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Perpetual Stew: A Modern Take on a Medieval Dish

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

Perpetual stew has recently made it into the news cycle, but how did it get started and is it worth trying? Read on to find out.

By Walter S. Brackett III

Imagine any scene from a historical or medieval fantasy film. If characters are cooking, you'll often see them cooking stew in a huge pot over an open flame. That stewpot is one detail that is historically accurate as yes, people in medieval Europe ate a lot of stew. In a world without refrigeration, where “eat local” was how one had to live and not just a lifestyle choice, that stewpot would contain whatever local ingredients were at hand and in season, perpetually simmering away to prevent food-borne illness.

In fact, according to author Reay Tannahill, medieval peasants would set a cauldron above a fire for weeks on end. Any available food was simply thrown in, and the cauldron was rarely emptied out “except in preparation for the meatless weeks of Lent.”


She also says that the flavor of the stew was constantly changing. As she explains, “a hare, hen, or pigeon would give it a fine, meaty flavor while the strong taste of salted pork or cabbage would linger for days, even weeks.”


Now this type of stew has made modern news, thanks to Brooklyn, NY influencer Annie Rauwerda, who created an internet sensation by cooking a stew in a crockpot for 60 days, documenting her experiences on TikTok, and inviting her viewers to come to “stew parties” in a park near her home.


The price of admission? An ingredient to add to the stew.

Rauwerda says that she made sure the stew was safe by keeping it boiling at all times and cycling through the stew during the week by eating it.


As she posted on her blog, on June 16, “The broth is so unique and complex and yet I can't bear to eat another bite. I'm kind of sick of stew, but definitely not sick from stew. Important distinction.”


So her weeks-old perpetual stew was safe, but was it any good? “Completely depends on the day,” she admitted.


In an article published by Outside Magazine, Rauwerda cited July 16 (day 41) as the stew at its best. “I put in so much smoked paprika; it was amazing!”


And the stew at its worst? The end of a Sunday stew event, when someone added chickpeas and crushed tomatoes to mostly just broth.


Rauwerda was not the first New Yorker to try her hand at something resembling perpetual stew. At the now closed restaurant Louro, chef David Santos created a stew that bubbled away for almost two years, only ending when the restaurant closed its doors. Ingredients used to create the stew’s dark, rich broth included smoked anchovies, beef trimmings, lamb fat, shellfish carcasses and roasted chicken bones. The stew created by Santos may have been closer in taste to medieval stews, as medieval eaters added plenty of meat to their stews, if available.



So should you start your own perpetual stew?

Such an undertaking is not for the faint of heart. A consistent boiling temperature must be maintained to prevent illness, and liquids must be constantly added to the pot to prevent the stew from drying out and scorching or burning.


And, of course, eating stew day in and day out can quickly become tedious.


Rauwerda complained that she woke up one late July morning in her apartment to find herself, as she describes, “attacked by the cruel and violent aromas of stew… I am in the trenches of war. If anyone mutters the word ‘stew’ in my presence I will barf in their face.”


And in August, just before her stew project came to an end, she wrote, “I can't wait to never eat a drop of stew again.”


Unlike medieval peasants, we have choices when it comes to food. So before you start a perpetual stew journey, you might want to ask yourself, “For how many days do I want to eat the same type of meal?” If the answer is less than seven, maybe just make a little stew for tonight and order out pizza tomorrow.

 

Love food? Then check out this article about the medieval peasant's diet.


Read about Rauwerda's stew journey at www.perpetualstew.club.


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