To strip a traditional Brunswick stew of its legendary ingredients, including squirrel, rabbit, and possum, is to mess with southern history. In this case, it’s a good thing.
Minus the critters, a stew made from slow cooked vegetables in white wine and vegetarian chicken stock, is robust but still lacks its essential wild game-like flavors. Add “tempeh bacon” and soy sausages to the mix, and, well, since neither were shot at gunpoint, or skinned by an open fire, I’m not sure this meatless stew qualifies as a “Brunswick.”
The 2010 April Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Wolf of Wolf’s Den. She chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make Brunswick Stew. Wolf chose recipes for her challenge from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt Lee and Ted Lee, and from the Callaway, Virginia Ruritan Club.
Both Brunswick, Virginia and Brunswick, Georgia claim the stew as their own, and both states say they can prove it. Virginia traces the stew back to a hunting camp on the banks of the Nottoway River in 1828. County records prove that a certain (Uncle) Jimmy Matthews, cook for a Dr. Creed Haskins of Mount Donum on the Nottoway, made the first Brunswick stew while Dr. Haskins and his friends were out hunting. Mr. Matthews shot the squirrels and put them in the stew (1).
Georgians claim that the first Brunswick stew was made in a pot that came from “The Wanderer,”a former slave ship. The pot ended up on St. Simons Island (about six miles from downtown Brunswick) in 1898. The now bronzed pot is located at the United States Highway 17 Welcome Center, at the entrance to the Torras Causeway leading to St. Simons Island (2).
Others discount both stories, insisting the stew originated with Indian tribes not the white settlers. No matter where the dish actually came from, one thing is clear, Brunswick stew is a celebrated southern tradition. There is even an Annual Brunswick Stew Cook-off held in Georgia each October (3).
While I’ve never tasted a true Brunswick Stew, this meatless version paired with a side of Johnny Cakes makes a hearty meal, even without a campfire or S’mores for dessert.
Meatless Brunswick Stew
adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-Be Southerners by Matt Lee and Ted Lee
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 medium onions (chopped)
3 medium carrots (chopped)
1 large celery stalk
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups Not-Chick’n broth (or use a rich vegetable stock)
1 (28-ounce) can whole, peeled tomatoes plus their juices (crush whole tomatoes in a large bowl with the back of a spoon)
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled and chopped)
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 bay leaf
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
1 (8-ounce) package tempeh (cut into 1-inch squares and sauteed in olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, and a pinch of each thyme, oregano, and basil)
2 Tofurky Italian Sausages (sliced into thin rounds, or use your favorite brand of vegetarian sausages)
1 cup frozen corn kernels (defrosted)
1 (10-ounce) package frozen organic lima beans (defrosted)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
Tabasco sauce to taste
In a large pot or dutch oven, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, and celery and cook until vegetables are slightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. Pour in white wine and cook for 1 minute. Turn heat up to medium-high; add the Not-Chick’n broth, drained tomatoes, potatoes, honey, bay leaf, and a pinch or two of salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Lower heat to low and simmer gently uncovered the the stew is thickened about 45 minutes.
Add the vegetarian sausages, sauteed tempeh, corn, and lima beans and cook for another 15 minutes or until all the vegetables are well-seasoned and tender. Remove from heat and add in red wine vinegar. Season with salt, pepper, and Tabasco sauce to taste. Serve hot with a side of savory Johnny Cakes.