Of all the camp stews and hunters' stews of various names and flavors, the Kentucky burgoo heads the list; not only is it distinguished for its intrinsic qualities, its food value and delicious flavor, its romance and picturesque accompaniment, but also because of the illustrious people whose names are linked in Kentucky history with the burgoo. One such feast, given some time between 1840 and 1850, was attended by Governor Owlsley (old stone-hammer), Governor Metcalf, Governor Bob Letcher, Governor Moorhead, General George Crittenton, General John Crittenton, General Tom Critten-ton, James H. Beard, and other distinguished men.
All Kentuckians will vow they understand the true meaning of the word "burgoo." But an article in the Insurance Field says, " It is derived from the low Latin burgus, fortified (as a town) and goo-goo, very good." Hence the word, "burgoo," something very good, fortified with other good things, as will be found in "Carey's Dictionary of Double Derivations": "Burgoo is literally a soup composed of many vegetables and meats delectably fused together in an enormous caldron, over which, at the exact moment, a rabbit's foot at the end of a yarn string is properly waved by a colored preacher, whose salary has been paid to date. These are the good omens by which the burgoo is fortified."
Anything from an ordinary pail to one or many big caldrons, according to the number of guests expected at the camp, will serve as vessels in which to serve the burgoo. The excellence of the burgoo depends more upon the manner of cooking and seasoning it than it does on the material used in its decoction.
To-day the burgoo is composed of meat from domestic beasts and barnyard fowls with vegetables from the garden, but originally it was made from the wild things in the woods, bear, buffalo, venison, wild turkey, quails, squirrels and all the splendid game animals that once roamed through Kentucky.
As this book is for woodcrafters we will take it for granted that we are in the woods, that we have some venison, moose, bear meat, rocky mountain goat, big horn, rabbit, ruffed grouse, or some good substitutes. It would be a rare occasion indeed when we would really have these things. If, for instance, we have a good string of grouse we will take their legs and wings and necks for the burgoo and save their breasts for a broil, and if we have not many grouse we will put in a whole bird or two. We will treat the rabbits the same way, saving the body with the tenderloin for broiling. When cleaned and dressed the meat of a turtle or two adds a delicious flavor to the burgoo; frogs legs are also good, with the other meat.
Cut all the meat up into pieces which will correspond, roughly speaking, to inch cubes; do not throw away the bones; put them in also. Now then, if you were wise enough when you were outfitting for the trip to secure some of the ill-smelling but palatable dried vegetables, they will add immensely to the flavor of your burgoo. Put all the material in the kettle, that is, unless you are using beans and potatoes as vegetables; if so, the meats had better be well cooked first, because the beans and potatoes have a tendency to go to the bottom, and by scorching spoil the broth.
Fill your kettle, caldron or pot half full of water and hang it over the fire; while it is making ready to boil get busy with your vegetables, preparing them for the stew. Peel the dry outer skin off your onions and halve them, or quarter them, according to their size; scrape your carrots and slice them into little disks, each about the size of a quarter, peel your potatoes and cut them up into pieces about the size of the meat, and when the caldron is boiling dump in the vegetables. The vegetables will temporarily cool the water, which should not be allowed to again boil, but should be put over a slow fire and where it will simmer. When the stew is almost done add the salt and other seasonings. There should always be enough water to cover the vegetables. Canned tomatoes will add to the flavor of your broth. In a real burgoo we put no thickening like meal, rice or other material of similar nature, because the broth is strained and served clear. Also no sweet vegetables like beets.
When the burgoo is done dip it out and drink it from tin cups. Of course, if this is a picnic burgoo, you add olive juice to the stew, while it is cooking, and then place a sliced lemon and an olive in each cup and pour the hot strained liquid into the cups.
The burgoo and the barbecue belong to that era when food was plenty, feasts were generous and appetites good. These historic feasts still exist in what is left of the open country and rich farming districts, particularly in Kentucky and Virginia. In Kentucky in the olden times the gentlemen were wont to go out in the morning and do the hunting, while the negroes were keeping the caldrons boiling with the pork and other foundation material in them. After the gentlemen returned and the game was put into the caldron, the guests began to arrive and the stew was served late in the afternoon; each guest was supposed to come supplied with a tin cup and a spoon, the latter made of a fresh water mussel shell with a split stick for a handle. Thus provided they all sat round and partook of as many helps as their hunger demanded.
Since we have given Kentucky's celebrated dish, we will add "Ole Virginny's" favorite dish, which has been named after the county where it originated.