Loading...
Judging by the number of folks charged with driving under influence I am guessing the penalty is rather light. Of...

“Stew dogs” do it best

Bob Garner

Bob Garner

Loading…

Sunday, September 23, 2018

There was a time when Brunswick stew was a restaurant favorite in eastern North Carolina, especially in barbecue restaurants.

I’m saddened to say that the quality of the stew in several popular eastern barbecue joints has been in a downward spiral during the past couple of decades. Without mentioning specifics, I can say that the towns of Wilson, Rocky Mount, Goldsboro and Greenville are home to some of these eateries.

It just doesn’t seem quite right that relatively new barbecue restaurants in the Triangle area have stepped up and embraced a commitment to authentic Brunswick stew to balance the decline in portions of the coastal plain. But it’s true.

In any event, Brunswick stew never reached its zenith in restaurants anyway. Rural areas and small towns are where the dish really shines. There is no other traditional North Carolina food that evokes as vivid a mental image of folk sharing not only ingredients and the fellowship of the cooking task but also the delicious end product.

Cooking large batches of Brunswick stew is an important, periodic social event that’s also a top fundraiser for churches, law enforcement agencies, clubs, volunteer fire departments and other entities.

The veterans who oversee these stews — sometimes called “stew dogs” — tend to be firmly set in their ways when it comes to procedure. Personal and family recipes handed down from one generation to the next are stubbornly defended with great vehemence. Competing ways or claims of superiority are often scorned. Pride is at stake, you see.

In earlier years, Brunswick stew was routinely cooked for up to 10 hours in cast-iron pots heated by wood fires. Generations of young novices gained their experience by pushing wooden paddles through endless figure-eight patterns along the pot bottom until their arms and shoulders ached.

The pain of stirring, though, was nothing compared to the wrath incurred if one didn’t pay enough attention to the stirring and consequently “stuck the stew.” Smoke from the fire added significantly to the flavor of the stew, and it infused the clothing of the cooks with a smoky aroma that testified to their hard labor.

Today, the bulk of rural, eastern Brunswick stew may be cooked in aluminum or stainless pots over gas burners, but ingredients remain fairly unvarying. The commonly accepted ones are tomatoes, butter beans, corn, one or more types of meat and seasonings, while potatoes and onions are optional to some, required by others.

It is entirely acceptable and quite common to use only chicken as a meat, while some purists argue that Brunswick stew isn’t authentic unless it contains at least one other type. Some cooks add beef, others add pork and a few use all three proteins.

This is the point where people inevitably start asking me, “What about squirrel?” It’s true that in Brunswick County, Virginia, the man usually credited with inventing Brunswick stew around 1830 reportedly included squirrel in his first version. Squirrel was undoubtedly added for decades afterward, too.

But anyone tasked with assembling the ingredients and producing a large pot of stew would never get anywhere if they depended on harvesting and deboning enough of these bushy-tailed little scamperers. Squirrel meat in Brunswick stew is chiefly a countryside legend and is gigantically impractical: fuhggedaboutit.

I have learned by experience that it’s acceptable to include other vegetable ingredients such as finely grated cabbage, okra or sweet potatoes if — and it’s an important if — they are cooked down until they meld into a thick, background stock that adds flavor and depth while still showcasing the butter beans, corn and meat. It is not acceptable, in my view, to have green beans, stray green peas or chunks of carrots floating around as visible ingredients of Brunswick stew.

See, that sort of “use up all the leftovers” approach is why so much of the Brunswick stew in eastern city barbecue joints has become so unappetizing. Any stew worth buying and savoring will stay pretty close to the basics.

Bob Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker. Contact him at bgarner2662@gmail.com. 

Loading…

Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

Look

April 19, 2019

Cap­sules of movies play­ing lo­cally. New re­leases are in­di­cated with an as­ter­isk.

AFTER — After follows Tessa - armed with grand ambitions for her future, her guarded world opens up when she meets the dark and mysterious Hardin Scott, a magnetic,…

shazam-levi-glazer.jpg

April 19, 2019

Best of Enemies is the recent release based on the true story of an unlikely relationship between Ann Atwater, an outspoken civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis, a local Ku Klux Klan leader.

Set in Durham, N.C., during the racially charged summer of 1971, Atwater and Ellis come together to co-…

enemies

April 17, 2019

 

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am nervous about the idea of going to therapy. I was invited to go in order to build a stronger relationship with a family member, but I cannot imagine how talking to a stranger will help.

Whenever my relative and I are around each other for more than a couple of hours, we…

Harriette Cole

April 17, 2019

 

If "Unplanned" was an ordinary movie, its creators would be busy right now studying second-week box office numbers while starting negotiations with the digital giants that stream products to the masses.

But this has never been an ordinary movie, which is why it's an important test case for…

Terry Mattingly

April 17, 2019

Not those kind of mushrooms, silly. You want these mushrooms — namely, dried porcini mushrooms — in your kitchen. They keep indefinitely in your pantry and can easily be reconstituted for use with pasta, risotto, soups and sauces. Or you can simply blitz the heck out of them and turn…

Porcini Lamb Chops

April 17, 2019

As a parent, instilling healthy eating habits in your children at an early age can aid in proper growth and development. Eating well goes a long way toward maintaining a healthy weight, increasing energy levels and improving moods while also reducing risk of obesity and other chronic issues such as…

14731_B.jpg

April 17, 2019

As the Hot Dish writer, I’m lucky to have the opportunity to share my culinary adventures with you on a weekly basis. I get to eat amazing food, meet wonderful business owners, customers, and not only educate you on how food taste, but bring you into the culture that surrounds the food.…

20190412_224849.jpg

April 17, 2019

Dear Readers:

First a shout out to those who joined my Cooking Matters grocery store tour sponsored by Pitt Partner’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Action Team. I had a grand time sharing tips on how to eat healthy on a budget as we roamed the aisles of a local Food Lion store.

I was ably…

Kolasa, Kathy

April 14, 2019

The North Carolina Literary Review editorial staff has awarded the first John Ehle Prize to Patrick E. Horn for his essay on 19th-century writers George Moses Horton and Caroline Lee Hentz. The essay will be published in the NCLR 2019 issue.

Award-winning novelist Terry Roberts explained his…

041419literaryaward

April 14, 2019

This story is part of an occasional series of features provided by the Greenville Historic Preservation Commission that will focus on city’s history and historic structures.

Going back in time to 1929, Greenville was in real need of a library.

The Greenville Graded School, also called the…

Sheppard 1940's.jpg
173 stories in Look. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 18
        Next Page»   Last Page»