Ask a Southerner about the origins of Brunswick stew, and you’ll start quite the historical debate. Brunswick County in Virginia and Brunswick, Georgia, both lay claim to the first pot of the famous stew. (I, of course, tend to lean toward the Viginia version.) No matter where it came from, family recipes are passed down and sometimes even the pots in which they bubble. I am now the proud keeper of my grandmothers stew pot. Brunswick Stew is a staple barbecue side in the South, and is often found at football tailgates alongside pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, coleslaw, and potato salad.
Brunswick stew traditionally takes hours upon hours to make. Sometimes, it even takes days. With so many ingredients usually made from scratch, it can be a true labor of love. With this super-fast version, rotisserie chicken, leftover barbecue, and canned veggies take most of the preparation time out of the stew. The recipe makes a big batch, so portion out some for later and freeze for up to 3 months. Use leftover barbecued pork or pick up some at your favorite restaurant.
Each year at the “Taste of Brunswick Festival,” some twenty or so contestants vie for the title of “Brunswick County Stewmaster.”
These men continue a long tradition that dates back to 1828 along the banks of the Nottoway River. There, local historians say, Dr. Creed Haskins, a member of the House of Delegates from 1839 to 1841, took a group of his friends on a hunting expedition.
While they were on the hunt, the story goes, camp cook “Uncle Jimmy” Matthews stirred together the first impromptu mixture that has become known as Brunswick Stew. The original thick soup was made from squirrels, onions, and stale bread.
Recipes for the stew have varied over the years. Chicken has replaced the squirrel in more modern cook pots, while vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and butterbeans have been added in varying portions.
The one thing that all cooks or stewmasters agree on is that the stew is not done until the paddle stands up in the middle.
Now we have to admit that among some there is debate about where Brunswick Stew originated. A few say it comes from near Brunswick, Georgia, in 1898. Clearly much later than the Virginia claim.
In January 1988, the Virginia General Assembly attempted to put to rest the debate and issued a proclamation citing Brunswick County, Virginia as “…the place of origin of this astonishing gastronomical miracle.”
The tradition continues. This tasty chicken stew is a top fundraiser for local organizations and is frequently sold out in advance of the contest. It is a proud, and delicious, symbol of what awaits the visitor to Brunswick County. Brunswick County, Virginia, that is!
Official Brunswick Stew Recipe
Makes 10 Quarts
5 1/2 lbs deboned chicken (thighs are better)
6 oz. white meat (fatback) (ground or chopped)
4 lbs white potatoes cut up (french fry size is OK)
2 ½ lbs chopped yellow onions
1 ½ qts crushed tomatoes
2 ½ qts small green butterbeans (limas) drain
1 ½ qts white shoe peg corn drain
1 stick margarine
¼ oz black pepper or You can
¼ oz red pepper season to
1 ½ oz salt your taste
1 ½ oz sugar
Prepare your potatoes and onions ahead of starting the stew so that you can stir continuously. Continuous stirring is necessary for the thick consistency to call it a stew and not a soup.
Put the chicken and white meat in the pot; cover with water; bring to a boil and cook until chicken starts coming apart; add potatoes, onions and ¼ of seasonings; bring back to a boil and cook until potatoes are soft; add tomatoes and ¼ seasonings; bring back to boil and cook 5 minutes; add drained butterbeans and ¼ seasonings; bring back to a boil and cook until butterbeans are soft; add drained corn, margarine and balance of seasonings; cook about 10-15 minutes and then enjoy your stew
PROVIDED BY THE
PROCLAMATION STEW CREW