Brunswick Stew, deep in flavor and Southern tradition
Brunswick Stew goes way back into Southern history. There are still friendly “stew wars” because nobody can agree on its origins, but almost everyone would agree that a good Brunswick Stew is “real good eatin.”
The basics of the recipe — corn, tomatoes and lima beans — have never changed, but today’s version with chicken or pork has come a long way from the days when the meat could be venison, squirrel or even possum. Many times Brunswick Stew was the center of a social event, and was stirred for hours in a big, iron pot over an open wood fire.
Becky’s Uncle Joe Jenkins in Alabama sold cans of the stew made from a family recipe under the Old Hickory label. Uncle Joe used to tease all the cousins by telling them that he added a hog’s head to his stew, and they should watch out for the eyeballs.
This version of Uncle Joe’s Stew is the cleaned up version — no hog’s head — but it’s very good. There are plenty of healthy things in it with a savory, rich, deep taste. It serves a lot of people, and is best made at least a day ahead so all the flavors can mingle.
Nothing goes better with Brunswick Stew than biscuits with lots of butter. This recipe is from Dorah Driver who cooked for Becky’s grandmother for many years. She’d make a big pan of these biscuits for dinner every day. In New England people call them “baking powder biscuits.”
It may take a little practice to learn to handle the dough. Just use enough flour to keep things from getting sticky, and have fun with it. Do you wonder about the fork pricks on the tops? Nobody knows why. “It’s just the way it’s always been done.”
Uncle Joe’s Brunswick Stew
2 whole chickens (4 pounds each)
1 ½ quarts water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large (29-ounce each) cans chopped tomatoes, drained
2 boxes (10-ounce each) frozen lima beans
2 cans (15-ounce each) whole kernel corn, drained
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup chili sauce or 2 tablespoons chili powder (or to taste)
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon dry mustard
Juice of one lemon
1 cup catsup
Salt and ground black pepper to taste.
In a soup pot, cook chicken in lightly boiling water until tender (25 to 30 minutes). Remove chickens to a platter, leaving broth in pot. Let chicken cool. Discard skin. Remove meat from bones and cut into pieces.
Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet. Add onion, celery and garlic, and sauté until tender. Add vegetables to broth. Stir in tomatoes, lima beans, corn, Worcestershire sauce, chili sauce, bay leaf, dry mustard, lemon juice, catsup and salt and pepper. Simmer 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add chicken pieces during last 10 minutes to reheat.
Serves 10 to 12 people.
Dorah’s Rich, Fluffy Biscuits
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
8 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 teaspoons sugar
1 cup Crisco or other vegetable shortening
1 1/3 cups cold milk, plus a little more for tops
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking pan.
Measure the flour, salt, baking powder, cream of tartar and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Cut in the shortening with a pastry cutter (or by criss-crossing two table knives) until mixture has the texture of rough corn meal. Add milk and gently stir until dough forms a ball.
Handling gently, turn dough out onto a floured work surface and roll out to about 1-inch thickness with a rolling pin. With a round cookie cutter (or the top of a glass) cut dough into rounds and place side-by-side into pan. Brush tops with a little milk and prick with a fork. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until lightly browned.
Serve hot with butter.
Makes 16-18 biscuits.