With cooler temperatures in the air, it’s time to make soups and stews. I was at the Woodstock Farmers Market last week and loaded up on fresh, organic vegetables. 

I bought a stewing hen from Kalck’s Butcher Shop in Crystal Lake. My grandma knew how to make chicken and dumplings, or chicken stew, taste scrumptious, and she always started with a pastured stewing hen. It is the magic ingredient to give you flavor, texture and color that you will never get from a hen who lived its life in a cage or even a broiler on pasture.

Place the stewing hen (or two if you like your stew meaty) in a large kettle or slow cooker. Cover with water. To flavor the broth, add onion, celery, carrots, salt, pepper and a bit of thyme as desired. Cook until the meat is falling off the bone, about 8 to 12 hours. Allow to cool. Separate the meat and bones from the broth. Take the meat off the bones and pull or cut it into bite-size pieces.

Now both the broth and the chicken can be used for Chicken Stew. It is a time-consuming process but well worth the effort. For a more hearty variation, you can add cooked egg noodles to the stew instead of the thickening agents. The stew also can be frozen to last the winter. 

Chicken Stew

Chicken from the stewing hen

Broth from the stewing hen, strained

1 32-ounce carton of organic chicken stock, if needed

6 peeled carrots, cut into half-inch pieces.

2 onions, chopped

5 stalks of celery, cut into half-inch pieces

4 russet potatoes, cut into half- to 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced

Sage, thyme and rosemary to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup tapioca flour 

1/2 cup chicken stock or milk 

Combine the chicken broth, plus additional chicken stock if desired for added flavor, carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, garlic, sage, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper in a large pot. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add the chicken and simmer an additional 10 minutes. 

Mix milk or stock with tapioca flour and slowly add to the simmering stew. Stir until thick. If you want a thicker stew, add more flour and stock.

• Chef Debi Stuckwisch is the owner of Meals Like Mom’s Personal Chef service in McHenry County. She can be reached at 847-778-9351 or mealslikemoms@comcast.net, or visit www.mealslikemom.com.