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Settler's Beef Stew

Stew was a staple food in the settler's repertoire. It could be made over an open fire or simmered all day on the stove. It was one pot cooking at its best .  . . you could even make dumplings and have your entire meal, from meat to vegetables to bread in one cooking vessel!

It was also a good way to make tough meat more tender (long slow cooking breaks down meat fibers), use up vegetables that were losing their crispness after a long winter in the cellar, and provided plenty of gravy, which stretched the calorie count even further, especially when sopped up with biscuits or bread.

You can use just about any kind of meat, though dark meats (beef, venison, etc.) are traditional. The end result might be slightly plainer than you are used to, as they didn't have handy additions of bouillon or pre-made beef stock to add. But play around with the recipe until you are happy with the result. The pioneers did!

Ingredients

  • 1½ - 2 pounds of beef (or deer or bear meat, etc.) cut into one inch cubes
  • 2 onions, one in ¼ inch dice and the other in ¾ inch dice
  • 6 medium carrots, peeled or carefully scrubbed, and cut into slightly diagonal rounds, about ¼ inch thick
  • 6 large or 8 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into one inch cubes
  • 4 large stalks of celery, washed, top and tailed, de-stringed, and cut into ¼ inch pieces
  • ½ - ¾ cup flour
  • Water
  • Salt and pepper
  • Heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven
  • Metal whisk
  • Bacon fat, clarified pork or beef fat, or lard, about ¼ of a cup (modern cooking oils of your choice can be used as well!)
  • You can also add any other vegetables you particularly like .  . . parsnips, turnips, even squash would be a tasty addition. Just cut into similar sizes to the above.

Method

Put your chosen fat into your heavy-bottomed pot and set over a medium heat.

Meanwhile, season your flour well with salt and pepper and dredge your meat cubes well, ensuring all sides get coated.

Shake off excess flour (putting in a hand held strainer and shaking works great for this!) and add to the pot once the oil is hot.

Continue dredging and shaking and adding to the pot until the bottom is ¾ filled in a single layer.

Brown the meat very well on all sides (you don't need to worry about cooking through at this point. . .just make sure you have a good hard sear) and use a slotted spoon to remove the chunks of meat to a platter or pan.

Continue repeating the process until all the meat is well seared and removed to another container.

At this point, you should have about 3 tablespoons of fat left in the pan. If you don't, add a little more until you do.

Add your smallest diced onions to the pot and cook until browned but not burned.

Sprinkle the flour left over from dredging your meat, one tablespoon at a time, evenly in the pan, whisking as you go to prevent clumps.

When you've added enough flour that the mixture is neither a dry paste nor very runny, continue to stir the flour/fat/onion mixture constantly for a minute or two. You will probably have added 2-3 tablespoons of flour. The flour should turn a deep brown color, but not burn.

Don't skip either the caramelizing of the onions or the browning of the flour steps. . .they are important to bring a depth of flavor, especially if you are not going to cheat and use some boullion!

Once the flour is deeply browned, add back the meat and enough water to cover by about 2 inches.

Leave on a very low heat for as long as you can. . .all day is fine!

An hour to and hour and a half before you want to serve, add the potatoes and larger onions and bring the heat up to a low simmer.

45 minutes to a half hour before you want to serve, pop in your carrots and your celery and continue cooking on a low simmer.

Use a fork to check for the doneness of the vegetables (they should pierce easily) and taste for seasonings, adding salt or pepper to taste.

Serve in bowls, on tin plates, or over biscuits!

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