Brunswick Stew has been serving up love and nurture since my first baby. Now this recipe is a fall staple and a meal I deliver to new moms everywhere.
I took a meal to a new mom yesterday. My eyes filled with tears as I passed the bags through the doorway. Those first weeks after a baby are a sacred space. For me, those seasons were so tender.
When my first daughter was born, I was 25. We lived away from family in a tiny apartment in Atlanta, Georgia. I was overwhelmed by everything. When I am overwhelmed, I turn inward.
I remember in our birthing class, the instructor asked all of us to name our biggest fear during labor. Mine came out immediately. "I don't want anyone to see me labor." Pregnancy felt like one large Vulnerability Disney Parade to me, and so I assumed labor must be the grand finale in front of Cinderella's Castle. I wanted to be invisible.
The problem with invisibility is that it doesn't get you the care you need. First-time moms, recovering from c-sections, with nocturnal babies, need lots of care. I was also young enough that I didn't know how to take care of myself yet. I could do it on a whim when it was just me. But I hadn't yet learned to care for my body and soul with steady, nurturing rhythms.
Thus, I cared for my baby the way I dealt with myself. On-demand. I breastfed on-demand as I grabbed snacks and ate sporadically. I didn't know what else to do with this precious tiny baby so I nursed and nursed and nursed.
While I nursed I read a book about sleep scheduling and became obsessed. The baby was barely 4 weeks old and I locked down into the house overcrowded with baby gear to coax her into sleep every 45 minutes. My husband would suggest going to see friends or taking walks at the park. NO! We only have a brief window for her to sleep or she gets overtired and off schedule and will never sleep again!
So I was tired and isolated and mostly crazy when my friend Jess showed up. She was coming through Atlanta on her way back to Nashville and wanted to stop in to help me. I assured her I was fine. Nope, I didn't need anything. I had been wearing the same velour jogging suit for a week and this situation was under control. But she was welcome to stay.
I don't remember much from her visit except I barely left the couch and she stood in the kitchen and cooked me, Brunswick Stew. She boiled the whole chicken, chopped the onion, poured in the diced tomatoes, and lima beans. I remember the smell of the chicken broth filling the apartment as the stew simmered. Then how she filled a bowl for me and pushed me to the table with a plate of warm cornbread. Everything you need is in this bowl of stew, she said. You can eat it with one hand.
She then scooped the rest of the tomato-based stew into small freezer bags and froze portions for a 2 week's worth of meals. "Defrost the bags by running water over them in the sink and then microwave in a bowl," she instructed. You can do it while holding the baby and you get protein, vegetables, and vitamins altogether.
At that moment, as a helpless, drained new mom, I understood nurture. I had been nurtured all my life by caring parents, faithful friends, and a loving husband. But in this new place of vulnerability, my instinct had been to resist care for self-reliance. I learned something new about myself: I wasn't capable on my own, but under stress, I really liked to pretend.
All that week, every time I sat in front of a reheated bowl of Brunswick stew, made by a dear friend. I felt seen. And I didn't feel ashamed. I felt loved. ( And less hungry.)
Because I was such a pro, I went on to have three more baby girls. All four of my babies were fall babies. Their birthdays range from the first week of October to the middle of December. So the scents and sights of fall will forever be connected with the last weeks of pregnancy and the first weeks of newborns. I smell pumpkin spice anything and need to swaddle someone.
Fall is also when I start cooking this Brunswick Stew recipe. This is the season when we begin turning towards all things cozy. Brunswick stew is one dish of cozy after another. It still reminds me of being cared for and then slowly learning to care for myself. I think of myself microwaving those bowls of soup, long after Jess left. Baby steps. But I was learning.
Cozy and delicious stew to nourish your body and soul.
a few seconds
whole chicken (cut up)
white shoepeg corn
frozen small butterbeans
small potatoes (cubed)
Place chicken in Dutch oven and add enough water to cover well.
Add onion, celery, salt and pepper.
Boil until chicken comes off bones easily.
Remove chicken to cool and add corn, butterbeans, tomatoes, potatoes, ketchup, and brown sugar.
Cook 2 hours, or until tender.
Remove chicken from bones and add to vegetables along with Worcestershire, Tobasco, marjoram, and butter.