days now are really short and the nights long. The moon is a perfect disc of yellow, completely illuminated directly above our house. The brightness of the moon tints the snow yellow. The world is now in deep slumber, and we must wait it out at least another 3 months for signs of life. It is the season of sundogs, snow moons and deep sleep.
Little did I know that the soup that defined much of my childhood growing up in South Africa, would find its place and settle comfortably in my grown up life in Nova Scotia.
This is my mom’s recipe and she would make it in her pressure cooker, at the very first sign of the weather getting colder. It was always the thing I came home to from school in the winter, it sustained me through exam writing, late night cramming and many deadlines. The recipe was never written down and it has taken me years to recreate. Even now, each time I make it, it tastes slightly different. It's made of “power” ingredients like bone stock, bone marrow, root vegetables and barley. It’s a long slow process and therefore perfect to make on cold Sundays and snow days, when there’s nothing much going on and it’s too cold to be outside. Roasting the marrow bones will add a layer of flavor and depth, as will roasting the barley, but neither is necessary if time is an issue.
Yield: 8 quarts
8 Roasted, short cut, marrow bones 1 teaspoons coarse sea salt
5 quarts water
1 quartered onion
½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons white vinegar (helps extract minerals from the bones).
2 stalks celery chopped roughly
2 large carrots
2 bay leaves
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil 3 carrots, grated
2 parsnips, grated
3 stalks celery, chopped
5 quarts of bone stock
1 pound of beef shank or any cheaper cuts of beef
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup pearl barley soaked overnight and drained
Handful of chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the marrow bones on a large baking tray and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Roast them for about 20 minutes.
In a large stock pot over a medium-high heat, combine all of the stock ingredients and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer on low for at least 4-6 hours.
If you notice scum develop and rise to the top, skim it off with a slotted spoon. When the stock is cooked, strain it through a sieve and set the bone marrow aside to use later.
In a large stockpot over a medium high heat, warm the olive oil and sauté the onion until soft. Add the parsnips, celery and carrots and sauté for a few minutes.
Add the meat to the vegetables and brown slightly.
Pour in the bone stock, add the soaked barley and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, with the lid on for an hour or until the meat is soft.
Add the marrow bones from the bone stock to the soup pot. Heat the marrow bones through, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle in the parsley.
When serving, make sure everyone gets a good helping of meat and at least one marrow bone.
Eat in front of a fire with a glass of sherry and fresh crusty baguette.