Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Real Burgoo

I'm plotting my escape carefully, printing out maps of highways, exits and possible stops on the return trip homeward and north, which might occur sometime before my birthday in September.  While I await the wrapping up of the long-delayed repairs and the completion of the household goods dispersal via my new best friends at UPS near the often-fatal intersection of FL Route 674 and US 301, I've got time in between constant e-mails and little chores, but nothing much to do with it.  My temporary pass to the amenities of the Kings Point community expired a day or two ago, and the pool is empty anyway, getting some maintenance (pools, boats, appliances, the blasted garage door opener at home -- everything always needs maintenance).  So I pulled an old "Southern Cookbook," copyright 1939, off the pile of kitchen stuff to ship out, and looked through it at lunch (all the books are gone, and the free box at the community library is worthless).  What a find.  I remember this being in the kitchen somewhere all the places the family lived over the years, and must have read it before, but it's a pleasure to re-find.  Delightfully but politically very in-correctly written, it is also graced with little drawings as publications were back in the mid-century, with snatches of blues songs, sayings and quotes next to them, like:

'Case cookin's lak religion is --
Some's 'lected an' some ain't,
An' rules don' no mo' mek a cook
Den sermons mek a saint.

The first recipe, for Kentucky Burgoo, is so Southern and so fine, you could stop right there.  I have been fortunate to try a few versions (and they are infinite) of this, as well as the equally famous Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwich, and can heartily agree with Jesse Winchester that "a man sure is lucky, to live down in Kentucky."  This stew is of folk origin, unlike the sandwich which was invented in a hotel kitchen in Louisville; the recipe in the abstract is any meats, a variety of vegetables, and beans or potatoes for thickening, and soup bones (or no soup bones, depending on the local tradition).  Early on, those meats were those caught in the wild, like squirrels, possum or birds.  Your backyard pest is probably safe now, as beef and chicken are now preferred, and easier to catch at the supermarket.

Made usually in large quantities for social occasions or festivals, it has been especially a requirement on Derby Day, those endless political rallies (in the South, you'd better have food for the potential votes) and horse sales.  Don't forget the corn bread to go along with; if you're real old-time, it will be corn meal dodger or something else your great-grandmother would have made several times a week.  If your GGM wasn't some Yankee.

The recipe in "Southern Cooking" is from a handwritten original by a Mr. J. T. Looney of Lexington, Kentucky, who was known as the Burgoo King.  He made it the old way, too, outdoors in huge kettles simmering over wood fires all night.  Since he made about 1200 gallons at a time, this required:

600 lbs. lean soup meat (if you use those squirrels, it's a dozen of them per each 100 gallons)
200 lbs. fat hens
2000 lbs. potatoes, peeled and diced
200 lbs. onions
5 bushels of cabbage, chopped
60 10 lb. cans of tomatoes
24 10 lb. cans of tomato puree
24 10 lb. cans of carrots
18 10 lb. cans of corn
red pepper, salt, Worcestershire and Tabasco

And it's said to ensure delectibility, a rabbit's foot at the end of a yarn string must be properly waved by a preacher whose salary has been paid to date.  These people were serious.

Both Kentucky and Illinois claim towns as the Burgoo Capital of the World.  I have no doubts which is the correct one.  Maybe I'll take I-75 north and west and find some of that savory stew.  Well worth the miles, it will be.


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