Right Smart (Recipe: Old Fashioned Brunswick Stew)
Soups and stews are an all time favorite. They represent a maximum degree of efficiency in cooking, variety, cost effectiveness and creativity, which makes them just plain smart cooking. A generous bonus is found in the magnificent flavor. They may be rustic or fancy, simple or complicated; although I must question the soundness of making them complicated. A simple rustic soup or stew is a beautiful thing. And it’s smart cooking. Changing it up and making it complicated takes away the smart cooking aspect and turns it into…..well….I shan’t utter another word.
Smart cooking means that you use things that are available before they spoil. It also means that you can stretch out the meal to feed a whole bunch of hungry folks without breaking your food budget. Heaven knows, food budgets get stretched to the hilt these days. Smart cooking also means that you may be as creative as your little heart desires. Soups and stews get tasted all during the cooking process in order to make necessary adjustments. If an added ingredient results in an undesirable flavor, you can fix it by throwing in different flavors for balance as opposed to a roast where you have to wait until the dadgum thing finishes cooking to figure out how it’s going to taste. Not so with soups and stew. You can taste and adjust as many times as it takes to achieve the desired outcome. That’s right smart.
The nostalgic component of soups and stews appeals to my heart and soul and helps me feel a strong connection to my ancestors. They would throw together soups and stews from scraps of this and that and anything they could rake up. Adding lots of liquid would enable to them to feed many. My people never worried about breaking their food budget. They were much too poor to even have a budget. If they had food, they ate. If they didn’t have food, they went hungry. You can bet your bottom dollar that nary a drop of food went to waste. That would be an unforgivable sin in their eyes. To this day, long since they all have moved on to heaven, it makes my heart sad and tears well in my eyes to think of the hard, hungry times that my loved ones experienced. As such, I feel it’s my calling to pass on their stories and the lessons learned by living in such harsh conditions. I thank God everyday for the blessing of being a link in the lineage of such admirable and good people. I’m undeserving and I’ll never forget that.
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Old Fashioned Brunswick Stew
I used a jelly canner (extremely big pot) that measured 13 inches across and 9 inches high. When the stew was all done, I had the pot filled about 3/4 full. I don’t know how many gallons it made, but it was a bunch. You can feed lots of folks and still have some leftover to freeze. This stew freezes exceptionally well. That’s smart, too!
An intense tomato base is necessary for an authentic flavor. In addition to diced tomatoes, ketchup or tomato paste is essential. I prefer ketchup for the touch of sweetness it adds. If you have an aversion to ketchup or wish to eliminate sugar, substitute tomato paste, not tomato sauce.
1 whole 4 to 5 pound chicken
1 (4 to 5 pound) bone-in Boston butt pork roast, cut in large pieces
5 onions, divided
1 bay leaf
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 pounds whole kernel corn (I prefer Silver Queen)
2 pounds tiny green limas, shelled (we call these butterbeans)
2 (28 ounce) cans diced tomatoes and the juice (or use an equivalent amount fresh tomatoes)
2 pounds okra, sliced
32 ounces ketchup
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Place chicken and Boston butt in an extremely large pot along with one whole peeled onion, a bay leave and one tablespoon kosher salt. Cover with water and simmer 3 to 4 hours or until both chicken and pork are shreddable. Remove chicken and pork and let cool. When they’ve cooled enough to handle, remove bones, skin and excess fat. Shred. Strain cooking broth and return to large pot. Add chicken and pork back to the extremely large pot.
Chop the remaining 4 onions and add to the extremely large pot. I want the meat and onions to cook all alone to give the onion flavor a chance to permeate the meat before the other ingredients were added.
Bring to a boil and cook on medium heat for 30 minutes. Permeate, onions, permeate!
After 30 minutes, add peeled and chopped potatoes. Don’t make the chopped size any smaller than an inch or the potatoes will cook to mush.
And…..here’s the rest of the gang ready for the extremely large pot. I use fresh corn, okra and butter beans if available. If not, I will substitute good quality frozen. Fresh or canned tomatoes may be used.
Add Tobasco sauce and bring to a boil. Cook for 30 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Serve hot.
You may also enjoy this post which contains the culinary history of Brunswick Stew as well as a recipe for another version: