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About two years ago, I wrote a column on Brunswick stew and how difficult it was to find the real thing, even in Virginia, one of two states that claim to be the birthplace of the hearty hash of smoked meats and practically every vegetable that hasn’t gone to rot in your pantry. Most of the research I found back then noted that the original meat in Brunswick stew was squirrel, which had long since been replaced by chicken (or sometimes rabbit), no doubt due to the fact that you didn’t have to chase down a backyard varmint to prepare the dish.

Well, not so fast. The other day, I was skimming through Mark Kurlansky‘s latest, The Food of a Younger Land, yet another book based on the old (and unpublished) WPA “America Eats” project, when I tripped upon the author’s intro to an essay titled, “Sergeant Saunders’ Virginia Brunswick Stew.” In his intro, Kurlansky writes:

Brunswick stew traditionally used squirrel, but not the nervous fluffy rodents of city parks. The tradition was to eat the little animal that glides from tree to tree in the Appalachian forests, the flying squirrel. It is interesting that the recipes collected for America Eats of both burgoo and Brunswick stew play down the role of squirrel. The flying squirrel that lives among the vanishing hardwood trees of unclogged old-growth forests was already becoming scarce in the 1940s and is today endangered.

Interestingly enough, the Bush administration, in its final months, took the flying squirrel off the endangered species list, causing a small uproar among environmentalists who claimed the animal’s population had not recovered sufficiently to merit such a move. There’s since been a call to put the flying squirrel back on the list.

Either way, there’s obviously no reason to go back to the “original” Brunswick stew meat.

Photo by Charles Steck