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Daddy’s specialty: Camp stew

My recent commentary on the return of fatty flavoring to the table (“Lard: It’s in again,” December 2014) drew a heartwarming response from a host of lard lovers. For these folks, food invoked pleasant memories not only of the dishes and delicacies, but also of the people who prepared them, the people who ate them, and the places where all this took place.

Their stories and comments had the same effect on me.

I recalled my Mother’s yeast rolls, which other families requested for their reunions, and which she happily supplied.

I recalled my Grandma Jessie, after whom I would have named a child if “Jessie Jackson” were not already taken.

Grandma Jessie was a cook of great renown, except when it came to her biscuits, which were thin and hard as hockey pucks.

HogHead_500

Then there was Aunt Hazel, an ill-tempered presence at family gatherings who Daddy said “was born in the objective case.” Aunt Hazel collected cookbooks, yet never cooked. Her brothers took delight in claiming that she collected to cover her lack of culinary competence. This so angered her that finally, after taking all she could take, Aunt Hazel announced that she and she alone would fix a Christmas feast that we would long remember, and she did.

Complete with roast suckling pig with an apple in its mouth.

I thought of that when I discovered, among my father’s papers, a recipe for camp stew.

Now camp stew was a big deal in my family, a winter staple that could be both a side dish and the main course. It was sorta like what Georgians call Brunswick stew, but not quite.

This discovery coincided with the arrival of Garden and Gun’s “Southern Food Issue.” G&G, as we insiders call it, is the magazine that aspires to replace Southern Living in the book baskets and on the coffee tables or in the bathrooms of upscale Southerners who want guests to know that they have “arrived,” but made the journey without losing the common touch. Despite down-to-earth contributions by Roy Blount, Jr. and Rick Bragg, it was an issue for Southern “foodies.”

I did not come from a family of “foodies.” We were a family of “eaters.” I am not sure when cooks became chefs, but I don’t think we got the memo.

All this foodie-fuss about using “fresh” ingredients would have baffled my folks. We used fresh ingredients because that was what was available – we had a garden, chickens were out back, beef came from our steers, pork came from friends who raised hogs. There was also wild game – venison mostly, but sometimes turkey and squirrel.

What we couldn’t use when it was “fresh” we put in the “deep freeze.” At the height of Daddy’s fresh food production he had two freezers full. I don’t recall anyone complaining that frozen wasn’t fresh unless there was “freezer burn,” but that could be washed off or boiled away or covered with Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup.

Despite all of nature’s bounty, my Mama considered Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup an essential part of our diet. It was one of the many modern conveniences she embraced. She stopped making homemade pie crust as soon as frozen ones were available. Canned (“whop”) biscuits suited her just fine. Mama held down a full-time job, so the crockpot became her friend – and ours. She did not become a legendary cook until after she retired, and even then she was not reluctant to use a can opener.

So she didn’t make camp stew.

Daddy did that.

When Daddy built his Poutin’ House he put in a stove so he could cook out there. It was out there that he made camp stew.

The recipe I found was actually a list of ingredients. I added the directions from my memory of watching the master at work.

First the meat:

4 hens, 8 lbs of beef.

Boil the hens and take the meat off the bone. Chop the beef small and boil it as well.

In another pot, a BIG pot, boil the hogs’ heads.

Four of them.

That might be a deal buster for lesser folks, but since camp stew making and hog killing usually coincided, Daddy knew where to get ‘em. Once cooked, what you cut and scrape off the hogs’ heads goes in with the rest of the meat – being careful to keep out stray hairs.

Then add, according to the recipe, “6 cans corn (2 gal.), 15 lbs of Irish potatoes (chopped), 12 lbs of onions (also chopped), 2 bottles of Worcestershire sauce, 6 lemons (sliced), ½ cup of vinegar, 2½ gal tomato juice (6 tall cans), 2 bottles of ketchup, salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste.”

It made a lot, but we had those freezers, so it lasted through winter.

How about that, foodies?

Know where you can get a nice fresh hog’s head?

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is retired professor emeritus of history at Jacksonville State University whose most recent book is The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera,  featured in the January 2013 Alabama Living. His work appears in the Anniston Star and Northeast Alabama Living. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.