Making turkey soup in the days after Thanksgiving is one of the very few generations-long family traditions we have in my family. Certain aspects of our seasonal and holiday meals have evolved and morphed over the years, but this soup is not one of them. It derives from my father’s side of the family, from my beloved Pop-Pop and his wife, Lucy, who died before I was born but whom I’m led to understand was a terrific cook. As long as I can remember, my family made turkey soup, and it seemed to be my dad’s thing, though I’m sure my mom helped to finish it. There is no recipe, just a series of ad hoc steps that make it easy and adaptable. And although it takes time to make the broth, the actual active time is maybe 20-30 minutes, spread out over a few days.
So here, offered to you, is our very humble family recipe for
Harper Turkey Soup
- After the turkey is carved, take all of the fat, skin, and most of the meat off the carcass, but make sure to leave some meat on the carcass. Leaving meat on the bone is essential to flavor. Put the carcass cage into your largest stock pot. If you have carved the legs and thighs, throw those bones in as well.
- Cover the bones and carcass with cold water.
- Leave the pot to sit overnight in a cold place. (My father would always leave the pot in front of our side door, which was a frigid alcove. He said this was to foil any robbers who happened to break in the evening after Thanksgiving. Of course, I always wondered what made that night more vulnerable in our house than any other, especially since we never had any robbery of any sort… Finally I figured out it was simply because there was no room in our refrigerator. I’m sure you can find your own cold-ish place where you can regale your small children with stories about the virtue of culinary procedures to law enforcement.)
- The next day, if any fat has formed on the top, skim it off and discard.
- At this point, if you like, you may add your aromatics: a quartered onion, 1-2 large carrots, 1-2 bay leaves, 8 peppercorns, a spalsh of white wine, a tablespoon of salt. Or you may simply leave the carcass as is and boil it naked, as it were.
- Bring the water to a gentle boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer, simmer, simmer for a few hours. If you only have 2 hours, you may turn off the stove and let the carcass steep in the hot water for another hour. Or more. Like I said, this is an art, not a science. As the broth simmers, if you see foam on the surface, skim it off. Skim, and skim, and skim. This will help clarify your broth.
- Once the broth is done, let it cool.
- Strain out any bones and aromatics.
- Pick the meat off the carcass and return it to the broth.
- At this point, you may add whatever vegetables you like: leafy greans, spinach, broccoli, green beans, carrots, frozen peas…anything you have or want to use and like is fair game. Fresh or frozen. One necessity: We always add a drained can of whole tomatoes right at the beginning of this last stage, which we chop before adding. Add the longer-cooking vegetables first (carrots, chard stems celery, kale, etc, them add the tender greens, beans, peas, etc.) Simmer until the vegetables are cooked–we like them tender crisp for the first batch. They soften up over the days, so don’t overcook.)
- In a separate small pot, cook your noodles until they are almost done. Egg noodles are by the far the best, and traditional, but if I’ve forgotten to buy them and don’t want to make them, any wide noodle will do, as will letter pasta or penne…use what your family likes.
- Add the cooked pasta to the soup and continue simmering a few minutes longer.
- Of course you can eat this right away, but it gets better and better every day after that, which is good, because one turkey will make a lot of soup. Enough for a week of leftovers.
A few notes: This year, I had a heritage turkey, with little fat. This produced a great, clear broth, with very little fat and no need to skim. My mother never added salt, but I’ve found that adding a tablespoon to the initial cooking helps with the final flavor of the soup. You can add extra meat at the end if you like, but I always leave enough on the carcass to fill out the whole recipe.
I’m sure many of you have your own versions, & I’m sure we’d all love to hear what they are.
This year’s soup, just before the final cooking