Is there something more virtuous than a truly delicious post-Thanksgiving turkey soup? Than the pile of bare bones that emerge from its depths boiled clean, stripped of all they had to give? What about the pumpkin-pie breakfast? The dinners of leftovers?
The first two dinners, anyway.
But now there is something eternal about the cache of turkey breast that still stares back at me when I open the refrigerator. And about the third pan of dinner rolls I found in the oven yesterday, and the extra loaf pan of stuffing next to it. Oops. Just when the refrigerator shelves were getting back to normal, the newly discovered stuffing squats in the middle of the top one, taking up more room than we want to cede to it.
Outside, a fat squirrel munches contentedly away at the bird feeder. Damn. The cayenne pepper squirrel deterrent appears instead to be an appetizer. The battery-powered merry-go-round on the feeder, which is supposed to discourage them by flinging them into the air when they climb onto it -- "They always land on their feet," the bird store owner says -- is not having the desired deterrent effect. It does indeed fling the squirrels into the air, but I'm afraid some of them have come to enjoy the ride, to regard it as a challenge, extreme sport for squirrels. Like bungee jumping. Squirrels are very adaptable animals.
So let's see just how adaptable -- let's give them the leftover stuffing. And maybe they could learn to like whipped cream. Perhaps we can negotiate a new ecology of the garden, in which squirrels que up at the back door to see what's on the menu and leave the bird feeder alone.
Of course, there is a conservative movement that advocates not feeding any of them anything. Ruins them, the argument goes; they come to depend on it. Let them find their own food in their own wild way, and let the evolutionary chips fall where they may. Perhaps. But we are animals, too, and one of the things our species does is collect food around our settlements. Other species come and raid our stores. That's one of our roles in the food chain, compensating in part for our lopsided overconsumption of anything we can put in our mouths.
Turkey soup is another part. We sense our overconsumption, and every year we try to balance it out.
In a large pot over a high flame, heat a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil or lard or butter or whatever fat you want to use. Don't freak out about the fat; it's spread over a large volume of soup, and each diner will get only a tiny bit.
Chop a couple of onions into the oil and stir them around until they are soft. Chop some celery -- maybe a cup -- and stir that around in there, too, but don't worry about getting it soft. Put some garlic in there, too, maybe four cloves, if you feel like garlic. Minced garlic will import more garlic flavor than whole cloves. Sometimes I use garlic and sometimes I don't.
Pick the turkey carcass as clean as you want to and put it in the pot. If it's too big to fit, bend it in half above the drumsticks and it will break apart. Add all the water you used to cook the potatoes in, and any other water you used to cook vegetables. Be aware that, if you cooked beets and use that water, your soup will be purple. Just so you know. If you don't have enough vegetable water to cover the carcass, add tap water to make up the difference. You could add some wine, too. Half a cup or so.
Maybe you should put some raw carrots in there.
Let it bubble gently for an hour, turning the flame down when it starts to boil. Then add cooked stuff you want to get rid of: all the squash, the turnip. Perhaps not the Brussels sprouts, as they're rather assertive, but you can put them in if you want to and it'll probably be really good anyway. Maybe not the cranberry sauce.
You can add salt and pepper if you want. Or rosemary. Or thyme. Or all of the above. Maybe some chopped sage. Maybe parsley.
Simmer it another twenty minutes and turn it off. Let it sit there for a while. Divide it into several plastic freezer boxes or old glass jars and refrigerate. Or freeze some.
The soup should be different every time.