The Brunswick Stew Wars and Making the Film

The Brunswick Stew Wars and Making the Film

By Stan Woodward, supplementing his 2015 interview with Saddler Taylor and Tom Davenport.

The Governor, two Georgia State Senators, a “man-on-the-street” in Atlanta, and folklorist, John Burrison speak in one voice pronouncing the pork or mixed-meat Brunswick stew as the most beloved folk-heritage stew of Georgia. Stan Woodward had heard years earlier thatBrunswick, Georgia, holds a festival each year called the Stewbilee to support the claim that Brunswick Stew originated in the State of Georgia. There’s even an enshrined black iron stewpot at a rest stop on I-95 advertising this. The Georgia festival was an indignant reaction by Brunswick, Georgia, and the State of Georgia against the Commonwealth of Virginia, whose legislature passed a resolution in the mid-1980’s that named Brunswick County, Virginia, the original home of Brunswick Stew. Georgia’s legislature then passed a resolution declaring Brunswick, Georgia, the place of origin. That’s when the “Stew Wars” began, pitting the two states’ best stew-masters in competition with each other at festivals.

These legendary Stew Wars led Stan to Brunswick County, Virginia, where he began research on the Virginia origins of Brunswick stew. After four years of travel, field work, and videotaping in North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina (which didn't trouble itself with Brunswick stew because it had a much older tradition of cooking a concoction called “hash” in the black iron pots that all these stews had in common), Stan completed the feature length documentary, Brunswick Stew: The Virginia Origin of Brunswick Stew.

While conducting field research for the Virginia stew during the ’90s, Woodward had gathered footage on the roots of the Georgia stew. From 2002 to 2004 he did additional filming, including freshly-shot footage of the Stewbilee in Brunswick, Georgia, where a member of the Georgia Sea Island Singers told about her ancestors who cooked Brunswick stews during the slavery years. This is truly a “roots” story about the origins and celebrations around this folk heritage stew of Georgia.

Woodward combined and edited all these materials into the one-hour documentary titled Brunswick Stew: Georgia Named Her; Georgia Claims Her. When the Georgia and Virginia Brunswick Stew documentaries are viewed together, they provide an unusual in-depth and humorous look at the shared folk culture in these communal stews of the American South. These two documentaries are from Stan Woodward’s suite of foodways films about a family of Southern agrarian communal stews, all cooked on open fires in huge black iron pots, by stew masters and their crews, using folk-heritage recipes with secret ingredients, and sold as fundraisers for local community organizations. These works include the overview film Southern Stews: A Taste of the South and additional individual films on Georgia Hogshead Brunswick Stew and Stewbilee, on South Carolina Hash and Frogmore Stew, Chicken Bog of the Pee Dee, and Gallivant’s