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Stews for winter meals

Somehow when the weather gets chilly, filling stews find their place on the menu. Auther Mary Emma Allen whets our appetite with descriptions of the different stew varieties.

Satisfying hearty appetites
My mother made stews regularly for our winter meals, simmering them in the black iron pot on the kitchen wood stove. Then, when the wind and snow blew cold, the stew satisfied the hearty appetites of farm folk and restored their energy outdoor chores. These warming, filling brews were made from meats and vegetables cooked until tender and the flavors blended.

I was reminded of Mother’s cooking the other night when I made beef stew for supper. This is one of my husband’s favorite winter dishes.

Stews have long heritage
Stews have been on the menu since man began boiling chunks of meat – beef, pork, lamb, chicken – with herbs and vegetables. Early settlers in this country used many game meats for their pots of stew.

Squirrel and rabbit stews were common standbys which sustained many a pioneer.

This brew of squirrel and vegetables was the original basis for BRUNSWICK STEW, a Southern favorite claimed by Brunswick counties in both North Carolina and Virginia.

Legend has it that this dish originated when a candidate wanted something special to serve at a political rally. So he called upon a culinary friend to create a new variation of squirrel stew.

Today’s brunswick stew
Squirrels gradually have disappeared from the brew. Nowadays most recipes call for chicken as the main meat, and often the addition of beef, veal, or ham.

However, for many years, the squirrel/chicken concoction was served regularly at many social gatherings in Virginia and nearby areas.

Other traditional stews
COCIDO, a stew made from chick peas and various combinations of meats – rabbit, lamb, veal, sausage, ham, beef, chicken – simmered in one pot is a national favorite of Spain.

HASENPFEFFER is the German variation of good ole rabbit stew. It was served wherever German settlers established themselves in this land.

IRISH STEW is best known as a dish made with lamb or mutton, but some recipes call for beef, veal, spareribs, and kidneys, either separately or in various combinations. To this is added white potatoes, carrots, onions, peas, and often turnips.

Some veal and lamb stews, like the FRENCH VEAL BLANQUETTE, have a light colored broth. Instead of browning the meat, the cook prepares it, from the very beginning, in wine, water, or stock.

Endless variations
Stews, even the old faithful beef one, can be made in endless variations. To the basic meat, onions, carrots, and potatoes can be added peas, green beans, corn, limas, cabbage, turnips, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and even Brussels sprouts.

Dumplings often accompany a hearty stew. However, my favorite accompaniment when I was a child was Mother’s STEAMED BREAD. Simply lay slices of bread on the meat and vegetables shortly before serving; cover kettle and let steam until bread has absorbed juice enough to be slightly dampened, but not soggy or mushy. I could make a meal just on steamed bread alone.

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