Brunswick Stew is a popular dish here in Virginia, where it originated in 1828.
Some Georgians would beg to differ, believing it was first made in the Peach State town of Brunswick, but even the New Georgia Encyclopedia concedes the hearty stew was first created in the Old Dominion by slave cook Jimmy Matthews.
The folks at the Taste of Brunswick Festival, site of the annual World Championship Brunswick Stew Cook-Off, say Matthews concocted the stew for his master, Dr. Creed Haskins, and Haskins’s hunting buddies.
The story goes like this: “While they were on the hunt … camp cook ‘Uncle Jimmy’ Matthews stirred together the impromptu mixture that has become known as Brunswick Stew. The original thick soup was made from squirrels, onions, and stale bread.”
According to the “Food Lover’s Companion,” a great book that includes the definitions of nearly all things food-related, today’s Brunswick Stew is “generally made with rabbit or chicken and includes a variety of vegetables, including okra, lima beans, tomatoes and corn.”
Some people also make Brunswick Stew with pulled pork or a combination of chicken and pork.
I like Brunswick Stew, at least I think I do. Let me explain.
Long before I ever tried to make Brunswick Stew, the most recent time being about a week ago, I had eaten Brunswick Stew on at least one occasion. I remember the chicken, the lima beans, the corn, the potatoes. And I liked it. I swear I liked it.
But both times I’ve tried to make it, it’s been awful. No quite absolutely inedible — that would have to be amazingly terrible — but just not good. Bland. Blah. Boring.
Both times, husband John and I ate the Brunswick Stew for one meal, because we felt it would be wasteful to do otherwise, and the rest ended up in the garbage disposal.
It was only a few days ago that I realized why this was happening: the recipe I’d been using includes no potatoes. It also has way, way too many pearl onions, but mostly I’m blaming the complete lack of potatoes.
I don’t know why this recipe doesn’t include potatoes. After all, potatoes are ingredient number five on a can of Mrs. Fearnow’s Delicious Brunswick Stew with Chicken, right between “chicken stock” and “chicken meat.” Mrs. Fearnow has been making Brunswick Stew since the 1930s, so she knows what she’s doing. I obviously don’t.
Perhaps my cookbook’s author doesn’t like potatoes. Perhaps it has something to do with it being a slow-cooker recipe that also involves tomatoes. I’m no chemist, but sometimes tomatoes can cause potatoes or beans to stay hard as a rock no matter how long you slow-cook them together. Perhaps it’s a typo.
Perhaps I was over thinking the whole thing and just needed to open up a can of Mrs. Fearnow’s and call it a day.
So, one night this week, I heated up a can of Mrs. Fearnow’s and baked up a pan of Jiffy cornbread. And it was infinitely better than my attempts at Brunswick Stew. John thought so, too.
Since then, I’ve found a few more recipes — ones that include potatoes. I might try again sometime soon.
And if all else fails, there’s the Taste of Brunswick Festival, held this year on Saturday, Oct. 8, at Southside Virginia Community College in Alberta, Virginia. Maybe I’d better just write that on my calendar.