Thursday, February 27, 2014

Brunswick Stew Mission

Today my husband and I were on a mission to find the plaque and pot featured in the picture below. We figured it had to be somewhere in the small town of Brunswick, GA. But not one person we asked had a clue where it was and what it even looked like. I had seen the picture of it in a brochure. Now this was puzzling since the town seems to have some bragging rights about the origin of stew from there. 
Recipes for Brunswick stew vary greatly but it is usually a tomato-based stew containing various types of lima beans/butter beans, corn, okra, and other vegetables, and one or more types of meat. Most recipes claiming authenticity call for squirrel or rabbit meat, but chicken, pork, and beef are also common ingredients. Some versions have a distinctly smoky taste. Eastern North Carolina Brunswick Stew has potatoes, which thickens it considerably. Eastern Virginia Brunswick Stew tends to be thinner, with more tomato flavor and less smoky flavor.

Southerners love to debate the origins of Brunswick stew. Virginia,Georgia and North Carolina all claim to be its birthplace, but the truth most likely is that it originated with Native Americans. The first stews of early America contained all sorts of wild game. Some cooks still say it isn't Brunswick Stew unless it has squirrel.

Brunswick, Georgia claimed that the first Brunswick Stew was created there in 1898. There is, at the Golden Isles Welcome Center on Interstate 95, a bronzed stew pot with a plaque proclaiming this fact. Wish I had read that part before we started searching the town for it.

However, Brunswick, Virginia claims that the first Brunswick Stew was created there by a camp cook named Jimmy Matthews in 1828, for a hunting expedition led by Dr. Creed Haskings, a member of the Virginia State Legislature for a number of years. He was said to have used squirrel in the original Brunswick Stew created for the group when they returned.

The hunters were at first skeptical of the thick, hearty concoction, but upon tasting it, were convinced and asked for more.

Every year, there is an Annual Brunswick Stew Cookoff that pits ‘Stewmasters’ from both Virgina and Georgia against their counterparts, and takes place every October in Georgia.

In the early 20th century, the rivalry of the two Brunswicks helped make this dish as popular as it is today, and it quickly became a pan-Southern classic. Some recipes call for the original addition of squirrel, but most allow for chicken, turkey, ham, or pork, even beef on occasion. Rabbit is also used. The vegetables can vary widely from variation to variation, however, the Brunswick Stewmasters recipe says *exactly* what is used in competition stews, and states that “Adding any additional ingredient(s) will disqualify the stew from being an original Brunswick Stew.” However, most agree that, Brunswick stew is not done properly “until the paddle stands up in the middle.” on its own. 

Well I was brave and ordered the Brunswick Stew just hoping they skipped the squirrel and rabbit part. It was absolutely delicious even with no squirrel in sight and no paddle standing up in middle. I am now on the hunt for a good recipe to try and post at a later date.

Brunswick is named for Braunsweig, Germany the ancestral home of King George II. 
Brunswick is part of the Golden Isles which are located in the southern part of Georgia's scenic coastline. The isles also include St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island and Little St. Simons.    

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