We’re giving away a copy of Burgoo, Barbecue, and Bourbon this week and it inspired our Publicity Manager to reminisce about community stews and the gatherings where they were prepared. Enjoy a guest post that may make you hungry for more foodways history!
Burgoo’s Place in the Constellation of Community Stews
By Mack McCormick, Publicity Manager
Growing up in Alabama, Brunswick Stew was ubiquitous. You didn’t see many people make it at home, but it and barbecue were staples of community fundraisers. It was cooked outside in huge cast-iron pots and stirred with boat paddles. My parents still have the 30-gallon pot that my great-uncle used to make it. You could count on him having a batch almost every Saturday in the summer before he closed the country store in Suttle.
Growing up close to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, I was also very familiar with Gumbos, whether file or okra, but I had never heard of Burgoo before moving to Kentucky in the mid 1990s. The first I sampled was at Mark’s Feed Store in Louisville, followed shortly after by Keeneland’s and many others since. It wasn’t until I began to work on Albert W. A. Schmid’s new book, Burgoo, Barbecue, and Bourbon: A Kentucky Culinary Trinity, however, that I started to consider it within the larger tradition of regional community stews. Here are the highlights:
Common wherever Irish settled, it can be nearly any variety of meat and root vegetable stew, but typically includes lamb or mutton.
A variation on Irish Stew that was made from any ingredients on hand, it became a common dish among hobos during the Great Depression.
A variation on Mulligan Stew popularized in the West, it traditionally includes the internal organs of calves.
Kentucky’s contribution to community stews, Vice President of the United States Alben Barkley of Paducah said, “A ‘burgoo’ is a cross between a soup and a stew, and into the big iron cooking kettles go, as we sometimes say in Kentucky, a ‘numerosity’ of things—meat, chicken, vegetables, and lots of seasoning.”
Generally containing clams, broth, diced potatoes, onions, and celery, numerous regional varieties of chowder can be found along Atlantic seaboard. Delaware clam chowder includes pre-fried salt pork. Hatteras clam chowder is a spicier version from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Manhattan clam chowder uses a tomato-based broth. New England (or Boston) clam chowder uses milk or cream.
Composed of a meat or shellfish, stock, a thickener (roux, okra, or filé powder), and the “holy trinity” of onion, celery, and bell peppers, it is most closely associated with southern Louisiana. The two main varieties are creole, which is thinner and has a tomato base, and Cajun, which is thicker and uses a roux.
Probably Belgian in origin and common in Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin, and Michigan, it traditionally can require up to two days and multiple cooks to prepare. Like Burgoo, Booyah can also refer to a social event surrounding the meal.
Let me know which ones I missed, and I’m also curious to hear from others about their memories of similar stews.