By Amber Galaviz and Samantha Morgan
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – The folks at Capitol Square were cooking up something more than politics this week, as state officials and other visitors kept warm thanks to a Virginia culinary classic, Brunswick stew.
For the 13th year, Brunswick County residents and the Lake Gaston Tourism Association brought the county’s best stew master to Richmond to feed visitors looking for an escape from the cold winter air.
The stew is prepared by the winner of the Taste of Brunswick Festival put on by the county every fall.
Stew Master George Daniels is a Brunswick native. He has been cooking for more than 50 years and has won the festival with the Red Oaks Stew Crew the past three years. Along with bragging rights, the winners get the honor of serving some big names, including the governor and state legislators.
Daniels’ stew crew is made up of guys he works with in his auction business, along with one of his neighbors. “It takes teamwork for us to do this,” Daniels said.
It also takes a secret recipe.
“Brunswick stew is a culmination of quite a few things. Biggest thing we put in it is chicken,” Daniels said. “It’s got corn; it’s got butter beans and tomatoes. But we can’t tell you – you won’t get our exact recipe.”
He did reveal this much: “It’s not what you put in the stew; it’s when you put it in the stew.”
Along with the Red Oaks Stew crew, many Brunswick residents came to Richmond on Wednesday to help out. They included Nancy Watson, a member of the Lake Gaston Tourism Association; she’s been volunteering the past 10 years. Watson also volunteers at the Taste of Brunswick Festival, held annually at Southside Virginia Community College.
Watson said the competition to prepare the stew at Brunswick Stew Day at the Capitol is intense.
“We had 27 stew masters last year competing for the honor, or the title of the best,” she said. “The judges don’t see the stew masters, and the samples are marked independently, and they’re taken over to the judges. And then they narrow it down and narrow it down until they finally pick one.”
Douglas Pond, the mayor of Lawrenceville, a town of about 1,400 people in Brunswick County, made it out to this year’s event to offer his support.
“I just try to stay out of the way and do what I’m good at, and that’s talking,” Pond said. “I’ll tell you, it’s a big volunteer thing, where we are … it’s mostly done for fundraising for different groups.”
When legislators passed a resolution in 2002 to designate Brunswick Stew Day at the General Assembly, they called the stew a “celestial sustenance.”
“Brunswick stew has a long and glorious history in the commonwealth, beginning in 1828, when camp cook Jimmy Matthews, faced with the problem of feeding a hunting party on the Nottoway River, first combined squirrel, bacon, onions, butter and stale bread into a thick concoction that pleased the members of the party,” the resolution said.
The highlight of Brunswick Stew Day is when the governor passes through to lend a hand at stirring the 80-gallon pot filled to the rim with stew. Gov. Bob McDonnell showed his support for showcasing one of Virginia’s great traditions.
McDonnell said Brunswick Stew Day is a chance to celebrate Brunswick County, tourism and “all the things that are going on down there. It’s always a special day on the hill.”
Here is more audio from:
– Douglas Pond, mayor of Lawrenceville, Va.
– George Daniels, chief stew master
– Nancy Watson, a volunteer who promotes tourism
– Gov. Bob McDonnell talking about his love for Brunswick stew