RICHMOND, FEB. 22 -- The spicy fragrance of Brunswick stew, the thick, tangy concoction that is a staple of fund-raising by volunteer fire departments and rescue squads throughout Virginia and much of the South, wafted from a candy-striped tent on the Capitol grounds today.
As two dozen residents of rural Brunswick County, Va., took turns churning oar-like paddles in a pair of 75-gallon kettles, Del. R. Beasley Jones (D-Brunswick) mounted the podium and read House Joint Resolution 35, which proclaims that the first Brunswick stew was cooked on the banks of the Nottoway River in the heart of Virginia's tobacco region 160 years ago.
The proclamation, freshly endorsed by the Virginia General Assembly and signed by Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, was necessitated, Jones said, because residents of Brunswick, Ga., and occasionally those in other places with that name, have suggested that the stew originated in their communities.
The resolution avers that Brunswick stew was invented by a slave named Jimmy Matthews, when he threw four squirrels into a pot, along with some fresh vegetables, while awaiting the return of a hunting party headed by a Dr. Creed Haskins, a physician and member of the Virginia legislature. The stew was an instant success, with President Andrew Jackson among its earlier devotees, according to local historians.
Modern-day Brunswick stew is made with chicken, or occasionally beef, pork or rabbit. "No squirrels were used," Richard J. Holland, who represents the county in the Senate, assured today's tasters, who included several great-grandchildren of Matthews.
The Brunswick (Va.) County Chamber of Commerce is attempting to capitalize on its claim to the stew to bring economic development to the tranquil county of 16,000, which rests on the North Carolina border, 65 miles south of Richmond.
The state's secretary of economic development, Richard M. Bagley, delivered a message to the folks in Georgia: "It's just not so" that the stew was invented there. "It started here," Bagley said, "just as we tell our friends in Massachusetts, did Thanksgiving."
Georgia's claim dates to 1898, according to a placard on a black kettle that sits in front of the Brunswick-Sea Island chamber of commerce building.
Civic boosters there have been distributing samples of the Georgia-style stew at rest areas on I-95 for several years.
"We're enjoying the competition," said Woody Woodside of the Georgia city's chamber, who added that the city's legislators have introduced a resolution staking out their claim. The Georgians also have challenged Virginia to a "stew-off" at the Southern Governors Association meeting next September at nearby Sea Island.
"Our stew has more originality," boasted Phyllis Taunton, director of the city's Main Street Jubilee, a festival that features a stew competition.
She said the Georgia variety often uses wild game, sometimes in combination with the standard chicken, beef and pork.
"We're not mad at them. We enjoy the rivalry," said 71-year-old Harold Blick, a retired supermarket employee who was the official stewmaster at today's ceremony. "But we've been making it 50 years longer." Blick said the Georgians got the idea from Sterling Orgain, who moved there from Brunswick County, Va., in 1885. There is no one right way to make the stew. "Find 10 different stewmasters and you'll find 10 different recipes," Blick said. The secret is "not putting in too much flavoring. You can add it, but you can't take it out."