Desperation Stew

Colleen Trenwith

I recently spent and entire afternoon in the homes of two great women, both in their 70s, who have always cooked the traditional southern dishes for their families.  Ava has always lived in the Wolf Laurel region of Madison County, North Carolina, as did her mother before her.  Irma Crawford began her married life in the rural Stoney Knob area of Weaverville, North Carolina.  I asked them about their recipes in the traditional meals such as chicken and dumplings, soup beans, and biscuits and gravy.  Even though these were cooked as a matter of course, they had nothing written down.  They both said, at frequent intervals throughout the afternoon, “My mother used to use a ‘bit of this and a bit of that, and so do I.’”

Irma Crawford was an only daughter, and was brought up with the traditions of growing vegetables in the garden, canning in the fall, and always sharing what food they had with family and friends.  She and her husband had three daughters and eventually moved to the Locust Grove region of Buncombe County.  Irma is an excellent cook of traditional southern food, and she is known for her chicken and dumplings, pickle beans and corn, and fruit cobblers.

When times were hard through the years, she would often cook a meal, which was a “made-up” recipe of “a bit of this and a bit of that,” out of whatever she had in her pantry.  She called this Desperation Stew. The nature and flavor of this stew have changed over the years, but, according to her family, it has always been nutritious and delicious.  When Irma cooked Desperation Stew in the mid 1990s, her family was so impressed and satisfied by this more contemporary variation that they made her write it down. 

6 ounces bowtie pasta
½ red bell pepper, chopped
1 can Delmonte traditional spaghetti sauce
½ green bell pepper, chopped
1 can sliced mushrooms
1 x 6-inch cake cornbread (divided)
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese (grated)
16 ounces Bryan Smoked Sausage (cut into chunks)
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta as directed on package.  Place all ingredients, minus half the crumbled cornbread, together in a Dutch oven. Heat to boiling.  Reduce heat and simmer to desired consistency.  Add drained pasta.  Mix all together.  Sprinkle the remainder of the crumbled cornbread on the top, and serve with green beans.