Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Soup for the Postpartum Mother

In non-Western cultures throughout history, the postpartum period was considered a sacred time. Postpartum women were cherished and honored. The mothers were the center of attention, not the baby. They were not allowed to do anything at all stressful and were catered to by everyone around them. Their only expectation was to rest and take care of the baby. This postpartum period lasted at least a month and often longer. Although traditions vary greatly among cultures, two common themes were warmth and lots of nourishing food, including soup. The kind of soup varies. In Asian countries, women were fed seaweed soup. In Jamaica, Guatemala, and Lebanon, chicken soup was common. In Burma, mothers were fed oxtail soup. Source. Source. Source.

Soup is one of the most nutrient dense foods in the world. Properly prepared soup is full of easily absorbed nutrients and minerals. Tradition and scientific studies have contributed amazing health benefits to soup, especially to soup including bone broth. It is said to strengthen bones and teeth, heal the gut, improve hair, nails and skin, strengthen immunity, enhance sleep, and heal numerous illnesses. Source.

When I bring food to a postpartum mother, one of my favorite things to bring is soup. Since processed or canned soup does not have the same health benefits as homemade soup, I take great care in making the soup. The first step is to make chicken stock. I only use locally raised, free range chickens. I place the bones and chicken parts in the slow cooker with a splash of apple cider vinegar (this helps to bring out the minerals in the bones). Next, I add whatever vegetables I might have around. This often includes carrots, celery, garlic, and onions. It also may include fresh herbs, especially parsley which I put in near the end of the cooking time.

I use local and/or organic vegetables whenever possible. Last, I fill the slow cooker with filtered water. I let the chicken and vegetables sit at room temperature for about an hour and then turn the slow cooker to low. The stock cooks for 12-36 hours. When it is finished, I strain out the vegetables and bones and put the stock into glass jars. Look here for specific quantities and directions.

Stock can be used in all sorts of recipes. I store it in the freezer so I always have some on hand. By the way, the leftover vegetables and bones make wonderful dog food! The bones get very soft when they are cooked for so long and are still full of nutrients that are wonderful for pets! There is no danger in the dog chewing and digesting these bones.

My next step is to make the actual soup. Again, what I put in it varies according to what is available to me. I often start with brown rice. After 20 minutes or so, I might add onions, garlic, and celery. I sometimes add carrots, summer squash (shredded is best), broccoli, cauliflower, peas, green peas, or kale. Last, I add Himalayan salt or sea salt. The entire process sounds complicated, but it really is not that time consuming, especially considering that I make 3-4 gallons of soup or stock at a time and freeze it.

One of my goals in starting Nurturing Traditions Postpartum Doula Services is to bring back and recreate postpartum traditions. Feeding friends and clients healthy food, including chicken soup, is one time honored tradition that I love to reinstate.