Yesterday I mentioned the start of Fall Squirrel season, which in Mississippi runs from the first of October to the last of February. That of course brought to mind Brunswick stew. Fortunately, Mr. Big Food has several Brunswick stew recipes in his Big Food Manual and Survivalist Flourishing Guide.
One of the fun things for Mr. Big Food to do as he’s culling recipes from
crappy old cookbooks is to include a bit of the preamble that appears along with the recipe. Preamble– you know, the part that precedes the recipe and says, “This is Aunt Martha’s favorite!” or “”Makes an excellent Sunday supper.” The crappy old cookbook from which this recipe comes is the classic The Gold Cook Book (1947) by Master Chef Louis P. De Gouy. The Master Chef preambles a lot! And every word is worth reading.
Here we go… .
Note. After all is said and done, squirrel meat must have a big part in the pot.
Brunswick stew, luscious prelude to plantation barbecues and all major festivals of the Southland’s spacious hospitality, is a hazardous subject for a writer, and may provoke a fortnight’s newspaper controversy; yet the reasonably orthodox formula will have its defenders, for it all depends on the circumscribed tradition of States or counties and even of parishes.
This writer was greatly ridiculed in the uplands of Mississippi for mentioning chicken in relation to Brunswick stew, though the historic recipes of Georgia and the Carolinas call for it as an essential ingredient. But chicken, say the Mississippians, is a feeble substitute for squirrel meat, which is as necessary as corn and tomatoes and okra—and there you are again, for okra is not even mentioned in some of the recipes that are engrossed on parchment in the archives of two or three Atlantic States.
Squirrels, however, are extremely prominent in the fauna of Mississippi, and literally drop from the trees like ripe apples whenever there are men and boys and guns. There the cook and homemaker may buy dressed squirrels in quantity from street peddlers any day of the week.
At a barbecue in one of the Gulf States the stew is ladled out of a cauldron half the size of the Great Tun of Heidelberg and after two or three bowls of it you proceed to the mass attack on whole quarters of beef, whole calves and pigs, turkeys and geese, all roasted in pits of smoking embers. Between the courses light hors d’oeuvres are passed around, consisting of more squirrels, broiled chicken, partridge, quail and pigeons—and a few roasted ’possums. At last, when you languish, gasping and groaning on the greenward, watermelons, cantaloupes, rich cakes, and pastries and ices are served, and something like euthanasia is attained.
In New York it must usually be chicken instead of squirrel, and the season may force you to use canned vegetables; but if the canned corn is of the finest, tenderest sort, all will be well; and the stew is a glorious success at little diners on winter evenings.
Try as many variations as you please and use even beef, veal or pork along with the chicken, and you will still have Brunswick stew, for they are all included in authentic recipes from every section of Dixie. Also you may add diced potatoes, rice, or noodles; and hearty folks of the Old Dominion put a glass of good sherry or Madeira into their stews to give an agreeable tang. In Louisiana they may tell you, in good faith, that you are already so close to gumbo, that a little gumbo filé powder will do no harm; and it does give a rich consistency to a stew without seriously altering the flavor.
GUMBO FILE POWDER. Gumbo is quite another story, but lest we forget, you really ought to get a jar of the filé powder at one of the few New York shops that keep it.
Dried sassafras leaves are pulverized to make the rich green flour, but the flavor is bland and delicate. If you add it to any mixture that is still on the fire you will have a sorry mess or a ropy glue; but stir it in after the kettle is taken off the range and the result will be perfect and delightful.”
For your first Brunswick stew, stick to fundamentals, using chicken or squirrel, and know the dish in its essential lusciousness of tender meat and fresh vegetables. Afterwards you may experiment with variations and settle on a formula of your own. Any gracious lady or experienced memory from the South will tell you it’s all wrong, but you’ll never find two Southerners who can agree on Brunswick stew, fried chicken or spoon bread.”
The Leg of the Chicken for Mother. She was a mother who always ate the neck of the chicken. The family grew to think it was her favorite piece and save d it for her at reunions and church suppers.
This went on for years until one Christmas the mother helped herself to a leg of chicken with thigh attached and the family passed away from shock.
Moral. Cook more than one chicken.
And now to the recipe for Brunswick Stew of Old Dixie which the Master Chef says, “The consistency should be that of rich soup, but sometimes the broth is thickened slightly with a roux (flour and butter or fat browned together) or some fine bread crumbs.”
BRUNSWICK STEW OF OLD DIXIE
Gray squirrels, plump (because Brunswick stew in Mississippi is imperishable among happy memories, let us assume that squirrel is the word and start with a brace of plump gray ones”), cut up in joints and saddles, dredged with seasoned flour “as for frying, browned nicely in bacon fat with 6 onions sliced thin
3 C boiling water
6 tomatoes, peeled, sliced
3 red peppers, sliced
Pinch (generous) thyme leaves (not the powdered kind)
A little salt
1 large bay leaf tied with 8 sprigs parsley
1 quart fresh lima beans
kernels cut neatly from 6 ears green corn
1 quart okra pods, sliced
1 Tbsp parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Put squirrel and onions in a large iron stew pot, or an earthenware casserole, “as done in Mississippi for almost any kind of stew,” add boiling water, tomatoes, red peppers, thyme leaves, salt, and herb packet, and let simmer for 1 hour. Add lima beans, corn kernels, okra, parsley, and Worcestershire sauce, and let simmer until meat and vegetables are done.