Family Gatherings: Dan Valley Community Center Brunswick Stew

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Most cultures have a tradition of a humble, community-driven one-pot meal. In the South of France it could be Bouillabaisse. In Spain it’s Paella. In South Louisiana it’s Gumbo or Jambalaya. In Kentucky and Appalachia it’s known as Burgoo, and in the lowcountry, down near Charleston, South Carolina, they make Hopping John or Purloo. In the Piedmont of North Carolina, and similar areas in Georgia, Virginia, and South Carolina, that dish takes the form of Brunswick Stew.

This one-pot community-cooked dish was traditionally tended over an open fire through the night by a gathering of menfolk who regaled each other and the next generation with stories of how their ancestors past did the same thing.

The coming of cooler nights and the changing color of the leaves signals the onset of Brunswick Stew season here in the Piedmont. Soon we’ll start to see signs popping up on roadsides advertising fundraisers at firehouses, churches and schools that have a Brunswick Stew event. They’ll make a big pot of the stew and sell quarts and pints to raise money.

Enjoy this Brunswick Stew recipe at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen on the new “Fall for Something New!” menu that runs through November 13, 2012.

Opinions vary

People in Brunswick, Va, and Brunswick, Ga, argue about the stew’s origin. Opinions also vary as to whether Brunswick Stew should be cooked long enough so that it’s constituent parts are indiscernible, or if everything should be cooked until you can still tell the difference between a lima bean and a hunk of pork.

Here at the restaurant, we prepare the recipe from the Dan Valley Community Center. It has a bit of a pedigree and came here by way of Joan King, a noted local cook, and mother to Nancy Quaintance, who has been instrumental in creating a food profile for this restaurant.

Our preference is to cook the stew until everything is tender and turn it off and let it sit. It’s even better as leftovers. If you put it away in the refrigerator, it has time overnight to sit and the ingredients meld their flavors, and then you’ll understand the adage, “greater than the sum of its parts.”

Brunswick stew is the Piedmont version of chili

And the Piedmontese will say that chili is the East Texas version of Brunswick Stew. Use it like you would chili:

  • use it on nachos
  • top a hamburger
  • sprinkle with it with cheese
  • pour over elbow macaroni

The sum of its parts

  • Chicken, pork and beef (it’s not uncommon to find squirrel or venison)
  • corn, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and beans, usually lima beans
  • generous amount of black pepper

Family Memories

Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen uses the recipe from the Dan Community Center. Below, Nancy King Quaintance’s mother and sister share their memories of the annual community gatherings.

Joan King, Nancy King Quaintance’s mother

“Traditionally we used all canned veggies and I guess you still have to use canned tomatoes, but the corn and limas are much better frozen. The taste is brighter. The men did indeed discuss the meats to go in the stew, but it was as a joke. The only two meats are always beef and chicken.”

Virginia Phelps, Nancy King Quaintance’s sister

“Old Frank Lauten always appeared to put his two-cents into the recipe, to make sure it was going right and then leave as abruptly as he appeared (he didn’t like children and always mumbled the like under his breath). But it was the women who prepared the vegetables and meats for what seemed like days prior to ‘official’ cook day in the Community Center kitchen that really made the stew special.

“There were always large coffee pots steaming, sweet tea, shared canned veggies and pickles and the famous ‘Martha Lauten’ pies that appeared on the many folding tables to give energy to those helping.

“The kitchen was fashioned with many grey folding metal chairs around a large center table where the women would sit well into the night preparing potatoes and crying from cutting onions, and talking about the crops from summer; what had been canned and if there was enough rain that season; the daily report of the textile industry and the like. The faces and voices of rural south, there all the same.'”

Dan Valley Community Center Brunswick Stew

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 ¼ pounds chicken breasts – diced
  • 1 ¼ pounds stew beef – diced
  • ¼ pound pork loin – diced
  • ½ pound yellow onions – diced
  • 3 cups frozen yellow corn – thawed
  • 1 ½ cups frozen white corn – thawed
  • 2 cups frozen lima beans – thawed
  • 2 ¼ cups V-8 juice
  • 1 quart water
  • 2 ¼ tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 1 1/8 tsp white pepper
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 each chicken bouillon cube
  • 1 each beef bouillon cube
  • 2 cups potatoes – peeled and diced
  • 1 ½ tsp cracked black pepper
  • 4 ¾ cups canned diced tomatoes

In a large stock pot or kettle heat oil. Sauté chicken, beef and pork in hot oil until browned. Add onions and continue to sauté until onions are translucent. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until mixture becomes a thick mush. Stir mixture constantly from the bottom of the pot to prevent scorching. Stew may be frozen.

Makes: 1 gallon

For more about our seasonal recipes, see our current menu at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen and our Blog Recipe Index:


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