When I was a teenager, my stepfather's second home was the boat club he visited almost every day after work. Boat club members liked good food and took turns cooking for the group on special occasions. The first time it was my parents' turn to cook, Daddy showed Mother how to cook Kentucky burgoo, a thick, delicious stew they cooked in a pot the size of a tall washtub. It was wonderful.
As we all grew older and I moved away, I always remembered the taste of that burgoo, with it's corn, lima beans, and shredded meat. I tried to replicate it, leaving out the okra that wasn't a favorite ingredient, and reducing the quantity of ingredients to a size my family could consume in a couple of days.
I must have cooked it a hundred times through the years, varying the ingredients slightly according to what I had on hand. Each time I made it, it was different from the time before, but the blend of meat and vegetable flavors always tasted like home.
On the last night my sister and her family were here because of Hurricane Ike, I made a big pot of the soup/stew. That batch turned out to be especially good, and my sister asked for the recipe. I explained that there was no recipe, but "I remember exactly what I put in it this time, and I'll write it down."
I had good intentions. Unfortunately, that was the beginning of the month when I couldn't string sentences together to write blog posts, and writing down that recipe seemed equally daunting. I had put in a handful of sugar. I knew what that handful looked like, but she wouldn't. I had sprinkled black pepper and basil generously across the surface of the soup, and I remembered what it looked like, but I didn't know how much I'd used.
After several weeks, it occurred to me that the only way I'd be able to produce an accurate recipe would be to make another big pot of it, measure the ingredients as I used them, and write it all down as I went along.
So that's what I did. And because it's already done, and because I can post it here and not have to think of anything else to write about tonight, that's what I'll do.
Non-stick cooking spray
1 pound beef stew meat
1 pound pork loin
3/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
6 to 8 cups water (this measurement is approximate – do NOT add water all at once, and less water will make the end result taste better than more water.)
6 medium potatoes (slightly bigger than fist-sized)
1 large sweet onion
2 cans whole kernel corn (with liquid)
1 can cream-style corn
1 can lima beans (with liquid) – (this is the small green limas, not butterbeans)
2 cans Veg-All (or equivalent) mixed vegetables (with liquid)
1 large (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1 can Swanson chicken broth
1 jar Tostitos brand medium salsa
5 teaspoons sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons salt (I used 3, but start with 2 and add until it tastes right to you.
1½ teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons basil
Spray non-stick cooking spray inside bottom of large stew pot (mine is 8-quart and it’s just barely big enough), then add beef stew meat. Allow stew meat to brown slightly (stirring occasionally to keep from burning) while you chop the pork into 1" chunks. Add pork, stir, add more water if needed, continue to cook while you chop the chicken into 1" chunks. Add chicken and stir. Pour in enough water so that the level of the water is about 1" higher than the meat. Put a lid on the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the chicken begins to pull apart with a fork. This will take a while. (You can add water as needed to keep all the liquid from cooking away, but the goal is to get a good, rich meat stock at a level equal to or slightly higher than the meat.)
When the chicken begins to shred, peel the onion and chop it coarsely (½ -inch pieces). Put all the onion pieces in a microwave-safe dish, and microwave on high for about 4 minutes, until the onion is tender. Add the cooked onion to the stew pot and stir. Peel the potatoes and chop them into 3/4" pieces. Add the potatoes to the stew pot and stir them in. Add all the vegetables (including liquid), tomatoes, salsa, and broth, sugar, and spices. Stir thoroughly, recover the pot and continue cooking over medium heat (stirring occasionally) until the potatoes are tender enough to pierce with a fork, all the meat is tender and beginning to shred, and the liquid begins to thicken.
This will be good enough to eat by the time you finish cooking it if you’re desperate, but it’s much better (richer and thicker) if you refrigerate it overnight and reheat it to eat the second day.