Thursday, March 19, 2009

Befuddled by a Muddle of Stew

This is the tale of which came first The Muddle or The Stew!

The Plot

As an utterly innocent gesture, I made plans to celebrate National Poultry Day, which just so happens to be March 19, rather than celebrate St. Joseph's Day, which also just happens to be today. My reasoning for this choice is quite simple. I just couldn't do a post for St. Joseph's Day without baking, yes I said baking, a cookie sheet flowing with chocolate glazed, creamy filled, cream puffs. You know the ones I mean. But, that's just it, how can one speak of oozing cream puffs without providing a tempting image. As you can see, words can not do it alone:) So, in my mind's eye, I decided I would save the Cream Puff post for another year and provide you with some goodies for St. Joseph's Day and be on my merry way to National Poultry Day. I can certainly get away with popping up a recipe for Chicken So and So and have a fairly easy posting day while sparing my frequent visitors another long drawn out post. Sorry ya'll not today!!!

The Muddle

Well, it looks like I've gotten myself into a fine kettle of fish. Here's how it happened. It seems that Valencia, Spain celebrates St. Joseph's Day with Sopa De Pescado which translates to Fish Soup. My thought was to "kill" two birds with one stone. I would provide a recipe for Fish Soup instead for St. Joseph's Day and Chicken Soup for National Poultry Day. Simple enough? Not for this gal. I blame it all on Bull Cook. I'm sure I've mentioned this title before by the Herters; George and Berthie. Bull Cook (1969)is one of those books you rely on to inspire the senses and test the imagination. Perfect for the day before the first day of spring. Don't you think? Not!

I had chosen the recipe for Sopa De Pescado from another book I've mentioned before; Festival Menus 'Round the World by Sue Benet. How difficult could it be to find a recipe for chicken soup? Who needs a recipe? I do believe I could make chicken soup with blinders on. But, you see, that's just it. I didn't want any ol' chicken soup for Poultry Day. This may just be the last soup of the season with spring coming and all. This has to be one mighty fine chicken soup. Perhaps, a chicken stew? In walks Church Builders Chicken. Now that I think about, I better "drop" off these two recipes because, honestly, it's getting rather late and if you want to celebrate either day with an authentic recipe you better read these recipes, see what ingredients you have or have not and Get that Pot a Boiling!

March 19 Choices
Sopa De Pescado:
1/2 dozen shrimp
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 sprig parsley
1-1/2-2lbs. halibut
1 tomato, quartered
2 peppercorns
1 clove garlic, minced
1 fish head
1-1/2 lbs. whitefish
salt & toasted bread

Wash shrimp and cover with boiling salted water. Simmer 10-15 minutes or until shells turn pink. Shell, saving liquid. Brown onion in oil in a separate pan. Add tomato, peppercorns, garlic, bay leaf, and parsley. Cover with boiling water, add fish head, and cook over hot flame for several minutes. Lower flame and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add sliced halibut, whitefish, and cut-up shrimp. Add liquid in which shrimp has been boiled. Be careful to avoid sand which may have accumulated at the bottom of pot. Continue cooking 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Strain fish broth. Remove fish head. Place a few squares of toasted or fried bread, shrimp, and slices of fish in individual soup dishes. Pour broth over them. Serve.

Church Builder Chicken
1 good -sized chicken
1/2 lb. uncut bacon
2 large onions
4 lbs. potatoes
5 cans lima beans or butter beans
2 cans kernel corn
5 cans tomatoes
1/2 tsp. red pepper
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1-1/2 tsps. salt

Proceed as follows: Take your chicken and cook in pressure cooker until done so that meat comes off the bones easily. Remove the meat from the bones, break up into bite size pieces and place the chicken meat back into the pressure cooker just for storage. Do not pressure cook it any further. Peel the foour pounds of potatoes and boil them until well done. Usually takes about 20 minutes. Drain the water from the potatoes and mash them. Now dice your two large onions and put them with the chicken in the pressure cooker. Add the 5 cans of beans, 2 cans of drained corn, and 5 cans of tomatoes. Leave the top off the pressure cooker and bring to a slow boil over medium heat. Then remove from stove. Take the 1/2 pound of uncut bacon and cut it up into half inch cubes. Place on a tray in the oven and leave until pretty well done. Now put the bacon cubes with the chicken mixture into the pressure cooker. Add one and one-half teaspoons of salt, one-half red pepper and black peppers. Now put in the mashed potatoes and let slowly boil over a medium heat for 45 minutes or until thick. Stir frequently to keep from burning. Serve with good bread and butter. This recipe is one of those that pleases everyone.

I see you came back. I'm glad you did. Oh, be honest, there's no way in this world, I don't care if it is the last day of winter, that you are even thinking of making either of these soups/stews. I can't blame you. Fact is, I got so off my game trying to produce a stimulating post for National Poultry Day, I was going to include these recipes come hell or high heaven!!! You want to know why? Bull Cook

Church Builder Chicken: This recipe (the one above) has done more good, I believe than any other recipe in the world. It originated in Virginia but has spread over a large part of this country. It came to Minnesota with a pretty blonde girl, Ellen, daughter of Mrs. Thomas Powell of Emporia, Virginia. Mrs. Powell's daughter married Dale Schmidt, a Minnesota soldier, and came to live in Minnesota.

In Virginia, as well as everywhere else, it has unfortunately always been hard to raise money to build churches. Selling cakes, pies, candy, etc.; has always worked fairly well to raise church money but not anything too spectacular. In Virginia, a recipe originally called Chicken Muddle, was offered at church sales and it outsold everything and soon took the name Church Builder Chicken. Church Builder Chicken has built not hundreds but thousands of churches. Today, it sells for $1.25 a quart and is the biggest bargain you ever got. It is very fine eating-be sure to not only try it at your home but have your church try it. Have them label the jars. "Church Builder Chicken" from the original Virginia Recipe.

Stirring the Pot

Does the above recipe look remotely familiar? Chances are if you have ever resided in or went to Brunswick, Georgia, Brunswick County, North Carolina, or Brunswick County, Virginia you have been introduced to the communal ritual of Brunswick Stew. Brunswick Stew is so infinitely famous that there are benevolent "wars" between the three noted states as to who actually invented it and "owns" it as their intrinsic fabric of their being. There is only one premise that the "big three" agree upon when it comes to claiming Who Cooked It Up; "the stew was originally made among country folk with wild game, most often squirrel." One state, Georgia has the cast iron pot in which the first Brunswick Stew was reportedly made. Brunswick County, Virginia has a Brunswick Stewmaster's Association which is "Home of the Original Brunswick Stew" and North Carolina is so Muddled in History they have all kinds of soups, stews and muddles! Wait there's more. Muddling has roots in the Native American dish of Succotash, essentially a Vegetarian Brunswick Stew and it also has a global history. Yes, indeed it does! First, there's a Sir Brunswick from England that had his taste of Brunswick Stew. Second, there's a city in Germany called Braunsweig which is the ancestral home of King George II. Georgia is named after King George II of England probably because it was King George II who granted the Georgia Charter of 1732. Food for thought, don't you think?

Just the other day, I shared a few recipes from Cross Creek Kitchens. While I was scanning through the pages of that book and Cross Creek Cookery, I came across another story concerning Brunswick Stew. Ms. Rawlings writes:

The origin of this dish, dear to the South, is uncertain. It is here and there believed that it came from Brunswick, Georgia, yet lifted eyebrows greet a request for the dish in inns of that small city. A correspondent who has lived much abroad wrote me that the dish was a favorite of Queen Victoria, and since that late, great Queen clung faithfully to her German origins, my correspondent believes, as do I, that its source must have been Brunswick in old Germany. The recipe varies in every section of the South. The Duchess of Windsor gives a very good recipe, using chicken, tomatoes, okra, corn, string beans, and potatoes.

At Cross Creek and in neighboring Florida backwoods, we make the dish at hog-killing time, and associate it with that autumn season of harvest and plenty. The basis is fresh pork, and is likely to consist, in humbler circles, of small pieces of lean pork that have escaped the sausage grinder, along with the liver, the lights, and the heart, cut in one-half inch cubes...Roughly, the proportions are as follows:

4 lbs. lean fresh pork, liver, lights, heart, all cut in 1/2-inch cubes
Simmer until tender, 2-3 hours, in 4 quarts of water
2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 large can peas (or 2 cups cooked cow peas)
1 small can lima beans
1 large can tomatoes
1 medium can corn
Simmer until mixture is rather thick. It should be moist, but not actually wet. Cornbread should be served as a concomitant. Plain people enjoy breaking the cornbread into the stew. Serves 8 to 10

It appears that Brunswick Stew goes by almost as many names as regions. Cooked down into a delicious muddle as opposed to say, Beef Bourguignon which is never "allowed" to muddle, most agree it is the perfect meal to serve to a large crowd, much like Bull Cook's, Church Builder Chicken and most would agree it is usually cooked outdoors in a big iron kettle. If you're thinking about frugal meals for any kind of money making project, consider having a chicken muddle supper and serving Chicken Muddle for a Crowd

The End

Whether a stew of fish, for St. Joseph's Day, a mess of chicken for church building or a humble meal of Brunswick Stew, there is one more muddle which must be considered in closing. Yes, the plot thickens. However, you're really going to like this one, it's the muddling of cocktails. Now dear muddle connoisseurs, the next time I decide to celebrate National Poultry Day, I think I will skip the wild goose chase and simply make due with goulash. Any ol' goulash!!! Enjoy!

I almost forgot, in answer to the question which came first The Muddle or The Stew! If you really want to explore that answer, you will need to either read this hard to decipher html file or this PDF file, which I found easier to read by opening with preview on my Mac. The file comes from The Virginia Genealogical Society titled Brunswick Stew vs Chicken Muddle published in 1991. It is bogged down in historic notes and quite an interesting read. It ends like this...

An even older version of the colonial fast-food trade is "chicken muddle."e honor of concocting chicken muddle is claimed by the early residents of Greensville County, in and around Hicksford, which is now Emporia. It's much thicker and very rich, with a taste of hickory smoked bacon. Brunswick stew is a latecomer, easier made, much thinner, quick and easy.

Visit St. Joseph's Day @ Gherkins & Tomatoes for additional resources.

1. Chicken Tips For National Poultry Day
2. Brunswick Stew: A Tradition with Taste
3. Nathalie Dupree article Mess or Muddle
4. Who Invented Brunswick Stew? Hush Up and Eat (New York Times)
5. Carolina Fish Muddle
6. North Carolina Fish Muddle
7. East Virginia Muddle
8. Brew Ha-Ha Fish Muddle
9. Chowning's Tavern Brunswick Stew
10. Stewpots of the World: short article
11. AficioNada has a recipe for Hamburger Chateaubriand a la Bull Cook


  1. Perhaps we all have celebrated too much this week? I vote for the fish stew - as I've had Brunswick Stew, ah, Chicken Soup last month. The okra is an acquired taste, but I think shrimp goes with everything!

  2. thanks for stopping by again louise. jeera means cumin. i think you get it in any store in spice section.

    i am sorry,i am unable to comment on your post.. i am a veggie :o

  3. Hi Louise! Gee whiz, there are simply too many things to celebrate on a food blog, I almost missed my beloved Pi Day. And I wish I had a post ready for the first day of Spring tomorrow...
    Happy Springtime to you dear!

    Fish stew is always a fav of mine!

  4. Thanks for popping in T.W.
    I had the best!!!!! Bouillabaisse In Port Jeff a few summers ago. I just got back from the beach by Dune Road and now I'm wanting some fish stew, myself. I should have just gotten a nibble while I was out.

  5. Thanks Maryann. I'm still craving cream puffs:)
    Oh Mahimma, I really appreciate you stopping by. Thanks for letting me know about the jeera. I won't forget it, cumin is a favorite spice of mine. Your blog is a wonderful resource filled with inspiring vegetarian recipes. I will visit often:)

    Hi Lori,
    I almost missed a springtime post myself. By the time I was done writing up the post the day had gotten away from me. Of course, that's probably because I just had to go out for a while and stimulate the economy:) However, I did miss Pi Day. Next year I suppose.

    Like a duck in a puddle, duckie:)


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise