What puts the art in stew?
Is it your mum’s aged wooden spoon placed gently on the side of a bubbling mishmash of meat and vegetables? Is it the teary-eyed memory of an untouched boal of thick, dirt-brown gloop placed before you as your infantile apprehension prevents you from taking a spoonful? Or is it a delicious hotpot slow-cooked for 8 hours while you’re at work and best enjoyed with one or two slices of Tesco’s finest rustic bread?
I wish I could tell you. But, as a Liverpudlian, I grew up on scouse, not stew.
For me, stew is not simply a mix of meat, potatoes and carrots loved and hated by the masses. It’s an array of things; a clever concoction of nothing and everything. It can as simple infants playing together happily at the playground, chasing each other in excitement under the watchful eye of their exhausted parents. Or a group of roudy twentysomethings on a Friday night, arranged neatly around an alcohol-stained table as their laughs symphonise to create an unwelcomed melody at the local pub. Or even a frightening fleet of viking ships that sails hastedly towards its unsuspecting target, ready to unleash chaos.
Stew, unlike many of the unimportant liquid-based foods we eat on the daily, can spill far away from the definition we know it as. But this does not make stew special. In fact, unless you’re Gordan Ramsay, stew is, by definition, bland. It’s an unseasoned mixture of basic meat and vegetables invented in desparate times for the sole purpose of nourishment, not enjoyment. But we still slurp it up come dinnertime, and some even love it.
Because stew can be anything we want it to be. Stew is one of the few modern foods whose origin is unknown. This is not only because it’s so old, but because there are so many possible variations of it. I mean, just look at the massive list of different stews on Wikipedia! Anything can be a stew, as long as you’re putting things together.
So when I write, I think of stew. I think of all the words being placed together in the a way not dissimilar to how potatoes are placed in a large pan of salted water. In that sense, I suppose my writing is alphabet soup.