cooking, recipes, cookery, food, gourmet cooking . . .


Stew . . . 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 and fish stews in Apicius de re Coquinaria, whose identity is uncertain, there having been three Romans by that name in the period first century BC to second 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 is available 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, which 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, 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 Nineteenth and Twentieth 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 seven or eight thousand years or more.

Herodotus tells us of the Scythians (Eighth to Fourth 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 stripped 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 a half to one million years ago.)

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

Basically any combination of two 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 Ninth century Magyar shepherds of the area, before the existence of Hungary. Paprika was added in the Eighteenth century.

The first written reference to refer 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.

Chef James EhlerThis article is from Chef James Ehler of Key West, Florida.

James is a webmaster, cook, chef, writer and (like me) a self-confessed computer nerd. He is the former executive chef of Martha's Steak & Seafood Restaurant and the former Reach Hotel (both in Key West), the Hilton Hotel in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and the New Bern Golf and Country Club, North Carolina.

He is now webmaster and cook at the Blue Heaven Restaurant in Key West while he works on his Food Encyclopedia (five years so far). It is well worth paying a visit to James' food reference website which is a useful resource well worth Bookmarking - to visit either website just click on their title:

The Food Reference Website
The Blue Heaven Restaurant, Key West, Florida

© James T. Ehler, 2001
All rights reserved