Mum’s signature Farmhouse Stew has been a family favourite for generations. It’s that wonderful hug that warms your soul, the kind your mum gives you when you’ve had a hard day, or the kind your grandma gives you when she knows you’re feeling under-the-weather. My mum, Joyce, or “grandma-Joyce.” Made this deep pan of farmhouse chicken stew on just those occasions, it’s the definition of a hug in a bowl. Joyce was trained as a cook in her younger years whilst living in Hampshire and worked all the hours of the day with her friend and boss Mrs Symonds, which she would reminisce about often. The catering firm was available for hire mostly to big events such as balls, engagements and garden fetes, they regularly catered for the large estates, the “big” houses as they called them. Mum’s speciality was pastry and her signature dish was Beef Wellington. Her most memorable guest to have chosen her Beef Wellington from the menu was the Queen, I think it was her proudest moment.
Since mum is sadly no longer with us, I’ve taken up the challenge of making her Special Farmhouse Stew for the generations to come. I see it as a way of passing on the baton, or passing on the hug.
6 – 8 Portions of chicken on the bone. Mum sometimes would use a whole chicken and cut into portions.
A handful of chopped bacon, (Lardons)
4 large carrots
2 large cooking onions
1 red pepper
2 fresh tomatoes
½ tin (200g) of chopped tomatoes
1pint of chicken stock (20floz/600ml)
3 – 4 dried bay leaves
1 ½ tsp dried mixed herbs
2 tsp medium curry powder
Small tin (200g)of spaghetti o’s or alphabet spaghetti (for the littlun’s) Optional
Good pinch of salt
Good pinch of white pepper
1 tablespoon veg cooking oil, I use Bran oil.
Knob of butter
2 heaped tablespoons Corn Flour
Use a large deep stew pan with lid, roughly chop the 2 onions and start to fry in the cooking oil and knob of butter, (that’s just about a tablespoon.) Add the chicken portions and lardons to the pan, toss them in the onion, buttery mix until covered and sizzling. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the chicken stock at this point, then chop the potato, carrots, peppers, tomatoes and courgettes, keep the veg chunky, don’t chop too fine.
Add the chunky veg to the pan along with the ½ tin of chopped tomatoes and the herbs and spices.
Now top up the pan with hot water to cover all ingredients, bring it up to the boil and then reduce the temperature to a very gentle simmer and don’t forget the lid to keep in the goodness.
Let the stew simmer very gently, stirring occasionally for at least a couple of hours, mum would sometimes have it simmering gently for hours, filling the house with delicious aromas throughout the afternoon. Once the stew had fully cooked and the chicken falling off the bone, mum would de-bone the chicken and pick out the bay leaves before mixing the cornflour with enough water to mix and then add to the stew whilst it bubbles, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until thick enough. I like to serve a big flavoursome bowl of farmhouse stew with a chunk of my easy homemade olive and tomato speciality bread. The bread baking, so I’ve heard, was from my father’s genes, apparently, he was a good bread baker. The olive bread goes well with this stew in flavour and in name, for my mum’s middle name was Olive!
When my four kids were littlun’s she would always have bits and pieces handy in the cupboard for when they came over, like grandmas do! As for the vegetables in mum’s kitchen, Joyce would grow the vegetables herself, we always had a double allotment plot and grew copious amounts of all kinds of vegetables. When she made her special farmhouse stew she would add a small tin of spaghetti (that she’d put by for the grandkids) at the end, just before serving up in a deep bowl with some creamed potato. My lot still ask for grandma’s Special Farmhouse Stew even now, and the eldest 2 lads are grown up and flown the coop!
I can’t help but think, wouldn’t it be a shame if I didn’t pass this recipe along the generations, it’s already come a long way from my grandma Alice’s farmhouse kitchen in Hampshire and along the maternal line to my mum Joy who passed the recipe on to me although it was rarely written down and has changed a little through the ages, for example, I’m sure grandma Alice would have used lard in her cooking, not cooking oil and I know she wouldn’t have used peppers. I think it’s good to pass on a hug whenever you can and for whatever reason one may be needed. Who needs a reason for a hug anyway? Enjoy a big warm hug in a bowl!