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Perpetual stew and friends

 
master pollinator
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Sometimes we just eat leftovers, right? I expect everyone does that. But sometimes leftovers are an ingredient in another dish. Yesterday's stir-fry becomes today's fried rice. Yesterday's chili goes into today's nachos. Leftover roasted broccoli goes into a frittata. Etc, etc, etc. But what if you keep doing that? Can you do it forever?

I think I first ran across this idea, outside of my own head, in the Wikipedia article on pottage: "[Pottage] could be kept over the fire for a period of days, during which time some of it could be eaten, and more ingredients added. The result was a dish that was constantly changing." I found this idea electrifying and started practicing these evolving stews from time to time, never running it "forever" but for a week or two until I'd burn a pot or let it putrefy, or we just got tired of stew. Much more recently, perpetual stew came to my attention which is a better, more specific term. I found web-pages suggesting that no one has ever done this and if they had, it would have killed them, but I don't buy that, particularly in the face of several modern examples.

Somewhere along the way, probably due to my explorations of fermentation, I'd read up on the manufacture of balsamic and was enchanted by the progression made through the barrel sets, and I went on to read about the more generic solera process for a variety of products. The way that these products are mixed and remixed over time is directly adjacent to that evolving perpetual stew. I make fermented hot sauces and once I'd dug into solera operation techniques, the idea of solera-built hot sauce has seemed like a super-cool project (though this remains aspirational as I have yet to either budget for it or take up coopering).

And then, a few years ago, I watched the Enrique Olvera episode of Chef's Table on Netflix where he talks about his mole madre. They make a mole and then use it until it gets low, reserving the remainder to be added to a new batch the next day. Each batch is made with seasonally-changing ingredients so it's always changing but also always retaining its past. There was a big hoopla when the mole reached 1000 days old and it's several years older now.

Another related practice: I bake sourdough bread and ferment yogurt using perpetual cultures that I keep alive, the microbial communities (and even the milk/flour used) changing over time.

Stretching things just a little farther, I see how this relates to my development of crop landraces. The stew of genetics in my field corn shifts year to year, narrowing as it becomes better adapted to my land, climate, and practices, and widening as I swap seeds with other growers or purchase some variety I want to toss into the mix.

So anyway, what's your relationship to this constellation of practices? Do you manage a perpetual stew? Does perpetual stew have any other 'friends' that I haven't thought of?
 
pollinator
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I can see it with fermented foods, but not sure about stew.  Suppose I made beef stew the first day, and just kept adding stuff.  After two weeks, some of the beef and initial ingredients would be two weeks old.  If I leave leftover stew in my fridge for two weeks, it will be growing mold.  Wouldn't it still be happening in the two week old stuff, just "watered down" by the new additions?
 
Christopher Weeks
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The way I think about that is that each time you bring it to a solid boil, or simmer it for 20 minutes, you're resetting the clock on pathogen colonization. In my experience, if I cook it every day, it always smells and tastes fresh. But when we get sick of it or distracted and then it sits in the fridge for three days, it might start smelling funky so we toss it. Also, historically, I'm imagining a big kettle hanging over the fire in an inglenook or whatever, so it's more or less always too hot for microbial assault.
 
master pollinator
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I messed around with perpetual stew (for myself only; DW was away). I did not get sick, only got tired of it and fed the last to the dogs.

The whole idea is that it's brought to a boil twice per day, which in theory pasteurizes everything and knocks the bacteria/mold back to zero (or at least harmless levels).

EDIT: Ah, Christopher beat me to it. Great minds ...
 
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Ha! just posted this in the friendship cake thread. I remember having a 'Herman' cake as a child....

I like the perpetual stew link Christopher.  I'm pretty sure that if you were lucky enough to have left overs in olden times they wouldn't have been thrown away, but added to and re heated!
 
Christopher Weeks
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Nancy Reading wrote:I'm pretty sure that if you were lucky enough to have left overs in olden times they wouldn't have been thrown away, but added to and re heated!



Yeah. I had a blurb in the first version of my post about how lucky we are to be able to just get tired of eating something and throw it away. I decided it was a distraction from the main thrust, but it's still true.
 
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Perpetual stew would never work at my house since dear hubby will only eat something for two days.

I remember reading about how the pioneers carried a stewpot with something in it from one place to another.

In one story a lady went to rescue someone stuck up in the mountains and took her stew pot with her.

Thanks for a very entertaining thread.
 
Christopher Weeks
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Anne Miller wrote:dear hubby will only eat something for two days.



Do you mean he's afraid of food poisoning and two days is his safety cutoff? Or that he gets tired of eating the same old thing again? If it's the latter, you might be able to change it up enough to seem like a whole other thing.
 
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It is called perpetual chili at our place.  
My husband came up with this idea when we were first married.  The crockpot would have the original chili in it, we'd usually eat about half, then just keep adding leftover ingredients from other dishes.  
It is surprisingly good....until it isn't.  I think the longest one we had running was ... 3 weeks?  I still shudder when I think of that.

The evolution of the flavor profile is interesting.  Eventually, it makes its own flavor...nothing can really be attributed to any of the other ingredients.
 
author & master steward
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I do a version of this idea. All summer, I put leftovers into saved glass peanut butter jars and keep them in the freezer. We have so many fresh vegetables, that there's no reason to eat them as leftovers. Besides veggies, I add meat, gravy, grains, beans, deglazing from cooking pans, cheese, cooking water from veggies, etc. Every flavorful little tidbit gets put into a soup jar.

When cold weather comes, I defrost a jar and dump it into a pot. I add a pint of bone broth and any other leftovers I find in the fridge. This simmers on the woodstove all morning and we eat it for lunch. We rarely eat it all, so after it cools I put the pot into the fridge and add another jar of defrosted leftovers to it the next day. Even though I'm adding to, it's different every day. This is my husband's favorite lunch.
 
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This is a real thing and it works. About a year ago I remember watching a video about a soup restaurant in Asia somewhere that has been cooking the same soup for decades. I tried to find it after reading this thread and it turns out there are several soup shops serving decades old soup. I linked a video about one of them before

Personally, since I don't have a pot of soup cooking daily, I usually take leftovers that aren't claimed for lunch the next day and freeze them. Then I toss them into the next pot of soup. And so on. This cycle usually only makes it through 4-5 iterations of soups, stews, and chilis before we end up with a meal that is just precisely enough that there are no leftovers.



 
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I grew up among a community of Romani people. One family had three sons. They cooked and heated with wood and had no electricity. In the back yard there was a small shed under which sat a cast iron 'wash pot'. The youngest son's job was to split firewood and keep the stew simmering in the pot. They did have a wood fired cook stove but only used it in the colder weather. The two older sons were charged with acquiring ingredients for the stew. They hunted rabbits, squirrels, ducks, raccoons, and more. anything that was edible went into the pot. They raided neighborhood gardens at night and foraged during the day. I never knew them to get ill from eating that stew. What I thought was the strangest thing they did was to pick up cigarette buts until they had enough to swipe a biscuit from the kitchen and eat 'tobacco sandwiches'. Yuck!
 
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I did a version of this as a young adult earning little money.  I'd never heard of it, it just came naturally to me.  I lived in an apartment with another single woman and her 2 young kids.  She would cook dinner for them, they would eat most of it, and any leftovers would be thrown in the trash or put down the garbage disposal.  Being raised in a home where perfectly good food was never thrown out, I was appalled at this, and told her to put their leftovers into a plastic container and stick it in the fridge and I would eat it later.  From that day forward I had "free" dinners, which helped my meager budget greatly.   She added leftovers from each day to the same container and I would reheat it all when I got home from work.  She once said with a sour face that she couldn't understand how I could eat that stuff all mixed together, and I told her that oddly enough, it was really good!  The flavors do meld and enhance each other.

Fast forward to the present day, over the last few years it has become a running joke with my mom that I keep trying to ruin soup, but just can't manage it!  In cooler weather we have soup for supper, and often I will combine different leftover soups, veggies from our noon main meal, etc. and make a new meal out of it.  Haven't had a bad combo yet, and nothing gets wasted!
 
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Nancy Reading wrote:Ha! just posted this in the friendship cake thread. I remember having a 'Herman' cake as a child....


That's funny: We had Hermann as well. I thought it was a German invention (land of sourdough breads) but apparently not.
With bread I often keep a rest of dough instead of (or in addition to) sourdough and before baking pinch off a bit for the next baking. But if I bake with seeds or dairy products I don't keep that rest.

For stew I don't think it would work in my family. Apart from my husband and myself there are no soup eaters unless it is about Ramen soup (our exchange son from Latin America said he will miss my Ramen soup).
But in theory this sounds like a doable routine and was often practiced I guess.
 
Anne Miller
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Christopher Weeks wrote:

Anne Miller wrote:dear hubby will only eat something for two days.



Do you mean he's afraid of food poisoning and two days is his safety cutoff? Or that he gets tired of eating the same old thing again? If it's the latter, you might be able to change it up enough to seem like a whole other thing.



It is the latter.  He would like meals to be something different every day.  He will tolerate something for two days, though not his wishes.

With something like a perpetual stew, I don't think it can be changed enough to disguise that it has been over two days.  He would say something like, I know what you are trying to do.
 
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We tried keeping a perpetual stock pot for a while. He kept a crock pot plugged in and kept adding scraps and water to it. The problem was we didn't take any scraps out and ended up with too much solid and not enough liquid and we weren't great at keeping the water level up so the stuff on top would burn and ruin the rest of it. Squash rinds and seeds we're the worst for this as they would burn and add a really bad flavor and the seeds we're hard to find and pull out. I think we got it to last about a month.
 
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