McKissick Museum and director-videographer Stan Woodward explored regional foodways in the folklife documentary, Southern Stews: A Taste of the South. From the hills of Virginia to the South Carolina Lowcountry, open pot cooking has been a vibrant component of regional culinary traditions embraced by the diverse inhabitants of the South.
During the filming of the 1994 documentary, Brunswick Stew, Woodward’s interest in the folklife surrounding stew making grew. With Southern Stews: A Taste of the South, Woodward expanded beyond the battling ‘Brunswicks’ (Virginia and Georgia), and ventured into other parts like the West Virginia mountain valleys and the South Carolina Sea Islands, with nothing more than his camera and his appetite. Woodward found cooks transforming relatively mundane ingredients into culinary folk art and sharing this food with families and communities across the South.
Southern Stews: A Taste of the South examined the changing traditions of stew making that over time have come to reinforce and define community values and cohesiveness. This film explored the relationships between the stuff of stews – the ingredients, recipes, and artifacts used in their production – and the social dynamics of stew making. From Kentucky burgoo to Carolina hash, Southern stews are emblems of an idealized Southern identity. Woodward’s film showed the ways in which many Southerners maintain and protect traditional ways of life threatened by urbanization.
Woodward interviewed “stewmasters” who go to great lengths to make a case for the uniqueness of each local recipe and cooking technique. A burgoo in Owensboro, KY may be mutton-based, similar to a sheep stew in Dundas, Virginia, but differ in all other respects. Adherents view each as “definitive”.
Southern Stews: A Taste of the South is a production by Southern culture and folklife producer/director, Stan Woodward for the McKissick Museum of the University of South Carolina, and was funded by grants from the Southern Humanities Media Fund and the Humanities Council SC.