Brunswick Stew

I’m thinking about a menu for my annual Super Bowl Party. Brother W sent me some North Carolina pulled pork for Christmas, and we saved it for the party, but I don’t think it’ll be enough.
So, I say to myself, “Brunswick Stew would be a perfect accompaniment.” We used to eat that a lot in Roanoke, and gosh, I know we’ve done it in Boston, but maybe not since we moved here. Carol always made it, though, not me. I think she got the recipe on a yellow index card from one of our neighbors in Roanoke, Virginia. What I remember is that it has chicken, tomatoes, corn and okra, and it is kind of thick.

Another incentive to make a big ol’ pot of stew is that I just bought a brand new Lodge DO8, 5Q, 10 1/4 inch cast iron pot, and I can’t wait to use it.
What I found out this morning is that I don’t have a recipe for Brunswick Stew in my computer, even in the really old eats4one files. [Later, Carol found a Brunswick Stew recipe marked “good” in an Israeli 2 ring binder.]
I went to, but they had nothing on Brunswick Stew, or any kind of stew with chicken. I’m not really fond of that site, anyway.
So I Googled “Brunswick Stew” and found nirvana! Of 117,000 results, I opened 12 of the first 20. I learned that there is some controversy as to whether it originated in Brunswick County, Virginia or Brunswick, Georgia. There was one mention of Brunswick, North Carolina, but no recipes or claims to stew fame.

John A. Burrison, writing for the New Georgia Encyclopedia, cites the origin in 1828 when “Jimmy Matthews, an African American hunting-camp cook, concockted a squirrel stew for his master, Creed Haskins, the stew being named for its home county, Brunswick County, Virginia, Wild game like squirrel or rabbit is now often replaced by chicken, pork or beef (sometimes in combination). Virtually any vegetable and seasoning can be added to the requisite meat, corn, and tomatoes, but onions, lima beans, and potatoes commonly make an appearance.”

Indeed, of the 14 recipes I found, all listed chicken as the main ingredient, eight starting with a whole chicken. Seven recipes called for chicken only, the rest had a combination of meats, but always included chicken. (Okay, one site started with “1 [24 oz.] can Brunswick stew.” I discounted that one.)
As for vegetables, virtually all include onion, tomato and corn; ten have lima beans and or potatoes. One of the cooks noted, “My personal opinion is that an authentic Virginia Brunswick stew must include lima beans and okra,” and others mentioned okra in their headnotes, but none of the recipes list okra as an ingredient.
Three called themselves Georgia versions and the balance were called either “Virginia version” or simply “Brunswick Stew.” But no matter what they are labeled, there are two distinct styles: One with ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and barbecue sauce; the other without those ingredients. The former would be the Georgia version [I’ll call it Red], and the latter the Virginia version [which I’ll call White]. Further, the Red generally has fewer vegetables, and adds pork and beef to the mix. And there’s a branch of the White, where you cut up the chicken, dredge it in flour and fry it, before combining with the other ingredients.
I set out to find the essentials of each, make my own recipes and cook each version. I’m starting with a free range chicken, 3.13 pounds.

The Chicken
Put the bird in my wonderful cast iron pot, cover with water (3Q) and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes, turn off the fire and let sit, covered, for another 45 minutes, or until the meat comes easily off the bone. Divide the broth into two portions and reserve. [produced 11 C broth and about 2# chicken meat] Pick the chicken off the bones, divide into two portions and reserve.

The Virginia [White] Brunswick Stew
Based on “Brunswick Stew II” by Diana Rattray
Cooked Jan 22, 2006 [Comments in brackets and italics note what I might change.] [Good, but nothing special. Way low on liquid.]

The chicken meat from above
2 small red skin potatoes, diced [not much]
[1 small russet potato, mashed]
1 cup [14 oz can with juice] tomatoes, chopped, canned or fresh
3/4 [1/2] cup lima beans, frozen or fresh
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup corn kernels [+1/2 C corn kernels, pureed]
[2 teaspoons Tabasco]
pinch each of sugar, salt, pepper, dried oregano, pinch cayenne, dried thyme

Skim fat from reserved broth, above. Return broth to the pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until broth is reduced to a cup or so. [I reduced to about 2C, then had to add a cup of water at the end. Still wasn’t juicy enough and needed thickening. Reduce by about half.] Add potato and simmer 10 [8] minutes. Add tomato, lima beans and onion and simmer an additional 20 [15] minutes. [Almost no liquid left, added 1C water.] Stir in reserved chicken, corn and seasonings and simmer an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

The Georgia [Red] Brunswick Stew
Based on “Who Cooked That Up?”
Cooked Jan 22, 2006 [Comments in brackets and italics note what I might change.]
[This is good, but not what I think of as Brunswick Stew, too red and sweet and ketchupy for my taste.]

chicken from above [about one pound of meat]
1/2 lb. lean pork [used boneless loin chop]
1/2 lb. lean beef [used beef shank cross cut, bone in]
2 small onions, chopped
2 16 oz. [1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes w/juice]
2 1/2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
10 oz. ketchup
1/2 Tbs. Tabasco sauce
1 bay leaf
6 oz. chili sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
2 Tbs. butter
1 1/2 Tablespoons vinegar
1 cup small lima beans
1 16 [14.5] oz. cans creamstyle corn
1 medium potato, diced
1 cup frozen cut okra

Put the pork and beef in a large, heavy pot and add chicken broth (from above). Cover and cook for about an hour, until the meat is very tender. Remove the meat and shred.
Season the stock in the pot with salt and pepper.
Tear meat, including chicken, into shreds and return to stock in pot. Add onions, canned tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, catsup, Tabasco sauce, bay leaves, chili sauce, dry mustard and butter. Cook uncovered 1 hour, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
Add vinegar, lima beans, corn, peas and potatoes and okra. Cook slowly until thick [about 20 minutes].
Serve in bowls.

Brunswick Stew (White)
Photocopied from a book — Carol thinks a small stapled paperback that we got in Virginia — page 31. Marked “good.” Not yet cooked.

2 frying chickens, 2 to 3 pounds each
2 medium size onions, (about 1 cup) chopped
1/4 pound ham, bacon or salt pork, small dice
1 can whole tomatoes (28 oz.), chopped, with juice
1 can whole kernel corn (14 1/2 oz)
10 oz. lima beans, frozen or fresh
10 oz. frozen cut okra
1 1/2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
pinch salt
pinch thyme
pinch pepper
1 small green pepper, chopped fine
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour

Put the chickens in a pot and barely cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, skim as necessary, and simmer for 45 minutes, covered; turn off heat and let sit covered for 45 minutes.
Remove chickens from pot, cool, pick clean and shred, return meat to broth.
Add everything, except green pepper, butter and flour, to pot, bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
Heat the butter in a small saucepan, blend in the flour and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture bubbles and is lightly browned.
Stir the flour mixture gradually into the stew and cook, stirring constantly, until the broth is slightly thickened. Reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes longer. Add green pepper and serve at once.
As the day of the Super Bowl approaches, I’ll add the results of further tests and reveal what I’m actually going to cook. Sorry, no pictures yet.

One thought on “Brunswick Stew

  1. I cooked the Brunswick Stew (White) for my Super Bowl Party and it was voted Best in Show of the three served.
    The third stew served at the party is detailed in Brunswick Stew 3, posted February 17… with pictures.


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