Each year at the “Taste of Brunswick Festival,” some twenty or so contestants vie for the title of “Brunswick County Stewmaster.”
These men continue a long tradition that dates back to 1828 along the banks of the Nottoway River. There, local historians say, Dr. Creed Haskins, a member of the House of Delegates from 1839 to 1841, took a group of his friends on a hunting expedition.
While they were on the hunt, the story goes, camp cook “Uncle Jimmy” Matthews stirred together the first impromptu mixture that has become known as Brunswick Stew. The original thick soup was made from squirrels, onions, and stale bread.
Recipes for the stew have varied over the years. Chicken has replaced the squirrel in more modern cook pots, while vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and butterbeans have been added in varying portions.
The one thing that all cooks or stewmasters agree on is that the stew is not done until the paddle stands up in the middle.
Now we have to admit that among some there is debate about where Brunswick Stew originated. A few say it comes from near Brunswick, Georgia, in 1898. Clearly much later than the Virginia claim.
In January 1988, the Virginia General Assembly attempted to put to rest the debate and issued a proclamation citing Brunswick County, Virginia as “…the place of origin of this astonishing gastronomical miracle.”
The tradition continues. This tasty chicken stew is a top fundraiser for local organizations and is frequently sold out in advance of the contest. It is a proud, and delicious, symbol of what awaits the visitor to Brunswick County. Brunswick County, Virginia, that is!