Burgoo — a stew or thick soup — was a sailor’s dish to start with. This is the recipe that appeared in Anthony Willich’s Domestic Encyclopaedia, published in London in 1802:
Burgoo, a kind of porridge, is a nutritive dish, eaten by mariners, and much used in Scotland; it is made by gradually adding two quarts of water to one of oatmeal, so that the whole may mix smoothly; then boiling it for a quarter of an hour, stirring it constantly; after which, a little salt and butter should be added. This quantity, prepared as directed, will serve five or six persons for a meal; and Cockburn considers it very proper for correcting that unwholesome disposition to costiveness, so frequent to persons of a seafaring life.
[Costiveness: an old name for constipation.]
The recipe makes perfect sense, since the name burgoo comes via Turkish bulgur from a Persian word for wheat that has been cooked, dried, and crushed.
The name has also been given to a very different dish that is associated with the American frontier. At one time burgoo was a meal of small wild game, especially squirrel and rabbit, but also turkey, quail, venison, opossum, or racoon, which was slow-cooked outdoors in big iron pots; chicken, vegetables, and pork were among ingredients that came along later. It’s linked especially to Kentucky, where it has traditionally been served during the weekend of the Kentucky Derby.
This description of a communal burgoo preparation session is by John Hill Aughey, from his 1905 book, Tupelo:
Burgoo has a basis, as the chemist says. The basis on this occasion consists of 150 chickens and 225 pounds of beef in joints, and other forms best suited for soup. To this has been added a bushel or two of tomatoes. The heap of shaven roasting ears tells of another accessory before the fact. Cabbage and potatoes and probably other things in small quantities, but too numerous to mention, have gone into the pots... Gradually vegetables lose all distinctive form and appearance and the compound is reduced to a homogeneous liquid, about the consistency of molasses. “Burgoo ought to boil about 14 hours,” says the old expert, “we’ve only had about 8 for this, but I think they’ll be able to eat it.”
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