Sunday, October 21, 2007

Food for the Soul, Oct. 21, 2007

Fall seems to be in no hurry to get here this year. The days are still warm and the leaves are just starting to show some color. But a couple of mornings ago, it was foggy and dewy and for the first time this season the day evoked memories of burgoo.

When I was growing up in Kentucky, fall was the time for burgoo parties. They'd start early in the morning - often cool, foggy, dewy mornings that sparked the memory above. And, they'd go late.

The parties I most remember were hosted by Harry and Mada Lee Boyd. They lived on the outskirts of town in a house that had a long, gently sloping backyard segued into the woods. I recall that Harry had a .22 caliber rifle he kept by the back door for use when rabbits or squirrels dared trespass from the woods into his yard.

The burgoo events would start early on a Saturday. There was a wood fire over which was hung a big black kettle. The kettle was loaded with all sorts of ingredients - tomatoes, corn, lima beans, meats of all sorts - quite possibly including some of the trespassing rabbits and squirrels. The men took turns throughout the day stirring the kettle with a boat paddle.

By mid- to late-afternoon, the burgoo was ready. It was ladled into bowls, topped with a few shakes of Tabasco Sauce and served with crackers and cornbread. There was plenty of sweet tea, as well as bourbon and beer. The parties often outlasted me. My parents would tuck me into a bed in the Boyd's guest room and I'd fall asleep listening to the comforting sound of voices and laughter.

I didn't realize that burgoo was a regional dish until I moved away from Kentucky during my teens. It was years before I had it again, when I made it myself - sans party - from the following recipe in James Beard's "American Cookery" book. You can see from the portions in the list of ingredients why there's usually a party involved. There are no rabbits or squirrels in this recipe, which frankly was and still is okay by me.


7 pounds shin of beef or 4 pounds chuck
1 stewing hen, 5 to 6 pounds
6 medium potatoes cut into large cubes
8 carrots cut into thick slices
6 medium turnips cut into large cubes
1 large head celery cut into 1-inch pieces
4 medium onions, sliced
1 1/2 quarts canned tomatoes
2 pounds green beans cut into 1-inch pieces
3 pounds peas, shelled
2 pounds butter beans, shelled
12 ears corn, cut from the cob
1 head cabbage, shredded
1 pound okra cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup chopped parsley
10 small red peppers
1 bell pepper cut into strips
1 tablespoon thyme
Freshly ground pepper

Put the beef and fowl into enough cold water to more than cover them, and add one tablespoon salt for each quart of water. You will need a pot for all this that holds 12 to 15 quarts, or two 8-quart ones. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes, skimming off any scum that forms at the top. Cover and simmer until the beef and fowl are extremely tender. Remove them from the broth, and when cool enough to handle, cut into bite-size pieces. Return to the broth, bring to a boil, and add the vegetables in the order given. When the mixture comes to a full rolling boil, add the thyme and pepper, and simmer until the vegetables are cooked - about 45 minutes. Add salt if needed after tasting.

The Chef From Hell recently posted another recipe for burgoo on his site if you'd like an alternate, smaller-portioned version.

If you want to try some without going to the effort of making it yourself, the Moonlight Bar-B-Q Inn in Owensboro, Kentucky has it available on their site for shipping.

There's also a great piece on NPR's site about burgoo, authored by another native of the commonwealth offering his own memories. Good sound clips from him and others about this terrific regional dish.


1 comment:

Chef JP said...

Great job on the burgoo recipe! Don't forget to save me some!