Thanksgiving week is upon us and I am about to have a full week out of school. I was excited about this prospect until I replaced our old oven last week and learned that I would be required to spend my week out of school painting the kitchen. Hopefully the project won't take an entire week because I have set two days aside for what has become a Thanksgiving week tradition for me making Brunswick stew.
You want to see Southern folks get riled up, just take a strong stance on who has or does not have the best Brunswick stew. People will cut you over that argument.
Now there are few places, out in public, where I will actually order Brunswick stew off the menu. I have been served far too many bowls of tepid soup with kernels of corn floating in it and stringy concoctions resembling what my mama called hash to trust someone I don't know to serve me a passable helping of true Brunswick stew.
I'll eat it at Pippins any day of the week and occasionally at Fresh Air, down in Jackson. I took a chance and tried a bowl a couple of weeks ago at Sprayberry's in Newnan but immediately wished I had not. I am picky about Brunswick stew, understand.
Growing up I would eat it at two places. My mama's table and anywhere Homer Hill happened to be cooking it. Homer Hill was a Porterdale icon and whenever there was a special occasion say Homecoming at the Methodist Church or the Fourth of July Picnic at the ballfield by the river, or if the volunteer firemen or the Boy Scouts needed to raise a little money, Homer Hill would be asked to cook a little Brunswick stew for 400 or 500 of his closest friends. Once in a great while I would get to help.
Now cooking Brunswick stew was a big deal and took several days. First the meat had to be cooked hams, beef roasts, chickens you haven't lived until you've spent two or three hours picking hot chicken off the bone. You talk about burning fingers!
We would usually put the cooked meat in big galvanized tubs and take it out to Greer Holifield's processing plant to be ground up. Once the meat was ready the stew would be started. Sometimes it would be cooked down by the river and sometimes over at the Scout Hut. Even when the stew was to be served at homecoming, though, it wasn't cooked on church property. I think that had something to do with the type of liquid refreshments the cooks enjoyed, but I am not sure.
Wherever the actual cooking took place, it was done in big black pots over an open fire and when my fellow Scouts and I were asked to help, our job was to stir the pot with canoe paddles, so it wouldn't stick to the bottom of the pot. Allowing the stew to scorch was a cardinal sin. I don't know what the consequences were for such a calamity because I never allowed it to happen on my watch. I was too afraid of what Mr. Homer would do to me.
Suffice it to say, Homer Hill could cook stew and, as I have already said, I would eat his stew anytime, anywhere.
Who else could cook stew was my mama, although she did it on a much smaller scale. It took her a couple of days to cook her stew, too. She would cook the meat one day and put it all in the refrigerator to cool over night. The next day she would grind it all up and cook her stew. She had an old fashioned hand grinder and I am here to tell you, that kitchen was a mess when Mama finished grinding meat for Brunswick stew.
I cook mine just exactly like she did and one day next week, assuming I get the kitchen painted to Lisa's satisfaction, I will smoke a Boston butt, boil a couple of chickens and cook a beef roast. The next day I will grind all that meat but I will use a food processor. Then I will combine the broth from the chicken and beef with some tomatoes and tomato sauce and ground onions and potatoes and season it with a right smart of salt and pepper. I will let that simmer for an hour or three and then I will add the beef, chicken and pork along with some Worcestershire sauce and butter and some fresh corn, plus a few more seasonings, and in a few more hours I will have something fit to eat.
If you want the entire recipe you can go online and order my Dinner on the Grounds cookbook and if you wait until Mother's Day you can get a copy of my new one, "Second Helpings," in which Homer Hill's son, Monty, has agreed to reveal his daddy's recipe.
Or you can just drop by the house and have a bowl with me. My mouth's watering just thinking about that stuff.
Excuse me, y'all. It's Thanksgiving week, and I have work to do.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.