Brunswick Stew: How Virginian is it?

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NATIONWIDE — Driving down George Washington Memorial Highway/Route 17 in Grafton (York County), you’ll pass Western Auto. The parking lot for the blue building often hosts many community fundraising events, including various organizations selling the Virginia-favorite concoction, Brunswick Stew.

It is an epicureal taste sensation that warms the spirit with its delicate mixture of flavors. This delightful dish is one that Virginians claim as our own. However, there is some debate as to who really can lay claim to the popular fall/winter fare. Today, lets dip our ladle into the pot to learn more about the history of Brunswick Stew.

The Great Battle of Brunswick (Stew)

It is a tale as old as time; two entities vying for the crown as to who can claim the glory of being the first to discover something. For the case of this war that rages, it is between Georgia and Virginia.

Some things are universal when it comes to Brunswick Stew: a giant pot with wild game, vegetables, legumes, and certain seasonings. But where it got its start could have been either Brunswick, Ga. or Brunswick County, Va.

Rewind to 1988: The Virginia General Assembly declared that Brunswick County was the home of the eponymous dish. Folklore claims to trace the roots of the stew to 1828 when stew masters would throw wild game into a pot with lima beans corn, and other ingredients to create the thick, savory stew. One writer claimed that the stew wasn’t finished until it was so thick that an oar could stand upright in a cauldron of the concoction.

Yet those in Brunswick, Ga. claim it as their own, dating it back to July 2, 1898. The town was so confident that it installed a monument in honor of the soup’s founding that included a twenty-five gallon iron pot with the aforementioned date inscribed upon it.

What seems to be universally agreed upon is that the recipe actually originated with Indigenous Americans, who would make the tomato-based stew using seasonal ingredients including squirrel, groundhog meat, and crops such as lima beans, corn, and squash.

This staple became popular among the colonists who used what they had to create large quantities of the savory dish. Yet, the origin story of this superhero stew is still widely debated.

Historian John A. Burrison of Georgia State University, though, seems to side in favor of Virginia. In an article written for New Georgia Encyclopedia, he wrote that the honor of coming up with Brunswick Stew goes to Jimmy Matthews, an enslaved Black American hunting camp cook that created it out of squirrel meat for his master, Dr. Creed Hoskins.

<p style=”font-size: 18px; font-weight: 600;”>Brunswick Stew Today</p>

Like dialects of southern accents, modern Brunswick Stew is different dependent upon which region you nosh on it in.

The Georgia version of Brunswick Stew packs a little bit of heat with some spicier seasonings and Georgians finding themselves in favor of incorporating pulled pork into the pot.

Virginians have mostly abandoned the incorporation of certain game meat (e.g. squirrel) in favor of chicken and have a far thicker consistency than the more watery Georgia counterpart.

Whatever your preference, the end result is true. In this battle of wills over who takes the title as the founder of Brunswick Stew? That honor seems to go to Virginia.

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