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Feeling Young Again: Brunswick Stew

Some Things Never Change (It's not about protecting the innocent)

From what I always understood, second childhood was supposed to be that time when I lost control of my faculties and could no longer take care of myself. (As opposed to now?)

Well, forgive me for nitpicking but that sounds more like childhood number five, or at the very least, three.  Second childhood is what I’ve been going through ever since my kids were born.

What parent hasn’t forced their children to live through all the experiences he/she had as a child?  The most recent parent-induced trauma for my brood happened just last week, when we drove out to Washington DC, Mount Vernon and Williamsburg, VA.

Was it any fun?

Well, my wife and I had a good time.  It was certainly a lot more fun than the trip my family took when I was my daughters’ ages.

Did my kids feel the same way?  Time will tell.  Not that we’ll have to pay a price if it wasn’t.  That bill gets passed on to the next generation.  Like the national debt, environmental clean-ups and, well, everything.

What I remember most about my first trip to DC was walking up and down the Washington Monument.  So you better believe I was waiting in line for tickets an hour and a half before the booth opened.  How else could I be sure my kids would have the exact same memories I had?

Did I mention the sun hadn’t come up yet and it was freezing cold?  Good character building stuff, right?

Sadly, the ranger at the monument told us that they no longer let people walk up the monument steps.  Something about it being a health issue.  Interestingly, the last year they did let anyone walk up the Monument was in 1970, the same year my wife and I were both there with our own parents.

This time we went up the elevator and that was just great.

The next stop was Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s boyhood and manhood home, which was far and away the best part of the trip for our girls.  No thanks to George or anything historical, but because we bumped into some friends from Chicago and their kids. Suddenly Virginia was a wonderland, the mist and rain didn’t matter and farm animals were, once again, fascinating.

After that we drove to Williamsburg.

From a parent’s perspective, this was also great. The tours, the reenactments, the conscription  of a certain wayward dad into the Virginia militia, none of the stuff I remembered from my own visit.  Not that I remembered all that much from back then.  I remembered the stocks, the costumes, tri-corner hats and Brunswick stew.  I remembered Chowning’s Tavern was the place that served the stew.  I even remembered that Brunswick Stew was made from chicken, potatoes, tomatoes, corn, onions, okra and lima beans.

What I don’t remember was liking it.

I hoped I would like it more now, but more importantly, I wasn’t about to let an easy recipe reenactment escape the Soup Blog.

Alas, we got there too early.  Chowning’s Tavern opened up the week after we left so I never got to order Brunswick Stew as an adult.  I did find a cookbook in one of the many fine gift shops of Colonial Williamsburg and I was pleased to discover that my memories of the stew were dead on.  But for the teaspoon of sugar that they call for in the end, I had guessed exactly right.

When we got home a few days later, I tried out the recipe and the family dined just like the colonials did—in front of the TV.  And, everyone cleaned their plates.

Perhaps that was the biggest surprise from this whole trip: that my daughters really liked Brunswick Stew.

I guess there must have been something wrong with me when I was a child.

The first time anyway.

Brunswick Stew
(serves 6-8)
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
3 cups chicken stock (enough to cover the chicken)
1 14 ½ oz. can tomatoes
1 cup frozen okra
1 cup frozen lima beans
2 cups frozen corn
1 large onion, chopped
2 small potatoes, peeled and diced
1 tsp sugar (optional, I didn’t add any)
salt & pepper to taste

  1. Cut the chicken into pieces—breasts, wings, drumsticks, thighs—place in a soup pot and add enough stock to cover it (about 3 cups, maybe 4).  Then let the chicken simmer for about an hour.
  2. Remove the chicken to a plate and let it cool.
  3. Place the vegetables in the pot, bring the stew to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer for 30-40 minutes.
  4. When the chicken is cool enough, pull the meat from the bones, chop it up and return it to the pot and heat through.
  5. Taste, adjust the seasonings to your taste and add additional stock if you’d like.  My stew could have done with some extra liquid as it was pretty dry when I finally plated it.  Otherwise everything was terrific.  As I said, my whole family cleaned their plates.
  1. Serve with bread and butter and maybe a flagon of ale or whatever suits you.

Image Credit: “Cruel & Unusual Punishment” from a photograph by the author’s daughter. 

Another fun thing about Williamsburg was talking to the chef at the Governor’s Palace.  He used all the same ingredients and cooking methods they used in colonial times.  I don’t know if I could make do without my immersion blender.  What favorite kitchen item would you miss if you had to live in old Williamsburg?


2 Comments to “Feeling Young Again: Brunswick Stew”

  1. Jane says:

    OK, you got me. I’m running out to Whole Foods to buy a chicken. This is what we’re having for dinner tonight. I’ll report back. My prediction: Adults will love it, and kids, well, my kids hate everything except sushi and pizza. P.s. I made the trip to Williamsburg as a child and loved it. I remember eating Welsh rarebit at one of the inns. I was worried it was made of bunny rabbit, but my mother told me it was bread and cheese seasoned with a bit of beer. I didn’t like it.

    • admin says:

      Glad to hear you’ve jumped in. I’ve always wondered what rarebit was. Hope the Brunswick Stew went well.