Friday, December 3, 2010

From the archives: Brunswick Stew Recipe for a Yankee

First, you cook a chicken until the meat falls from the bones. Then remove the bones and any other icky parts and put the meat back in the same pot of water. Let it simmer a little while longer just to really get all of the flavor infused in the water.

Chop up some potatoes into cubes, some smaller and some larger. The stew cooks for hours, so some of the potatoes should be small enough to break apart and thicken the broth, while others should be large enough to withstand the stew and retain their shape though they should still be bite-size and soft when the stew is done.

Also add okra that has been chopped into disks – not modern, high-tech disks, but rustic, stone-wheel disks. And slice some onions into rustic rounds as well. As to how many of each, when you’ve added all of them to the chicken pot, you should cry out loud, “Why! I’ll never be able to fit the other vegetables in this pot!” But never you fear. Allow the potatoes, onion, and okra to simmer for hours. I don’t know how many, so don’t ask. A lot of them. Enough so that you finally sigh, “Whew. There may be just enough room to squeeze in the other ingredients after all.”

But don’t rush. The key ingredient in Brunswick stew is time – and forehead sweat. The forehead sweat drips in as you stir and stir and stir. Not a lot, mind you. And you should really take a nice, long bath before you begin the process so that your forehead sweat will not be contaminated by hairspray, moisturizer, smog, or acid rain. But, once you are relatively certain that your forehead sweat is clean, then don’t attempt to make Brunswick stew without it. It’s just not the same. Now, if you happen to know a fat man from the coast of Georgia, you might ask him to stir for you because his forehead sweat will be more seasoned than yours. He should be about forty; older is fine, but if he’s younger you may just as well do it yourself.

One more comment on time. A good Brunswick stew will take no less than twelve hours. If it takes longer, even better, but if it begins to look done after only six or seven hours then your flame is too high, your water is too bubbly, you’ve added vegetables too soon, or perhaps you’ve let fall too much or too little forehead sweat. Shame on you. Your stew might not taste paltry, but I can assure you that it is not a true Brunswick stew. Don’t feel too badly. After all, you’re a Yankee.

Now, look into your pot with the intense gaze of a ninety-year-old chicken-bone-reader from northern Mississippi. Here is what you should see if you are thinking of adding any more ingredients – chicken strings, NOT chicken chunks, just threads of chicken stitching through a fabric of okra that has shed its earthly form to become one with the chicken, potatoes that have been mostly reduced to a shadow of their former selves, and onions that are now pure essence. But, regarding the potatoes, remember that some should retain their shape, like Elijah in a heaven of souls. The souls here being those of vegetable rather than Baptists.

If your stew has reached this level of soulfulness, then , and only then, you may add tomatoes. There may be some debate as to the kind of tomatoes you should use – some might attempt to persuade you to peel fresh tomatoes. These people are hippies, and they probably don’t bathe before they add their forehead sweat. Ignore them. They are probably from California anyway and don’t know the first thing about real Brunswick stew. The tomatoes should come from a large can. They may be whole or crushed, depending on your mood. But they should not be diced and definitely not seasoned with Italian herbs. This is Brunswick stew, not marinara. There should be enough tomatoes to tint the final product reddish-orange, the exact color of clay in the foothills of Georgia. If you are unsure of what I mean, you might consider Google-ing “Georgia clay.”

Once you’ve dumped the entire contents of one large can of crushed or whole tomatoes, including the juices, into your pot, allow the whole mess to simmer more, stirring occasionally or reminding Buford, your forty-year-old Georgian, to do so. After a while, a good long while, keeping in mind that while you may be on New York City time your Brunswick stew is on Southern, porch-sitting, howdy-do-ing time, the tomatoes will have intermarried with your okra and potatoes and onion and chicken, regardless of what their mammies and pappies have told them about it. This is the times to populate your stew with the more colorful vegetables – corn, green beans, and lima beans. Please do not add carrots or cauliflower or broccoli. Especially do not add Brussels sprouts. While they do have their places in a variety of stews, this ain’t one of them.

At this point in the game, if Buford is still sober enough to stir (you can rest assured that he’s sober enough to sweat), you may relax and enjoy a beer – but not a glass of wine or champagne – well, maybe a jelly jar of Boone’s Farm, if you must. And don’t be urbane or ironic and drink a German beer or even an English ale. Maybe I should explicitly limit you to Bud or Coors, but not Light. You can give that to the hippies with their freshly-peeled tomatoes and their free-range chicken.

When the stew is done, your stirring-spoon should nearly stand straight up in it. You should have the vague notion when you look carefully at it that vegetables once lived there. A green bean might bob to the surface and call to mind a memory of a swamp where once you saw a log that might have been an alligator peeping through the muck. A kernel of corn might seem to defy the uniformity of the whole, like a Cousin Myrtle who up and married a Mexican and now wears a sombrero wherever she goes.

Add some salt and pepper to your taste. Maybe even some red pepper flakes for Cousin Myrtle. But nothing more. You now have yourself a big, old pot of Brunswick stew. Enjoy.

But first a few more rules. Brunswick stew should only be made in the fall on a cool day when the leaves are a sympathetic orange. You might be able to pull off Brunswick stew in the winter, but you’d be better off just freezing some of what you made in November. You can eat Brunswick stew in the fall, winter, and during particularly chilly springs, but never in summer. Unless you’re the kind of person who eats ice-box lemon pie in December. I don’t think you are, though. The main reason for eschewing Brunswick stew in the summer is one of common sense – like why children only have three months of summer break during which to ride their bikes and abandon the rules of grammar – if you eat Brunswick stew year round, you won’t have it to look forward to.

1 comment:

  1. I realize that it would have been more appropriate to post this in the fall, but it was still lost in old files back then. I wrote it in 2004 to my dear friend Molly from Cooperstown, NY. Anyway, with the way the weather has changed over the years, winter feels a little more like fall, so it probably wouldn't be a sacrilege to make Brunswick stew now.


Creative Commons License
A Mirror, A Summer, A Street by Autumn Crisp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.