Veg Weber knows how to do old-fashioned hospitality and she enjoys having people sit around her table. A few years ago, this hostess from Hawkesville, Ont., came across a recipe that gives her guests a surprise dining adventure as well as nourishing food.
When Veg serves Frogmore stew, she invites her guests to sit around her table that has nothing more than a tablecloth on it. After saying a blessing for the food, her husband Ross takes a big pot from the stove and empties its contents on the middle of the table. Veg can’t help laughing as she tells her surprised guests to help themselves to the bite-sized pieces of meat and vegetables spread before them. She provides napkins and toothpicks if they simply can’t face picking it up with their fingers.
For many years, Veg and Ross served on the committee that organized meat canning when the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) portable canner came to their area. They always got to know the crew that travelled with the meat canner and usually hosted at least some of them.
This is how Veg got to know Wanda Yoder, who travelled with the meat canner one year when her husband was part of the crew. It was Yoder who gave Veg the recipe for Frogmore stew along with the description of how it was served to a group of meat canners while they were canning in an Amish community in Ohio. Yoder and the other guests were puzzled when the hostess kept refusing their offer to set the table.
Later that year, when the Elmira meat-canning committee was holding its wrap-up meeting, the committee and their spouses, about 25 people, were invited to be together for supper. No one knew that the menu was Frogmore stew except Veg, Ross and the hostess. When it came time to serve the food, the host was told to simply do what Ross was doing. Draining the liquid wasn’t too challenging, but the poor man found it very difficult to unceremoniously dump the food directly onto the table. Veg and Ross still chuckle when they think of the reactions to that meal, and no one who was there that day has forgotten their experience with Frogmore stew.
Veg has also served up this surprise meal to friends, neighbours and the young adults from her church. Although she hasn’t done it often, she says it works well to serve it outdoors on a picnic table. Almost every year, she cooks the farewell meal for the young adults who are finishing their MCC International Visitor Exchange Program experience and on occasion she has served Frogmore stew.
Guests have always been astonished at how the food is presented, says Veg, but they are generally cooperative. Certainly it is easy to clean up afterward; when the leftovers are removed, the disposable tablecloth can be gathered up and discarded. There are no dishes to wash.
Apparently the recipe originated in the southern United States, where it is also called seafood boil. Veg was surprised recently when a co-worker described being served seafood boil where the food was served on newspapers spread on the table. She had no idea that other people also served food this way. A more traditional seafood boil has pieces of corn-on-the-cob, but Veg regards that as an optional ingredient and has never included it.
The Frogmore stew recipe calls for seafood-boil seasoning, a combination of spices that is not available in Canada. Veg grew up in Ohio and regularly goes back to visit, so she picks up the seasoning mix during those trips.
Her recipe came from an Amish home and is now made by a Mennonite, so perhaps this could be regarded as an Amish-Mennonite version of Frogmore stew.
To find the recipe for Frogmore stew, visit canadianmennonite.org/frogmore-stew.