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The frantic emails from Gill began several days ago. “Ma, I bought a beef soup bone.I want to make a pot of soup — it’s cold and miserable here, a warming bowl of soup chock full of veggies is just what I need. How do I make this happen?”

Now, it’s not as though Gill can’t cook. She is quite a good cook.She makes the occasional really bad meal, but who doesn’t? Why, when she lived with me, I recall many evenings when we’d dine on popcorn or ice cream because we couldn’t be arsed cooking or something had gone, terribly, horribly wrong with our intended meal. And Gill does come from a long, distinguished line of soup makers — me, my mother, and even, as Gill often reminds me, my father, her Grampy, in his retirement years. We are a soup-loving family.

So her query for help puzzled me. I know she often makes a very tasty chicken soup. With her Crohn’s disease, it is a staple of her diet — it’s good, bland, the veggies almost mushy so there is little for her colon to do but absorb nutrients and let it slide through. No effort involved…just the way ‘Jeff’, her colon, likes it.

I have to say, after this week of back and forth emails, never has there been in history a bone so maligned, fussed over, discussed, researched and thoroughly poked and prodded…and still it didn’t manage to turn itself into anything edible or remotely delicious.

“Ma, I have this bone from Tesco. It’s supposed to be a soup bone. But it doesn’t look like chicken bones…how do I turn it from this naked appendage into something I can eat and hopefully enjoy?”

“Well I can’t see it, but I assume it’s just a bone without much meat on it? It’s the meat part that gives the more robust flavor. You can either put it in a pot with lots of herbs, onions, celery, bay leaves, carrots and let it simmer away for hours or you could ‘braise it in a pan to brown the meat and even roast it with veggies in the oven, then make the soup stock from that. Same way you do with chicken.”

Two days later, the next email came. “I did what you said but it’s not right. I even consulted the internet and they told me somewhat the same thing…but it didn’t turn out. Now I just have watery, greasy broth and overcooked, limp veggies. No flavor despite all the herbs and veggies.The only plus was that, with the oven on, it warmed up my flat and made it smell good…for a while.”

Then we ventured into the whole world of cuts of meat. “Perhaps next time you should get bones with more meat on them,” I explained. “Or perhaps a small roast, a tough cut, that you can do in the oven until the meat falls off the bone and is a bit brown and crunchy on the outside. That would make a really flavorful broth.”

“But I don’t want to eat the actual meat,” she protested. “Besides, I can’t get that at the shitty Tesco. Maybe I’ll have to go to  a real butcher shop.”

“What I’m suggesting shouldn’t require a specialized butcher. Just a rump or round or blade roast. Very common and easy to find.”

“Ma, you saw where I live. I refer to the Tesco as ‘shitty’ for a reason.”

“But what you really want is the old British oxtail soup. That shouldn’t be hard to do in Britain. Surely the Tesco has them.”

“I don’t know. The British seem to label their meats as ‘Irish’ or “Scottish’, never English and the cuts seem to be irrelevant…or maybe I just don’t know what the cuts are…”

We left it that she was going to try a butcher…or maybe she was too tired after all the hassle to care about ever making soup again.

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