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Eatymology: Brunswick Stew

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Eatymology: Brunswick Stew
Written by Emily Storrow | Photos by Jonathan Boncek

Brunswick Stew

[brənz-wik stü]

n: A hunt camp staple of slow-simmered meats and seasonal vegetables

Anthony DiBernardo serves up his brunswick stew.

The history of brunswick stew is often cast as something of a tale of two cities. Brunswick, Georgia, and Brunswick County, Virginia, have long squabbled over who has bragging rights as the birthplace of the hearty soup that’s filled with meat and vegetables and thickened by hours of simmering. There have been cauldron-topped monuments and state decrees, festivals and dedicated stew-masters. Thing is, in the Battle of Brunswick, it’s pretty clear that Virginia has time on its side: That aforementioned state decree, passed in 1988, traces the stew’s roots all the way back to 1828. (Brunswick, Georgia, on the other hand, had previously inscribed its twenty-five-gallon iron pot monument with the date the dish was known to grace tables there: July 2, 1898.)

But let’s take a step back. As it turns out, the Brunswicks are at best fighting for second place, because someone else got to the party first. A communal, nourishing stew of seasonal vegetables and proteins— often squirrel and rabbit—was commonplace among southeastern Native American tribes, says Anthony DiBernardo, proprietor of Swig & Swine in Charleston, South Carolina. A pot would bubble away in a community kitchen at all hours, so anyone from hunters and travelers to visiting dignitaries would have something to eat upon arrival. He still sees brunswick stew as hospitality in a bowl, which is why it deserved a spot on his barbecue joint’s menu. (The man is all about feeding a crowd: He was cooking for a crew of 130 sailors aboard a US Navy submarine before the age of 21.) Like most who make the stew these days, he nixes the squirrel in favor of pulled pork—an essential ingredient in his book. Sometimes he’ll add brisket and chicken too, but is always generous with the stew’s vegetal hallmarks: corn and lima beans.

A chalkboard at Swig & Swine in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, details the recipe for brunswick stew.

Anthony DiBernardo’s Brunswick Stew