Poor Artie. No wonder he did not want a fourth bowl.

So I finally looked up what Burgoo actually is. Turns out it is a Kentucky (and neighboring state) thing. It is also a bit of a Stone Soup thing. When you don't have enough of any one thing to make a meal, you throw it all into the stew pot and hope it turns out edible. In some parts of the country, many years ago, having it turn out tasty wasn't at all expected.

Oh, these days there are carefully repeated recipes, to make sure it turns out at least edible each time. But back in the day... WAY back... Burgoo was survival food for long winters when game was scarce and all you had left in the pantry and root cellar were shriveled potatoes, your least favorite kind of beans that you grew every year because they produced better than the kinds you loved, and corn. Dry corn, that is. Not sweet corn. Cook for hours and hope it softens nicely, corn (it cooked better cracked). Or grind it into meal and throw it in as thickener, corn.

The versions that have survived have retained one major defining characteristic.

They contain at least three kinds of meat. Three kinds that are NOT usually used together. We are not talking about bacon and chicken. Or pork and shrimp.

We are talking about squirrel. Rabbit. Pheasant. Mutton. Pork (generally salt pork). Venison (any kind). Coon, skunk, porcupine, possum, and armadillo also get thrown in if available.  Rats, bobcat, coyote, lizards, gophers, groundhogs, prairie dogs, magpies and frogs are also options when the more desirable game is gone - mole does not taste good enough to bother with, even for Burgoo.

Pick three. Or four. Thinking they'll taste good together is not helpful here.

The thing about Burgoo is that the ingredients are not really friends. They aren't usually even on speaking terms. You have to just throw them in the pot, and hope that you can find a way to get them to at least shake hands and ignore each other.

You read the recipe, and it is only as you realize that this is a Stone Soup type meal, that you understand that it may come out tolerable, or repulsive, depending on what goes in, and what is done to it. It is generally not considered to be a company dish... or even one that anyone in the family will request by choice.

Creativity is not only permitted, it is REQUIRED. Because you are down to having only a few things left in the cupboard.

You hope you have onions, maybe some garlic.

You hope you have some tomatoes - they seem to sort of enhance whatever is in the soup, and for some people, tomatoes are the difference between an indigestible mess, and a tolerable stew. Dried tomatoes are fine, in those days it would have been dried. Then canned - stuck in the root cellars in quart jars, probably open kettled so you expect to lose a few jars over the winter, and just hope it isn't that last jar when you really need it because it is all that is left - a swollen lid on that last jar just when you needed to make burgoo would be cause for grief indeed.

All those unharmonious meat flavors, and now you have to figure out how to actually make them into something that doesn't taste like you just put all the bits into the pot and hoped for the best. Only one thing to do - Well, the tomatoes and onions always help! But not enough with squirrel, and rabbit, and venison (just a little dried left or you'd have made the whole soup with it), ALL in the same pot. (And remember, this is the GOOD version... if it is skunk and armadillo and pine woods squirrel, you may doubt the benefit of long cooking.)

You have to cook it until the flavors meld. Well, the recipes now call for that. Then it may just have been that you made a big pot, hoped for the best, and treated it like Pease Porridge Hot, Pease Porridge Cold. Maybe you just hung it on the hook over the fire and swung it off for night, and brought it to a boil again before the next meal to make sure any happy bacteria were well killed before you served it up again.

But you have a better stew if you cook it well. Of course the potatoes just about completely dissolve, but that just thickens it nicely. The meat goes all to string, and the beans soften and fall apart. The tomatoes carmelize, and add a darkness to the already darkened overcooked meat flavors if you don't keep the water level up.

The problem with cooking things a long time is that the flavors DO darken and deepen. Meat takes on a kind of strongish tone, and the top edges and the stew on the bottom of the pot tend to develop very done bits, if not outright burned. It does reach a point where it can burn very easily, even if you are adding water regularly. Or it can just end up tasting overcooked, but not quite burnt. Like you pulled it off almost but not quite in the nick of time.

Making a stew with squirrel, rat, magpie, or prairie dog, or any other tiny critter, is that they have so little meat on them that cooking them and picking the meat off the bones is nearly impossible - half of it gets discarded. So they were often thrown in whole. Then you have BONES. Tiny bones. Often sharp if they'd cracked.

Long cooking means that sometimes, with some animals, the bones will soften enough that they'll crumble when you run into them with teeth. But most won't. Spine and neck bones are the most likely to do that. The sharp bones usually won't. And bones for squirrel  and anything else that small are just terrible to try to sort out, even when picking them with your hands. Spitting them out of a mouthful of soup, without running into a real problem is just horrid. I make rabbit stew, and I cook the rabbit and pick it, and ALWAYS miss a bone or two, and that is bad enough, running into that when eating it. I can't even imagine having a whole pot of stew with all the bones still in it. It has all the dark and frilly edges of a lculinary nightmare.

The last element of old time survival Burgoo is that it was not a PLANNED food. Nor was it a food that you made and ate and then were done with. It usually lasted several days, and it could be a REVOLVING food. It then cooked overnight. Each day you came in and put your day's catch into the pot, and let it cook overnight. Whatever was IN the pot was blended with whatever you added to the pot. Some theorize that this IS Burgoo, not just a TYPE of Burgoo, and that this is how it came to have so many different ingredients tossed in together.

With a revolving stew, you may have food in it that is quite old, recooked each day. Safe to eat, but very old. Not years - Burgoo was late winter survival food, to keep you going until spring harvests came in.

Burgoo then (theoretically at least!), could be a good hearty meal of stew. Or it could be an unmitigated disaster that punishes your entire mouth.

Recipes now are written with the goal that you get the former - but even that may still be an acquired taste.

We are guessing Artie got one of the less enjoyable versions.

Coddiwomple Farm is located the United States.