I am from Sulphur Springs, Texas. My town is known for many things, with one being the world famous Hopkins County Stew Contest. This is not a cooking contest for sissies.
First, you have to be really strong. You have to dig a small fire pit for the logs. You have to lug a huge iron wash pot and some form of tripod or cradle out to the middle of the park to cook it in. Then, you have to shclep the ingredients out to the campsite as well. You do all this about 4 a.m on a Saturday morning, the 4th Saturday in October.
You must be really organized, because you have to make sure you have anything you might need. Like matches, water, a can opener, chopping knife, wood, and seasoning.
You have to be a bit crazy because it is early and tiring, and you go home worn out and stinking like a campfire. And you need to wash and clean everything.
Now the real nut jobs go the extra mile and compete in the campsite/costume competition. Of course, this is where I fit it. We love the campsite competition. Part of it is the costumes, and part is because it is because we enjoy coming up with non-traditional themes. Most people dressed like a chuck wagon, but not the PLT family.
One of our most memorable costumes was often copied. Peace, love and stew. We had more fun dressing like hippies. That year we won nothing for our costumes, but we did get second place chicken stew.
Our hippie year, we ended up on websites, YouTube, and who knows where else. Since then there has been at least one campsite each year that goes hippie.
You name it, we tried it. We had a witches brew stew; red, white and stew; hobo stew; stewghetti western (we won with that one); and a few more that aren’t coming to mind. We made skits and songs and costumes and we had so much fun!
Our backs gave out before our ideas, so 2015 was our first year to sit out the competition. We still have themes on the ready, including one fully scripted routine. We will have to enter one year, just for the fun of doing this skit!
Opinions differ as to what makes Hopkins County Stew unique. Some say it is the addition of sugar to the recipe. Others say it is the omission of carrots. Maybe it is both. Whatever the recipe, it is always good!
As to the origin of cooking stew in a wash pot outdoors, this is a rural, agricultural area. Back in the day, the small, one-room schools would close so that the children could help their parents collect the crops. In my family, it was cotton. On the last day of school before letting out for crop collection, all the families would bring what they had to add to the stew pot. They would hang out at the school and share the stew and whatever other foods the ladies would have brought. My Aunt E had told me about her memories of these days as a small child in Oak Grove, Texas, in Northern Hopkins County.
All this to say, you have got to get to the Hopkins County Stew Contest. For a low cover price, you get a bowl, cheese and crackers. You can then eat your way through approximately 150 bowls of chicken or beef stews.
So mark your calendars now! 4th Saturday in October, Buford Park in Sulphur Springs, Texas. It is a stewpendously good time!
Bonus: Here is the stew recipe published by the Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce.
Hopkins County Stew—Family Size
This recipe is the basic Hopkins County Stew recipe and other ingredients may be added to suit individual tastes!
2 Lbs. Skinless Chicken Pieces
4 Cups Water
1 ½ Teaspoon Salt
4 Medium Potatoes—Diced
1 Large Onion—Diced
1 15oz. Can Tomato Sauce
1 14 ½ oz. Can Peeled Diced Tomatoes
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Pepper
1 Teaspoon Chili Powder
1 Teaspoon Paprika
1 16oz. Can Whole Kernel Corn
1 16oz. Can Cream Style Corn
Stew first three ingredients in a 5 qt. Sauce pan until chicken is tender. Reserving liquid, remove chicken, de-bone and dice.
Add to liquid, potatoes and onions. If needed, add enough water to JUST COVER the vegetables and cook until potatoes are done.
Add diced chicken, salt, pepper, tomato sauce, diced tomato, salt, chili powder and paprika. Bring to a boil.
Add whole kernel and cream style corn. Stir constantly (to prevent scorching). Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to simmer. If needed, add water to fill pot. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring as needed.