THAT TANTALIZING aroma floating out of the kitchen comes from a bubbling pot of that old-fashioned favorite, Brunswick stew. What is Brunswick stew? Well, there's Brunswick, Me., Brunswick, Ohio, Brunswick, Va., Brunswick, Md., and even Brunswick, West Germany. Ask in any of those places and chances are you'll get a different recipe for "Brunswick" stew. Nonetheless, it is generally accepted as a Southern creation, and made with some minor differences, depending on the region and the humor of the cook on any particular day.
Over in Brunswick, Va., they claim the stew had its beginning when a hunter was left behind to cook for the other members of a hunting party. The disgruntled hunter supposedly came up with some butterbeans, potatoes, tomatoes, a few onions and okra and spices. In his anger, he took a few potshots at the only game within his range -- some gray squirrels. He put the squirrels in the stew pot with his odd lot of vegetables, and Brunswick stew was on its way.
Indeed, there are many who claim that a true Brunswick stew must be made with the meat of gray squirrels.
Those less doctrinaire and unable to find squirrels, substitute chicken. Others use a combination of cubed beef, pork and chicken.
Stew has many virtues, not the least of which are nutrition, a measure of economy, and its flexibility. Add to it and stretch it to feed unexpected guests, or plan stew as a main course when you need a dish that can wait, unspoiled, on the back burner. Another is its simplicity.
Here are some brunswick stew recipes to fill your kitchen with delightful aromas. Leftovers, if any, can be frozen and used on days when you're too busy to cook. CHOWNING'S TAVERN BRUNSWICK STEW 1 stewing hen (6 pounds) or 2 fryers (3 pounds each) 2 large onions, sliced 2 cups cut okra 4 cups of fresh, or 2 (1-pound) cans tomatoes 2 cups lima beans 3 medium potatoes, diced 4 cups or 2 (1-pound) cans corn 3 teaspoons salt 1 teaspoon pepper 1 tablespoon sugar
Cut chicken in pieces and simmer in 2 or 3 quarts water for 2 1/4 hours. Remove chicken, add vegetables to broth and simmer, uncovered, until beans and potatoes are tender. Stir to prevent scorching. Add chicken, boned and diced, and seasonings. Brunswick stew is better if made a day ahead and allowed to stand in refrigerator overnight in order for flavors to blend. SQUIRREL BRUNSWICK STEW (20 servings) 10 squirrels, disjointed 2 large cans corn 1/2 pound salt pork, diced 5 pounds potatoes, diced 3 (1-pound) cans whole tomatoes 3 pounds onions, diced 2 pounds lima beans 1 cup diced celery Salt and pepper to taste 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce Flour
Place squirrels in a large kettle with enough water to half-cover and bring to boil. Cover the kettle. Simmer squirrels until tender and let cool. Remove squirrels from stock and remove meat from bones. Place squirrel meat back in stock and add remaining ingredients except flour. Cook for 2 hours. Thicken with small amount of flour mixed with water and simmer for 30 minutes longer.
Note: Substitute 5 rabbits, disjointed, one 8- to 10-pound turkey or 4 chickens. DEEP SOUTH BRUNSWICK STEW (10 or more servings) 1 hen (about 4 pounds), cut up 2 pounds pork, cubed 2 pounds beef, cubed 1 (1-pound) can tomatoes 1 (1-pound) can corn 1 (1-pound) can butterbeans (or 1 package frozen) 1 (1-pound) can okra (or 1 package frozen) 1/4 cup catsup 3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce 1 to 3 teaspoons hot pepper sauce 3 tablespoons parsley, chopped or dried flakes 3 tablespoons celery seed 1 teaspoon chili powder 1 teaspoon mustard seed 1 teaspoon curry powder 1 teaspoon thyme 2 or 3 bay leaves
Cook meats in water to cover until tender, saving the stock. Shred meat by hand, mix all vegetables except butterbeans, with meat and seasonings together in large pot and simmer on top of stove at least 4 hours. Add butterbeans last hour of cooking time. Stir frequently, and if liquid is needed, add stock.