As part of the Woodward's Southern Stews documentary project I filmed in Brunswick County, Va., where the first Brunswick stew is said to have been prepared and named in 1828. Just across the line in Lunenberg County, Woodward had also filmed a distinctive tradition of the people in the small village of Dundas. They learned that he had enough material to edit the story of their own proud stew tradition. Between the three buildings in "downtown" Dundas, Va., stands a sign that reads "Welcome to Dundas - Home of the World's Best Sheep Stew - A gastronomical delight." It stands next to the Dundas Ruritan Club stew shed, where the gastronomic delight is cooked twice a year in four 100-gallon black pots to raise money for Ruritan community-service projects. This arduous, 12-hour cooking of culled sheep in four 80-gallon cast-iron pots requires five shifts and as many as twenty men. And when the recipe is compared to the first Brunswick stew recipe, it is more true to the original recipe of 1828 than the current version of Brunswick stew cooked by stewmasters throughout that county--except that the squirrel in the original recipe has been replaced by sheep. All else remains the same.
The story of Dundas Sheep Stew and its preparation is poignant. We learn how fragile the tradition is; but it is filled at every turn with good humor and the extraordinary warmth of the people of Dundas. This documentary provides an unusual view back into the ways of our rural farm folk who took occasional breaks from the gruelling work of farming to come together around the cooking of a locally concocted stew, to enjoy fun and fellowship. The stewmaster and stew crews enjoyed a sip of whiskey here and there, some good-natured leg-pulling, and the comradery of a rural farmers around the stew-pot--not to mention the good eatin' that followed.
The citizens of Dundas raised $2,500 through a rummage sale, a raffle, and the cooking of a special sheep stew to make possible the editing of this documentary during the work on Southern Stews Documentary Project.