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A Tasty Tradition: Legislators Enjoy Brunswick Stew

January 29, 2012

By Ashley McLeod
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Red Oak Stew Crew braved a chill in the early morning air to begin cooking their award-winning Brunswick stew at the state Capitol for the 10th annual Brunswick Stew Day.

They began work at the Capitol at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, but preparations started much earlier.

“On Tuesday, four of us spent about four hours peeling onions and potatoes for the stew,” said stew master George Daniel. He said the crew was prepared for a long day: “We’ll be out here till maybe 1 o’clock – whenever all the stew is gone.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell helps stir stew and the 10th Brunswick Stew Day, surrounded by the Red Oak Stew Group. From left, Raymond Edwards, George Daniel, Charles and Billy Waller. (Photo Credit Ashley McLeod)

Brunswick Stew Day has become a yummy tradition at Capitol Square. Legislators and their staffs flock to the Brunswick County/Lake Gaston Tourism Association’s tent each year to have a taste of the famous stew. Some even help out by stirring the pot, which must be continuously mixed until all the stew is served.

“This is the first year I’ve been officially invited as a justice and invited to stir the pot, which is a real honor,” said Virginia Supreme Court Justice Cleo Powell, who is from Brunswick County.

Even Gov. Bob McDonnell stopped by to have a turn stirring, talking with the crowd and – most important – gathering a few quarts of stew to take home.

“Not that I don’t love you, but I really came to eat,” McDonnell said after chatting with the stew crew.

State officials have been coming to eat the stew for a long time.

In 2002, legislators passed a resolution sponsored by Delegate Tommy Wright, R-Victoria, designating the fourth Wednesday in January as Brunswick Stew Day at the Virginia General Assembly.

Before that resolution, the Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce had been authorized to serve Brunswick stew at the Capitol since 1988, but it was not an official event.

Brunswick stew was first created in 1828 when Creed Haskins, a former member of the General Assembly, was on a hunt on the Nottoway River.

Haskins and camp cook Jimmy Matthews concocted a dish fit to serve the large hunting party with the small amount of supplies they could find. Their original stew combined stale bread, vegetables, bacon and squirrel meat.

Their concoction kindled a longstanding tradition in Brunswick County.

“People put a little of everything in them now; our stew here is mainly chicken and different vegetables,” Daniel said.

Each year in October, at the Taste of Brunswick Stew Festival, a stew crew is picked from about 25 teams to represent Brunswick County at the Capitol. Last year’s winners, the Red Oak Stew Crew, prepared 85 gallons of the stew for Wednesday’s event.

While most of the Brunswick stew was dished out to the crowd in 8-ounce bowls, legislators as well as the governor were given quarts of the stew to take home.

Government officials were not the only beneficiaries of the Red Oak Stew Crew’s efforts. The event was open to anyone hungry for a taste of what Brunswick County has to offer.

This CNS article was published by