Brunswick Stew: A Tasty Virginia Tradition

Brunswick Stew

Winter is often slow to arrive in Virginia, but the frosty weather will be here before we know it. So it’s almost time to bust out the crock-pot and slow cook some winter favorites. In Virginia, there’s one traditional meal we all look forward to – Brunswick stew. But where did Brunswick stew even come from? Let’s take a look at the history of Brunswick stew and see if we can find out.

Brunswick County, Virginia claims to be the original home of Brunswick stew. However, Brunswick County, Georgia also stakes a claim. Brunswick County, North Carolina, while not as vocal, also has a story claiming the savory stew as their own.

Brunswick County Virginia

The Virginian story is better historically documented (although we can’t claim to be impartial). Virginians trace the origins of Brunswick stew to the banks of the Nottoway River in 1828. A large hunting party led by Dr. Creed Haskins were camped along the river bank. Camp cook Jimmy Matthews is said to have prepared the first Brunswick stew, using squirrel meat as a base.

Georgians place the first Brunswick stew on St. Simons island in 1898, claiming that the Virginian story is merely anecdotal.

Both stories may be mistaken, though. Creek and other Native American tribes recall making a stew of meat and seasonable vegetables such as corn and lima beans long before European settlers arrived.

Regardless of origin, one thing is certain, this Southern favorite is delicious.

Brunswick stew is a thick and savory stew featuring meat and vegetables. There is no one definitive recipe, and ingredients vary greatly. In Virginia Brunswick stew, chicken is usually used as the meat. Pork and beef are more common in Georgian recipes. Historically, though, people cooked it with squirrel or rabbit. Tomatoes, corn, lima beans, onions, and celery are the most common ingredients. Some cooks use okra or squash as well. Everyone seems to agree, though, that thickness is key. The stew is not ready until the spoon stands up in the pot.

Whatever your recipe, Brunswick stew is a Southern favorite, probably because of its longtime use at church functions and community fundraisers. For these events, the stew is cooked in huge iron pots with recipes intended for hundreds of servings. The Taste of Brunswick Festival in Alberta, Virginia preserves this tradition with a Brunswick stew competition each year in early October. Georgia also hosts a competition around the same time.

If all this talk of Brunswick stew has made you hungry, don’t worry. There’s still time to get down to the Brunswick Stew festival at the 17th Street Farmers Market. The festival will take place Saturday, November 7 from 11 AM to 4 PM. In addition to plenty of Brunswick stew, you can enjoy live music, a children’s area, and arts and crafts vendors.

If you can’t make it downtown next weekend, you can always pull out your own favorite recipe, whether it’s from your grandmother or from someone else’s grandmother on the internet. Stir it up in your crock pot or cast iron cauldron and enjoy!

What’s your secret Brunswick stew ingredient? Let us know below, and don’t forget to like and share!

Photos: tvnewsbadge, Taber Andrew Bain

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