Subtitled: Do you stew?
Today I'm making a big pot of Brunswick stew, willing it to be Fall even though I know we're still in for at least another week of hot sticky summer. With its mix of summer and storage vegetables (corn and tomatoes; potatoes and onions), Brunswick stew has always seemed a good bridge meal. The stew used to be made with whatever meat a person had around, squirrel or rabbit being the easiest to rustle up, but now it's mostly made with chicken (except, apparently in Georgia where it's apparently made with *brace yourself* beef).
In our house when I was growing up, we always called this just plain "Brunswick". It was one of the things that we could heat up all by ourselves for Saturday lunch. My grandmother who lived in Houston but was born in Richmond was delighted when my mother brought her a stock of Mrs. Fearnow's in the bright yellow cans with red writing and those old-fashioned looking pen and ink trees.
This is the stew that is often a side dish on North Carolina barbeque restaurant and church buffets, along with the cooked-to-death collard greens and the boiled potatoes. In Raleigh, I used to make it to go along with oysters done under steaming burlap on the grill. And I still remember the first time I made this in the Little House at the farm. I made the biggest mess of that no-dishwasher kitchen, and ended up giving much of the huge potful away to co-workers and my friend Karen who doesn't like lima beans but can pick around them in this stew.
Late last month, my parents (and my parents-in-law) went to a wedding on the North Carolina coast. My mother told me this story. Our childhood friend, who was getting married, is a native North Carolinian, as are her parents and grandparents. Her husband is from the North. At the rehearsal dinner, Brunswick was served as a side dish, and the Northern contingent couldn't quite figure out what it was. Too thick to be vegetable soup, too tomato-y to be meat stew. "What is this?" asked one of the Northern guests.
"Why, it's Brunswick stew," the Southerners explained.
"What's that?" the Northern guest persevered.
"Well," said a long-time Carolinian, "think of it as vegetable stew that a squirrel tripped and fell into." A clattering of spoons on soup bowls. "Although," she added slowly smiling, "now it's mostly made with chicken." Whoops and cackles from the gathered Southerners.
My stew still needs its corn and hot sauce, but then we'll have a favorite dinner. Hurry Fall!