OP-ED: THE IDLE AMERICAN: Stew Gets No Better
Uncle Mort’s “throwaway” lines grow mountainous in trash heaps on his place back in the thicket.
Some heard, though, are “keepers,” worthy of repeated consideration.
When still in his 90s, he warned about paying the least bit of attention to kitchen recipes that have unrecognizable or multi-syllabic words, exotic wines or ingredients to be “folded in.” He also said upon sighting the words “foie de gras,” one should “duck” into simpler, less “uppity” recipes. Finally, he suggested avoiding recipes running in large, metropolitan newspapers.
“Look for ‘em in community newspapers, where Mort claims they are more lovingly shared, often handed down to daughters, granddaughters, great-grands, etc.” I spotted such a recipe in a recent edition of Granbury’s Hood County News.
The stew recipe–traced by columnist Nancy Pricer to her late mother-in-law–first saw light of day in The Norman Rockwell Illustrated Cookbook.
Anything associated with Rockwell is fine stuff, advantaged by a name with a distinctive “down home” feel.
Several years ago, my wife of 54 years bought a “cutesy” wall hanging, stating “Kitchen is Closed.”
She meant it. Dipping deep into the well of compromise, I agreed to taking on cooking chores if she’d accept KP duties.
Brenda agreed. I mess up; she cleans up.
Now, back to the stew recipe. At the risk of “quibbling,” I don’t like the name: “Lazy Lady Stew.” Now I’m not believing for a minute that Old Norman would have given in to “reverse chauvinism.” After all, he painted pictures of numerous lazy men.
Who knows? Maybe his own grandmother provided this recipe, but he dared not offend her by suggesting a different name.
I plowed into rounding up the ingredients, noting that only three have more than two syllables–potatoes, tomatoes and onions.
If your appetite is whetted, and/or you happen to remember those marvelous Rockwell paintings that for decades appeared weekly on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, following is the “Lazy Lady Stew” recipe, with added comments that I think make it even better.
Here are the ingredients: 2 lbs. cubed stew meat, 1 10-oz. package frozen peas, 2 cup sliced carrots, 2 chopped onions, 2 potatoes, peeled and sliced about ½ inch thick, 1 tsp salt, dash of black pepper (maybe 1/3 tsp), 1 can cream of tomato soup, ½ of soup can of water and 1 bay leaf.
Bake in a 275-degree oven for six hours.
Wait up! I don’t expect anything to truly bake at 275 degrees. If it does, it’ll be as rare as pine trees in West Texas.
I followed other instructions almost to the letter, except I immediately crossed out peas, which I don’t enjoy unless they are “blackened.” Instead, I substituted a 10-oz package of mixed vegetables. It never hurts to add celery, so I did. And water chestnuts, too. (Bay leaves may be multiplied to suit your taste, or eliminated if you choose.)
Now, back to the baking modifications. I tossed all ingredients into a crockpot, setting the temperature on high for eight hours. (An hour or so may be trimmed off IF the potatoes are cut in dice-sized cubes. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with a dish you’ll otherwise like, but object to chomping into not-fully-cooked potatoes.)
My wife offered “thumbs up” on the stew, but muttered about my using meat tenderizer next time. I thought the cubed beef was plenty tender, but some battles simply are not worth waging.
During her “cooking years,” she also preferred simple recipes. I chuckle at the thought of her mother standing at her side for the “cake-cutting” at our wedding reception, saying, “Remember, dear, you must use the sharp edge.”
Since I’ve modified the recipe, I may enter the fair competition–no, not the state fair, but the county fair. I may call it “Chef Newbury’s Old-Tyme Stew.” That’s the way Cracker Barrel would spell it.
Dr. Newbury is a former educator who writes weekly and is a longtime public speaker. Comments/speaking inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: don newbury