“Communal stew” is the name the southern cooking authority Stan Woodward gives stews made in big batches and cooked over open fires in large cast-iron pots also used for washing clothes.
“Communal stew” is the name the southern cooking authority Stan Woodward gives stews made in big batches and cooked over open fires in large cast-iron pots also used for washing clothes. Thought to be a fisherman’s stew cooked on the banks of the Pee Dee River, pine bark stew had just such humble beginnings.
In the 1930 edition of Two Hundred Years of Charleston Cooking, Blanche Rhett credits the pine bark stew recipe to Captain John A. Kelly, of Kingstree, who made it a favorite dish of the Otranto Hunting Club in the Goose Creek area. Charleston Receipts, the renowned Junior League cookbook first published in 1950, agrees, titling its recipe “Otranto Pine Bark Stew,” as relayed to the club’s president Louis Y. Dawson, Jr., by his father.
The reason for the name “pine bark stew” is speculative. Was the stew dark in color? Seasoned with a sprig of pine? Based on oral history documented while researching Brunswick stew, Woodward concluded that the name came from colonists observing coastal Indians in Virginia and North Carolina eating fish stew, called “fish muddle,” with pine bark servers or utensils. The most common conjecture is simply that the stew was cooked over a fire kindled with pine bark.
Most authorities agree on the ingredients: bacon, onions, potatoes, and several kinds of firm freshwater fish, which are layered and simmered slowly. In the recipe in his book Southern Food, however, John Egerton adds tomatoes. The seasonings vary slightly; curry, saffron, thyme, butter, ketchup, and Worcestershire sauce are all mentioned. In the Charleston Receipts recipe, the seasoning is provided in a separate sauce poured on top of the stew, which, as may be expected in Charleston, is served over rice.
Egerton, John. Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History. New York: Knopf, 1987.
Junior League of Charleston. Charleston Receipts. Charleston, S.C.: Walker, Evans and Cogswell, 1950.
Rhett, Blanche Salley. Two Hundred Years of Charleston Cooking. 1930. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1976.
Southern Stews: A Taste of the South. Produced and directed by Stan Woodward. Greenville, S.C.: Woodward Studio, 2002. Videocassette.