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Brunswick Stew Day

GREENSVILLE/EMPORIA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

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The Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services Administrative Board will hold its regular meeting Thursday, June 20, 2019, at 3:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services located at 1748 East Atlantic Street.

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Instead of Cooking Up Laws, Politicians Enjoy Stew

Capital News Service Reporter Arianna Coghill struggles to stir 85 gallon pot of stew.

By Arianna Coghill, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. --  The rich aromas of Brunswick’s famous stew pour from the tent, tempting passing legislators to poke their heads inside Wednesday, eager for Stew Day to begin. But they’re shooed away like children peeking under the tree on Christmas Eve.

When Stew Day begins, it’s a hustle of activity. Long lines of clerks and lawmakers stretch and wrap around corners. Legislative pages -- the smartly dressed boys and girls who run errands for members of the General Assembly -- scurry out of the tent to deliver containers of stew to legislators who couldn’t make it but desire a little taste of Brunswick.

Usually, politicians are hungry for change, but today, they’re hungry for stew.

Besides legislators, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring dropped by, happily cradling their own steaming cups of stew. Even Gov. Ralph Northam took a turn stirring the pot.

“It’s a great tradition. Wonderful people,” Fairfax said. “We’re huge fans of not only the stew but the people of Brunswick.”

Brunswick Stew -- named for Brunswick County, along Virginia’s border with North Carolina -- traces its origin to a hunting party in 1828. In 2002, the General Assembly passed a resolution officially designating the fourth Wednesday of each January as Brunswick Stew Day. The resolution called the stew a "gastronomic miracle" and "celestial sustenance.”

“Brunswick stew is a big thing in the rural areas,” Del. Thomas Wright, who introduced the legislation back in 2002, said, “It was something that I thought deserved recognition.”

Most of the people in the tent where the stew was being served Wednesday could recite the dish’s history.

 

Inside the tent, four burly men stood around an elevated, 85-gallon cauldron overflowing with a hearty stew so thick that the paddle used to stir it sticks straight up at attention. The men pushed that paddle around as if it were second nature. And to most of them, it was.

It took five cooks to make the stew, starting at midnight. They cooked all the way through the morning until 8:30 a.m. At the helm of it all was Tracy Clary, the stewmaster.

Clary was the 2017 winner of the Brunswick Stew Cook-Off, a competition ordinarily held each October to determine which recipe of Brunswick stew would reign supreme. The winner is crowned “Stewmaster” and provides the stew for Brunswick Stew Day at the Virginia Capitol in January.

Unfortunately, last October’s cook-off was canceled due to inclement weather. But luckily, Clary was there to step in.  

Making stew has been in Clary’s family for generations. He had started making soup as a teenager with his grandmother, who was steadfast in her recipe that she kept on a 3-by-5 index card. As he has grown older, Clary has confessed to tweaking her recipe just a bit to suit his own tastes.

Now he cooks for his community, making about 600-800 quarts at a time.  “We make money for a lot of civic organizations. I cook for churches, individuals. We raise a lot of money,” Clary said.

He hopes his 12-year-old grandson will carry on the tradition.

“We have to keep the tradition alive. Twenty-five years from now, no one’s going to know how to cook Brunswick stew,” Clary said, his eyes beginning to tear up. “And that’s bad.”

Virginia Lawmakers Stir the Pot on Brunswick Stew Day

By Katie Bashista, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Carroll Tucker stuck the long, wooden stirring paddle into the 85-gallon pot of stew. He let it go, and it didn’t move.

“Do you know what it means if the paddle can stand up by itself?” said Tucker, longtime friend of this year’s Brunswick stewmaster and member of the “stew crew.”

“It’s ready.”

Senators, delegates and hungry residents lined up outside a tent on the Capitol grounds Wednesday to get a taste of this year’s stew. Legislators declared the fourth Wednesday of January Brunswick Stew Day nearly 20 years ago, and it’s the county’s most celebrated tradition.

“It’s been a cherished endeavor for many years,” said Tracy Clary, this year’s stewmaster. “The first Brunswick Stew was cooked in 1820 in Brunswick County right on the banks of the Nottoway River.”

Clary has lived his entire life in the county, which borders North Carolina, and has participated in the Taste of Brunswick Festival for years. Of the seven years he’s competed in the cook-off, he’s placed in the top four six times, winning for the first time in October.

The winning dish, which Clary served again Wednesday, is a chicken-based stew with pork, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, butter beans, corn and a seasoning consisting of just four ingredients – salt, sugar, black pepper and ground red pepper.

Clary and his crew cooked the mixture from midnight until the last spoonful of the 340 to 350 quarts of stew was served just before noon.

“Once you start the pot to get cooking, you’ve got to constantly stir it so it doesn’t burn,” said Tucker, a member of the crew. “We’re constantly adding ingredients, sitting around talking, just having good fellowship and cooking the stew.”

The long hours tending the pot were rewarded when around 10:30 a.m. senators, representatives and other lawmakers lined up to grab a bowl. By 11 a.m., the stew was running low.

“The governor’s not going to have anything to stir if he doesn’t come down here soon,” said a member of the stew crew.

Shortly after, Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Del. Roslyn Tyler, who is from Brunswick, made their way to the tent just in time to get their fix. They gathered around the steel pot, which was almost as tall as the stewmaster himself, to take pictures with Clary and the stew crew. Then they took turns stirring the pot.

“It’s like paddling my boat,” Northam called out as he grasped the paddle and stirred the remaining stew.

Brunswick County administrator Charlette Woolridge said she hasn’t missed a Stew Day in the 11 years she’s held the position. She said Stew Day is an important event in the county’s history because it’s an opportunity for locals to showcase Brunswick County, interact with elected officials and Virginia residents and share their beloved stew.

“We’re just happy and proud to host this event annually,” she said. “We get great enjoyment and fulfillment out of this, and we look forward to doing this for years to come.”

Instead of cooking up laws, legislators enjoy stew

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – “Today is the day!” exclaimed Del. Chris Jones of Suffolk as he made his way into the tent set up outside the General Assembly Building. Behind him, a long line of state legislators exiting their offices repeatedly asked the same question:

“Is the stew ready yet?”

Wednesday was Brunswick Stew Day at the state Capitol, celebrating the signature dish of Brunswick County, a quaint locale along Virginia’s southern border. The stew was free to the public but mostly served state legislators. However, if you wanted your share, you had to get there early: The 80-gallon cast-iron pot was empty in just two hours.

The annual event features the first-place winner from the Taste of Brunswick Festival, held every October in Brunswick County. The winning stew crew cooks its recipe for the General Assembly on the fourth Wednesday in January during the legislative session, an honor enshrined in a resolution passed by lawmakers 15 years ago.

Twenty-four teams competed for the Taste of Brunswick crown last October. Bill Steed and his son Chad came out on top as the stew masters for Brunswick Stew Day 2017. This was their third time competing in the festival.

“Third time’s the charm,” Bill’s wife, Deborah Steed, said proudly.

Steed and his team – which included his daughter-in-law Beverly Steed, his brother Chuck Maitland and his nephew Zach Maitland – arrived at the Capitol just before midnight to start cooking by 2 a.m. The stirring didn’t stop until the pot was empty.

“You cannot let it sit at all,” warned Brunswick County Administrator Charlette Woolridge. “It’s always being stirred.”

Born and raised in Brunswick County, Bill Steed has been cooking stew since childhood. While he outlined the recipe’s basic ingredients – chicken, vegetables and a butter base – no one would disclose the “secret ingredient.”

“It’s a Brunswick County secret that makes our stew an absolute art,” Woolridge said.

Woolridge, a Richmond native, has been coming to the Capitol for Brunswick Stew Day since being selected as county administrator 10 years ago.

“This is a day to showcase Brunswick County and our diverse people,” Woolridge said. “It’s also an opportunity for us to share something that’s near and dear to us with the legislators by providing them with stew – and they love it.”

Virginia’s love for Brunswick stew dates back to the 1820s. Dr. Creed Haskins, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and a group of friends were on a hunting trip in Brunswick County. Their chef, Jimmy Matthews, slow-cooked everything he could find for the hungry hunters: squirrel, bread crumbs, onions, butter, seasonings and more. The stew has since become a staple at Southern gatherings.

But the Steeds were doing more than serving legislators delicious stew this brilliantly blue morning: They were carrying on a family tradition. According to Deborah Steed, the Steed family members are distant relatives of Dr. Haskins.

For about 30 years, Brunswick County officials have been coming to Richmond each legislative session to dish out their stew to lawmakers. The General Assembly officially established Brunswick Stew Day on the Capitol grounds in 2002 by passing House Joint Resolution 2.

Legislators have been lining up for a bowlful ever since.

“I love seeing people come through the line and say, ‘Thank you, this is so good,’” Wooldridge said. “Brunswick stew makes people feel happy. I just enjoy serving and giving back to the people.”

Disclosure: In the interest of journalistic integrity, it should be noted that the reporter tasted the Brunswick stew for herself and can agree that it is indeed a work of art.

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