Meet the "Food Person" Who Never Makes Stock

May 20, 2016

He ended up with the carcass.

"No? You sure?" one of my three older brothers asked me, blushing over his osseous prize.

"Totally," I nodded from the kitchen sink, the gnawed cuticles of my fingers camouflaged by soap bubbles. "You should have it."

Photo by James Ransom

And so ended this past year's version of the dance we do every time our Thanksgiving bird has been relieved of its meat. Bones and extra bits sit on the fat-slicked carving board, praying for an afterlife. I feign a wish to resurrect it into congee or some other extraordinary something. I "let" my brother and his wife (and their dog) take it to their home in downtown Baltimore, where they’ll make stock out of it and finish every last drop. My parents smile at the notion of our resourcefulness and at my kindness in giving the carcass up to someone without a culinary degree, someone who might learn from the practice.

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I’m a "food person," the kind who’s supposed to take thrill in squeezing every last bit of flavor out of the wing tips. Ten years ago, when the pulp of that piece of paper stamped with my name and a Le Cordon Bleu logo was frosty white, I did. I crisped discarded fish skin into salty chips and pickled zucchini butts and made vegetable stock out of carrot skin shavings. The test kitchens of the offices I was privileged to call my homes away from home—first at The San Francisco Chronicle, then at Food & Wine—were brimming with fresh produce, ancient grains, and tempting leftovers, and my home kitchen was equally enthusiastic. Both spaces were full and organized, but not precious. That quart container of vinaigrette would be eaten—maybe the dregs would even swiped out of the container by one hungry snacker’s nub of bread—and the stock would be used up. That Lexan full of liquid gold was so confident in its popularity, in fact, that a roll of duct tape and a black Sharpie sat next to it, in order to label the next batch. More stock would come.

During my time as an editor at Bon Appétit, which began in my mid twenties, my kitchen changed. I downsized apartments, selling my bar stools to a former intern whose living space, newly shared with her boyfriend, needed filling. Two colleagues got engaged—to each other. By 28, I realized I hadn’t replaced my kitchen Sharpie for three years.

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Top Comment:
“I always save the bones and make a stock. It's a simple, homey thing that makes me feel warm and happy.”

I had always figured that by that age, I would have had home life settled. I would roast a chicken every other Sunday, I would make stock out of it and freeze it for some brilliant stew a month later, and I would shred the meat for lunch salads that my husband and I would take to work throughout that week. This is not some barefoot-and-pregnant-in-the-kitchen idea of wifehood I inherited from an older generation of women. I never doodled a long white dress on scrap paper as a girl, and I still don't necessarily want marriage with a capital M. I want to make a home with someone, though. I want to feed him sometimes and I want him to feed me sometimes, and I've always imagined that our warm, buzzing kitchen would be fueled by stock. You may associate a sturdy wine collection with adulthood; I associate making stock with a life worked out.

Photo by James Ransom

Now 33, two great loves married to simpler girls, I've lost that stock-loving feeling, maybe because I've lost hope that I'll ever reach my stock-making reality.

"It's so easy, though," a fellow food writer to whom I admitted my little bouillon secret reacted, his nose scrunched like a ball of aluminum foil at the bottom of the trash bin. You may be thinking the same thing, considering this essay lives on a website that counts the nation’s most avid home cooks among its millions of unique monthly visitors. (Gosh, there are millions of you making your own stock…) My admission, I thought, was going to gain me some solidarity—a one-liner, at least, about the great paradox of food writers and chefs: We spend all day either teaching people how to cook or feeding them, then we arrive home to shove cold cereal into our mouths before bed.

Yes you're right: Homemade stock requires little doing. It will stay good in the freezer for up to two months. And when you take this time to make good stock, it is, ultimately, the best shortcut to delicious soups, braises, beans, and grains. You're right! But I just don't want to do it for me, myself, and I.

Earlier this spring, I spent the night at my dear friend Lindsey's house. Her devotion has lasted me from my childhood in Maryland to this day, and I adore her husband and her two boys, one of whom is my godson. In the otherwise still of the morning, I heard a whimper from across the hall, and just as soon, I saw Lindsey emerge from the duskiness with Sam in her arms. "Look at that, it's Aunt Julia! She slept right next to you all night!" she said as they peered into the guest room and I smiled at them from under the covers, reassuring a sleepy, confused Sam that all was safe in the Stone household. They walked upstairs to the master bedroom and the house went quiet again.

An hour later, I had to be on my way home. I got dressed, tiptoed upstairs, and walked into the master bedroom to find all four members of the family—Brandon, Lindsey, little Sam, and littler Keiran—eyes shut in the master bed, chests rising and falling gently. It was one of the most tender moments I have ever experienced, and it wasn’t even mine.

Photo by Alpha Smoot

After kissing them all on the cheeks, I exited through the kitchen, but not before taking a look inside the refrigerator. Apples, applesauce, cottage cheese, sliced deli meats and cheeses, two loaves of bread, heads of broccoli and cauliflower, and, in the freezer: ice cream, ground beef, and, there it was, chicken stock. All of it will be consumed, I thought; this is a full house, not counting the grandparents and the cousins who swing over for the not-so-occasional weeknight supper.

I started having friends over for Sunday dinners after that. I often roast a chicken for them, but I never keep the bones for stock, nor do I pretend to. Into a Ziploc bag and home with someone else they go.

Julia Bainbridge is our first Writer in Residence; you'll be seeing her writing on Food52 quite a bit in the coming months. Please say hello!

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Julia Bainbridge is an editor who has worked at Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appétit, Yahoo Food, and Atlanta Magazine and a James Beard Award-nominated writer whose stories have been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, among others. Her book, Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You're Not Drinking for Whatever Reason, was named one of the best cookbooks of 2020 by the Los Angeles Times and Wired and Esquire magazines. Julia is the recipient of the Research Society on Alcoholism's 2021 Media Award and she is one of Food & Wine magazine's 25 first-annual "Game Changers" for being "a pivotal voice in normalizing not drinking alcohol."


tamater S. October 2, 2017
I'm one who accepts those bones. I don't feel superior to those who aren't making good use of them, for I am a carpenter who, after being retired a few years now, am only JUST getting around to finishing jobs at home, that have needed doing for….. well, truthfully, I’ve forgotten how long. But let me say in my own defence: I've been too busy in the kitchen, making wonderful stocks from scratch.
Heather March 6, 2017
You know, I could never have put into words what you have just expressed but this is exactly my life. Not a foodie by trade but my single fridge was filled with convenience and now a few years later, stock is a staple. It really is a weird homey feeling. Also in my early 30s I feel like I have wasted and am wasting time but hopefully there is plenty of stock in your future. If not, that's okay too.
liora5556 January 19, 2017
What a kind, painful and very real and relatable post. I feel the exact same way about stock. And sometimes get sad at the memory of a romantic dinner I made that never happened.
JAC December 23, 2016
When I was 33 I hardly cooked at all. The insides of all my kitchen cabinets were lined with take out menus. When I did cook, I made mac & cheese and ate it right out of the pan I cooked it in and it made me feel warm & happy.
Then when I was 35 I met this guy. Within two weeks I knew I would keep him forever.
Now twenty years later I roast a chicken 2 or 3 times a month. Every single time he tells me I make the best roast chicken ever. I always save the bones and make a stock. It's a simple, homey thing that makes me feel warm and happy.
Danielle A. December 20, 2016
Julia! Beautiful. I am also a foodie who doesn't currently make stock, a result of downsizing my home and going back to single life two years ago. Someday, we'll make stock again and have cozy kitchens where we'll serve our loves and our friends delicious and nourishing food. For now, that act of service is reserved for our oh-so-deserving and faithful friends. :)
Nathalie S. May 28, 2016
This is so beautifully written! I find the most joy in my kitchen when I cook for others...
Taylor R. May 23, 2016
This is such a beautifully (and occasionally painfully) accurate line :We spend all day either teaching people how to cook or feeding them, then we arrive home to shove cold cereal into our mouths before bed!!! Look forward to reading more!
Roquette May 23, 2016
I've lost that stock making feeling.... Sooo gooooood!!!

We live on a diet of late night pizza and greasy burgers without an artisan bone, after 14 hour days making beautiful food for others. (Even cereal at home seems civilized sometimes).
I love everything in this essay.
And I confess, I have made beautiful stocks, only to throw them out..... (I know!!!) thank you Julia!!!
mcs3000 May 22, 2016
Grace May 21, 2016
I very much enjoyed reading this piece. I also went to culinary school and do not consistently live up to the food vision I had for my future. I applaud your honesty, and look forward to reading more of your work in the near future. I wish you the best in your new job!
Rebecca F. May 21, 2016
Incredibly beautiful words.
Honeylishuss May 21, 2016
But you are only 33!
carolyneats May 20, 2016
This is beautiful - I look forward to reading your thoughts more often!

I truly connect with this, but for skightly different reasons. Either way, I hope you find your tender moment, in whatever form that may be.
Sauertea May 20, 2016
BrooklynBridget May 20, 2016
Love this! But WRONG on stock. :-)
Sasha (. May 20, 2016
"It was one of the most tender moments I have ever experienced, and it wasn’t even mine."

Love this. You will get your tender moment, with or without the stock.
Mike May 20, 2016
You sound a bit sad and melancholy. I realize food can involve many different emotions but I hope you have a happy carefree side as well. I pray your new endeavor is fun and fruitful.
Jill T. December 22, 2016
That's basically the equivalent of telling a woman to smile. Ugh.
Carol May 20, 2016
Love your writing style! Look forward to reading more....
Charlie S. May 20, 2016
Wow, LCB used to teach that the stock pot was not a dustbin.
kzmccaff May 20, 2016
I love this essay so much--I'm a 33 year old in a similar place with a similar outlook and it felt really good to read this.