How (And Why) To Boil Your “Garbage”

I don’t normally do this – boil my garbage I mean – but I did, and could not have been more pleased with the results.

A mountain of vegetable scraps had been accumulating, and this time, rather than haul them off to the farmers market – where they do the composting, so that I can say I compost, even though all I do is hand them wet garbage –  I decided to make stock.

The first time you do it, you might feel a bit odd,  which is normal, since it is not normal to stir egg shells and apple cores in a cauldron like a witch.  But here’s what you get in return:

  • The most nutritious, delicious stock, not replicable in a tin or Tetra Pak
  • The knowledge that you kept vitamins out of the landfill and ate them
  • The sheer perverse delight of boiling your garbage

Here’s how to do it:

1) Collect the scraps. (I keep them in a bag in the freezer, as seen in photo above.) Use vegetable and fruit remnants (you might want to limit it to apple and pear as citrus does not work so well, nor do banana peels), wilted spinach, lifeless celery, egg shells (they release calcium when cooked) and any chicken carcasses or piles of bones you have lying about (unless you’re going the veggie-stock route). (Avoid any vegetables that have really gone “off” as well as any food with mold or any skins that are flavorless eg.avacado.)

2)To the scraps add: 1 medium onion chopped, 1 large carrot chopped, 1 celery stalk, 2 cloves diced garlic, 1 tbsp oil (oil soaks up flavor better than water), 1 tsp vinegar (helps release calcium from egg shells and minerals from meat bones), a dash of oregano, thyme and rosemary, plus 3 bay leaves and salt&pepper.  Throw it all into a large pot, add enough water to cover the scraps and simmer for an hour. (Bring it first to a boil, then turn way down. Do not cover as this will allow for greater evaporation and flavor concentration.)

3) Once it’s cooked, pour it through a sieve…

4) And you’re left with stock!  The dark brown spots are the oil and the purple tint is from the purple kale stems that were in the “garbage”.

Don’t worry if the stock doesn’t taste like something you’d want to make a meal of – you’re using it as a base for soup, to which you can add all sorts of other flavors when the time comes.

When you’re done, take the thoroughly expired, anemic scraps –  boiled beyond recognition, and drop them in the compost.

A few other interesting bits of trivia about food waste*:

  • Americans throw away at least 25% of all food bought. (It doesn’t help that refrigerators sold today, are 50% larger than they were in 1992.)
  • Food comprises nearly 20% of landfills
  • Food scraps are one of the worst things to put in a landfill, as rotting food releases methane, a greenhouse gas 20x more potent than CO2. (Food that “rots” in a composter gives off CO2 not methane. Methane is produced when no oxygen is present, i.e. in landfill conditions.)
  • There is no correlation between income and food waste – when it comes to giving to the landfill, turns out we’re all equally generous
  • Only 3% of food waste is composted (comparatively, 64% of paper is recycled**)

So gather your wilted spinach and egg shells and make soup!

Any other tips on stock making, or other “home made” foods that most of us would never consider attempting?

Related Posts
Squash Soup with Ginger and Cumin (Recipe)
Vegetable Beef Barley Soup

January Lentil Stew (Recipe)

* These stats come from, American Wasteland, a new book that dives deep into the American garbage can.
** American Forest & Paper Association, 2009

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  • Dionne

    Michelle – thank you once again for the inspiration. I’ve just made a risotto with my first homemade stock. It tasted incredible – with a depth of flavour it’s never had before. I’m now onto my second bag of freezer scraps and can’t wait to get going on the next batch.

  • Aelia

    I don’t think I could do that while still thinking of it as “garbage” but I’ve made stock from the wilty remnants at the back of my produce drawer before. (Didn’t know about the vinegar or oil though, since I usually include some whole chicken which is fatty enough…) Also, when making stock I often turn it into soup then and there, rather than trying to save it.

    How would you suggest storing broth? Frozen, canned, refrigerated?

    • Michelle

      Re storing, if I think I’m going to use it in the next few days, then I just leave it covered in the fridge. Else I freeze it and have used a couple methods: 1) putting it into a thick freezer ziplock bag, 2) putting it into a freezer-safe glass container or 3) filling ice cube tray(s) with it and then when the cubes are frozen, putting the cubes into a ziplok. The adv of the icecube method is you can then use only what you need – for ex- you only want 3 cubes to deglaze a pan, or to add some liquid to sauteed vegs.

  • emplois Cameroun

    I don’t think I could do that while still thinking of it as “garbage” but I’ve made stock from the wilty remnants at the back of my produce drawer before

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  • veggie wedgie

    This is incredibly cool :)

  • Mindy

    About how much stock does this make?

    • Michelle

      It all depends on the quantity of “scraps” you have to start with and then how much water you add (which determines how concentrated it will be). You will get roughly as much stock as you add water – (there will be some add’l water from the vegs that will come out but then you will also lose some water in the cooking.)

  • Danielle DiDonato

    Fantastic use of scraps! I need to start doing this more!

  • Michael

    I think this is a great idea! I still prefer using a garbage disposal in my house. I also like to suggest some garbage disposal reviews for more information.

  • Madame fromage

    This is a great post! Even though I compost, I am going to try this. I feel inspired. Thanks for that!

    • Michelle Madden

      Great — once it becomes a habit to keep two separate bags in your freezer (one for soup bits one for non soup bits) it’s pretty simple!

    • Michelle Madden

      Great — once it becomes a habit to keep two separate bags in your freezer (one for soup bits one for non soup bits) it’s pretty simple!

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  • Shiann Metheny

    Thanks for sharing. This has helped me a lot. We compost (sort of) but I have wondered about doing this. Also, I plan to utilize the left overs from my juicing in this way…here goes nothing!

  • Lily Torres

    sure wish I had know this a few weeks ago when both my son and I were sick, I would have made us some home made chicken soup rathern than eating the canned stuff. I recall growing up in Puerto Rico, my Dad used to make us a big pot of chicken and rice soup that was divine, whenever we got sick. I asked him for the recipe too, I’m waiting for it in the mail. :-)

  • Pjnoir

    dont forget cheese rinds

  • nadya

    I’ve been making my own stock, & freezing veggie trimmings for it, for years, after having a chef housemate! I keep a jar on the counter for dry things like onion & garlic skins (I use OG veggies) & only add cabbage family items if I’m planning on a cabbage soup, etc. I add herbs (usually fresh from the garden :) but usually don’t bother with whole onions etc
    I also have been adding oil & vinegar from a kalamata olive jar, which has been lovely! The label suggested adding it to dressing, & I’ve done that as well! 

  • Melissa

    You can also freeze the water you use to boil beans/lentils.

  • Natasha

    My goats and chickens would be sorely disappointed if I did this! I recycle my fruit/veggie scraps mostly through my goats and everything else through the chickens. They are hands-down the most efficient composters I’ve seen yet, and they love their job. And then I get milk, eggs, and manure for the garden for those efforts. It’s a good idea for those without living compost machines, though!

    • Maija

      Your critters would still get the ‘leftovers’ from the broth leavings though.

  • Maija

    I’ve never come back to thank you for this incredible idea… I came across your post over a year ago and have since been using it. I’m sure anybody peeking into my freezer would be puzzled and maybe grossed out by my ziplock full of ‘compost’ when they learned why it was there!

    Today, several days after Christmas, I have a huge stockpot simmering on the stove. It’s full of the liquids I saved from the veggies I cooked for Christmas dinner: carrots, turnip, potatoes, sweet potatoes… a couple of quarts of it! I threw the turkey carcass into it as well as the bag of frozen ‘garbage’. I’ll simmer that for several hours. Afterwards I’ll strain and cool it. I’ll go through that pile to dig out the meat from the carcass and put it into the fridge. The pot of strained broth will go out into a snowbank ’til tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll bring it back inside and scrape the fat off the top. With my de-fatted broth I’ll THEN make a pot of soup! I’ll add the saved turkey bits at the last minute so it doesn’t get cooked to mush during the time it takes to make the soup.

    Not only does that make me feel so incredibly. wonderfully frugal; but the soup will be so yummy.

    So, thank you so much for teaching me about the benefits of keeping a bag of veggie ‘garbage’ in my freezer!

    Merry Christmas and a fabulous 2013 to you!

  • Maggie

    We often juice carrots/apples/cukes/broccoli etc. in our house and have been wondering what we could do with all the pulp produced.(We have chickens and goats but it’s too dry for them to eat… so I started making vegetable stock out of it either adding a bay leaf,onions and celery or keeping it plain. I freeze it or put in in Ball jars to cook green beans,potatoes or to make soup.You can actually see the sugars on the bottom of the pan when it boils down and how sweet the green beans were last night!

  • Akiko Heather Yamamoto

    I think I will pass, but interesting.

  • Dennis Au

    My roommate boils compost on the stove. But it looks like he takes fruit and vegetable scraps that are wrinkled and dehydrated beyond recognition, and have been sitting out for an entire week. The smell is absolutely horrific and I feel like I might puke when he boils it. The smell also kicks around for up to a week before it dissipates.. Make sure you have good ventilation unlike we do here, bleh!

  • Noodle

    I have made stock this way for years but had no idea about the egg shells. Thank you!
    Here is a trick that might be helpful. I will use my stock to bake rice for instance. Most recipes ask for 2- 2 1/2 cups of broth increments. I will measure out 2-1/2 cups into a square Tupperware and freeze them. When they are frozen, I pop them out and into a plastic baggie. So now I have measured broth cicles, I have freed up my Tupperware for other uses and there is more room in the freezer because they stack nicely with only a baggie between them. I wash all my veggies before I use them so all my “snippins” are clean and ready to go into the pot. As for uses for pulp from juicing, (that I saw in a few comments) I use apple or carrot pulp in homemade bread. Very simple and moist. 😀

  • Pling Plong

    Thank you so much for putting this idea out there. It’s such a no-brainer really, yet something I never thought of.
    I will make space in my freezer for carrot butts and the likes.

  • Katie Robertson

    This will be my second visit to this page to make this awesome soup stock! Thank you!!