Winning Recipes From the World’s Greatest Down-Home Beef Stew Cook-Off
In our spring 2007 issue, columnist and Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation Director of Communications, Pettus Read, lamented about another popular down-home dish – beef stew – and its tendency in many eateries to lack much of the most important ingredient – beef. Now we’re well aware there are some great Southern cooks among our readers, so in our summer 2007 issue, we announced the sequel to our dumplings competition: The World’s Greatest Down-Home Beef Stew Cook-Off.
Once again, the recipes poured in, and we painstakingly narrowed them down to five finalists. Armed with cast iron pots, hearty vegetables and plenty of beef, the five finalists battled it out in October at the Music and Molasses Festival in Nashville. Plenty of spectators looked on, including George Lindsey, better known as “Goober” from The Andy Griffith Show. In the end, Opal Bohannon of Cookeville was named our grand prize winner and awarded a trophy – a Lodge cast iron Dutch oven.
Here, we present our winning recipe, as well as the four runners-up.
Grand Prize Winner: Opal Bohannon, Cookeville
Opal Bohannon’s beef stew has been a dinnertime staple in her family for more than 60 years.
“In 1945, my aunt came down from Michigan and made beef stew, and it was so good. She told me how to prepare it, and we would make it on weekends with cornbread,” Bohannon says. “When we couldn’t afford beef, we used pork. Later, when I married my husband, I got him liking beef stew too.”
Growing up, Bohannon was the oldest girl of 10 children, so she learned to cook by helping her mother in the kitchen. Her mother also taught her the art of canning.
“After she got diabetes, my mother depended on me to do the cooking and canning,” Bohannon recalls.
She honed her skills professionally by working in the Cookeville High School cafeteria for 15 years, before retiring in 1989.
“We would make big amounts of chili and beef stew there, and we baked yeast breads and rolls,” Bohannon says.
Even at age 80, Bohannon maintains a garden and continues to can tomatoes and make her own tomato juice – the “secret” ingredient in her beef stew.
“I have fixed it for neighbors, and I take it to church potluck dinners. I serve it with cornbread or cheese and crackers,” she says. “So many people have commented on my recipe.”
That includes her 4-year-old granddaughter.
“She’s the joy of my life,” Bohannon says, “and she loves my stew.”