Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Virginia IV - Stop being squirrelly! (No, seriously. Stop it.)

Ah, Brunswick stew.  So many states vie over it, each saying "We made it first!" We hear this from Tennessee, North Carolina and of course from Virginia (not so much Kentucky, though their burgoo is somewhat similar).  But what constitutes a Brunswick stew?  Some ingredients that you can easily find, though most of us don't know how to actually hunt them.

Official Name: Commonwealth of Virginia
State Nickname: The Old Dominion State
Admission to the US: June 25, 1788 (#10)
Capital: Richmond (4th largest)
Other Important Cities: Virginia Beach (largest), Norfolk (2nd largest), Chesapeake (3rd largest); Newport News (5th largest), Hampton (6th largest), Alexandria (7th largest)
Region: South, Upper South, Mid-Atlantic, Chesapeake; South Atlantic (US Census)
RAFT NationsChestnutCrab Cake
Bordered by: West Virginia (northwest), Maryland, District of Columbia and the Potomac River (northeast), Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean (east), North Carolina (south), Tennessee (southwest), Kentucky (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: brook trout (fresh water fish), milk (beverage), Eastern oyster (shell), striped bass (salt water fish)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: ham (especially Smithfield); peanuts; Chesapeake Bay cuisine to the north and east of the state, specifically crabs (fried, steamed, boiled, deviled, Norfolk and she-crab soup) and oysters; typical Southern foods to the south and west of the state (including ham biscuits, beaten biscuits, etc); diverse multicultural foods in Northern Virginia (notably South & Southeast Asian, West African, Ethiopian and Central American); Brunswick stew

Brunswick stew has a long history in the Upper South.  Of course, Brunswick County, Virginia, is one of the places that says they had it first.  I have no horse in this race, though Virginia is closer, so I guess they're as close to the home team as possible.  So the origins of Brunswick stew, in Brunswick County at least, dates back before the Civil War.

It all started back in 1828 on the banks of the Nottoway River during a hunting party. Dr. Creed Haskins, a member of the House of Delegates from 1839 through 1841, took a group of his friends on a hunting expedition. While they were on the hunt, camp cook Jimmy Matthews stirred together the first impromptu mixture that has become known as Brunswick Stew. The original thick soup was made from squirrels, onions, and stale bread. 
When the hunters returned, there was reluctance to try the new mixture. However, the reluctance turned to demands for second and third helpings of the warm, thick stew. [Brunswick Stewmaster's Association, date unknown]
When we think of Brunswick stew, we usually think of those squirrels. In fact, one message board commenter "Elmer Fudd" at the Field & Stream website, who offers his own recipe, swears that,
In my opinion an authentic Brunswick Stew must include three things: Squirrel, lima beans, and okra. Yet if you go online, you will find plenty of recipes that do not include *any* of these items. ["Elmer Fudd" 2009].
He suspects those recipes are from New York (As Elmer suggests, "This incredible development is what happens when we let Yankees dicker with things that should be left to Southerners").  And yet, while it is ridiculously easy to find the last two ingredients - there isn't exactly a shortage of lima beans or okra - finding squirrel isn't such an easy task, especially flying squirrels who are apparently the most authentic type of squirrel to use (this from Tim Carman [2009] at the Washington City Paper).  Yes, I am speaking as a non-hunter: I don't know how to hunt, I don't have the time to hunt, and all of my in-laws who do hunt have moved out of state.  This is also the reason why I haven't had venison in a few years.  So short of sneaking up on a few squirrels and bonking them on the head with a brick, I had to think of alternative meats out of necessity.   

The recipe I chose would almost make Elmer's blood curdle, I fear: no squirrel (sadly - you can't even find it on the internet for sale!), and no okra.  But at least it has lima beans in it.  And once more, I went back to John Shields' Chesapeake Bay Cooking for his expert advice.  Shields does urge the home cook to use squirrel instead of chicken, the go-to replacement these days.  Or you could get adventurous and use muskrat instead [Shields 1998].  But he does give you quantities for both squirrel and chicken, should you go the latter route.  His Brunswick stew, presumably from Virginia's Lower Eastern Shore, is on page 168 of Chesapeake Bay Cooking.  I halved this recipe.

The Recipe: Brunswick Stew

For this Brunswick stew assemble the following, if you can't find squirrel that is:

* chicken (in lieu of squirrel; I bought it at Wegman's for about $3 per lb)
* onion (did not cost a lot)
* potato (same)
* bacon grease (or in this case, chicken schmaltz, which I had in the fridge)
* butter (had it)
* flour (same)
* lima beans (a bag of dried lima beans for about $1.50)
* chicken broth (a quart for about $2.  I used the entire thing)
* thyme (had it)
* bay leaf (same)
* corn (a can for about 70¢ at Wegman's)
* salt and pepper (had these of course)
I forgot to add to the photo one more important ingredient: tomatoes, which is an important part of many Brunswick stew recipes.  I added two, chopped.

* First, dredge you chicken pieces, with the skin on.

Melt your butter and schmaltz in a cast iron skillet.  I used my 12" skillet.

Brown your chicken pieces in the fat...

...a few minutes on either side.

Add the chicken broth and simmer for several minutes...


Next add your vegetables...

...your lima beans,

...your herbs...

...and your tomatoes.

Simmer for a total of an hour and a half, from start to finish.

While this does not look like many of the Brunswick stews that I have seen (most of those look more like the burgoo I made for Kentucky), this is still a hearty stew that will fill you up.  I didn't have okra or squirrel, true.  Yes, I would have liked to try it with some squirrel meat.  But I couldn't get my hands on any, alright?  Seriously, man!

- - - - -

From the home of George Washington to the state that bears his name, we head from the Southeast to the Northwest, trading blue crabs for Dungeness ones and apples for, er, apples.  It's time to see what the Evergreen State has to offer as we explore the foods of Washington.

- - - - -


Anderson's Neck Oyster Company.  "History".  Copyright 2012, Anderson's Neck Oyster Company.  All rights reserved.

Brunswick Stewmaster's Association.  "Brunswick Stew History".  Copyright 2010, Brunswick Stewmaster's Association.  All rights reserved.

Carman, Tim.  "The Real Reason Why Squirrel Meat Isn’t Used in Brunswick Stew Anymore".  Young & Hungry column, Washington City Paper, posted May. 6, 2009.

Cowen, Tyler.  Tyler Cowen's Ethnic Dining Guide.  Copyright 2012, All rights reserved.

Chadwell, Treva.  "Virginia Ham Biscuits".  Provided for the Cooking Channel.  Copyright 2012, Cooking Channel LLC.  All rights reserved.

"Elmer Fudd" (user), "Elmer Fudd's Brunswick Stew".  Posted September 26, 2009.  Copyright 2009 Field & Stream.  All rights reserved.

Good Earth Peanut Company.  "All About Peanuts".  Date unknown.

Graham, Paul, N.G. Marriott and R.F. Kelly.  "Dry Curing Virginia-Style Ham".  Written for the Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension, 2011.

Peanut Shop of Williamsburg.  "Thai Cucumber Salad".  Copyright 2010, The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg.  All rights reserved.

Randolph, Mary.  The Virginia Housewife: Or Methodical Cook: A Facsimile of an Authentic Early American Cookbook.  1824.  Republication of the edition by E.H. Butler & Co., Philadelphia, 1860.  Introduction by Janice Bluestein Longone, Moneola, NY: Dover, 1993.

Shields, John. Chesapeake Bay CookingBroadway Books: New York, NY, 1998

Virginia Tourism Corporation. "Home page".  Copyright 2012, Virginia Tourism Corporation.  All rights reserved.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Virginia" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Virginia".


Nanc Twop said...

Hey, sounds good, and luckily
I have most of the ingredients
on hand so I'll have to try it
this weekend.

:) thanks

btw, hope you fare well w/ Hurricane Sandy...

John said...

I'll try to stay dry. Thanks!