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HomeFood Articles'P' to 'Z' Food History >  Stew, A History

 

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A HISTORY OF STEW

 

A reader asked, “When was stew invented?”
Well, it depends on where you would like to begin.

As for written records ('cookbooks'), just look in the oldest  cookbook known. There are recipes for lamb stews & fish stews in 'Apicius de re Coquinaria', whose identity is uncertain, there having been 3 Romans by that name in the period 1st century BC to 2nd century AD. What is known is that the book has survived, and there are recipes for stews of lamb and fish in it.
(An English translation of  'Apicius: Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome,  A Bibliography, Critical Review and Translation of the Ancient Book known as Apicius de re Coquinaria’  by Joseph Dommers Vehling, is available in reprint paperback from Dover Publications.)

Taillevent (French chef, 1310-1395 whose real name was Guillaume Tirel) wrote ‘Le Viandier,’ one of the oldest cookbooks in French, which also has ‘ragouts’ or stews of various types in it.

To go back even further, there is ample evidence from primitive tribes who survived into the 19th and 20th centuries, that they could and did boil foods together (which is what a stew essentially is). Amazonian tribes used the shells of turtles, boiling the entrails of the turtle and various other ingredients. Other cultures used the shells of large mollusks (clams etc.) to boil foods. There is archaeological evidence of these practices going back 7,000 or 8,000 years or more.

Herodotus tells us of the Scythians (8th to 4th centuries BC), who

    "put the flesh into an animal's  paunch, mix water with it, and boil it like that over the bone fire. The bones burn very well, and the paunch easily contains all the meat once it has been striped off. In this way an ox, or any other sacrificial beast, is ingeniously made to boil itself."

(Some sources feel this was how some of the first 'boiling' was done by primitive man, perhaps as long ago as 1/2 to 1 million years ago!)

The development of pottery, perhaps 10,000 years ago, made cooking, and stews in particular, even easier.

Basically any combination of 2 or more foods simmered in a liquid is a 'stew'. Hungarian Goulash, Coq au Vin, Carbonnades a la Flamande, Beef Stroganoff, Boeuf Bourguignonne, these are all stews.

Hungarian Goulash dates back to the 9th century Magyar shepherds of the area, before the existence of Hungary. Paprika was added in the 18th century.

The first written reference to “Irish stew” is in Byron's 'Devil's Drive' (1814):

    "The Devil . . . dined on . . . a rebel or so in an Irish stew.”

I hope these facts and examples give you an idea of how old and varied 'stews' are to the cuisine of all cultures.
 

 

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