Brunswick stew is a thick mixture of vegetables and meat that is traditionally served hot. It normally has a minimal amount of broth, making it a more thick, chunky stew. The morsels of meat and vegetables are normally cut into medium size chunks that are about twice as large as those typically found in soup.
The suggested ingredients in Brunswick stew are often as varied as the alleged origins of the recipe. Most recipes call for stewed tomatoes as the base for the broth. Vegetable additions frequently include corn, okra, lima beans or butter beans. Depending on the origin of the recipe, meat and poultry ingredients range from regular cuts of chicken, pork and beef to the more exotic additions of squirrel or rabbit. A significant number of Brunswick stew recipes suggest adding liquid smoke to add depth to the dish.
There are two opposing, popular stories regarding the origin of the stew. One historic account traces the dish back to Brunswick County in southern Virginia, and the other attributes its origins to Brunswick, Georgia. The Virginia history claims the dish was created in 1828, and the Georgia account maintains the stew was first made in 1898.
The Virginia tale tells the story of a Virginia State Legislator on a hunting trip with some friends and his chef, “Uncle” Jimmy Matthews. Matthews was the appointed camp cook, and while the others hunted, he shot and dressed some squirrels. As he waited for the hunters to return to camp, he put the squirrels into a large cast iron pot with some onion, butter, stale bread, herbs and spices and stewed the concoction for hours. Although wary of the strange mixture, the hunters tasted it and declared it delicious and satisfying.
According to Georgia history, the first batch of Brunswick stew was cooked on St. Simons Island, off the coast of Georgia near the town of Brunswick. No one person is credited with the recipe. The claim on the stew’s origin here is based wholly on plaque on an historical pot in the town that states the first stew of this type was cooked there on July 2, 1898.
Although Brunswick stew is still a popular family favorite in some regions of the southeastern United States, it is most often found at church fundraisers throughout the South. It is also commonly served at family reunions and political rallies. Some recipes still list squirrel as the main meat ingredient, but in many vicinities chicken is the preferred companion to the stew vegetables.