Though no one really knows where the stew got its name, it was fairly common fare for cowboys, cooked up by cookie, out on the range. Though its name was “Sonofabitch Stew”, it was just as common to name the stew after those who cookie or other cowboys disliked. One story of how the stew got its name goes as such:
Two cow hands rode up to the chuck wagon when the cook was preparing dinner. Sniffing the air of all the combined odors from the various pots and skillets, one of the cow hands said, “I see y’u’re goin’ to have a son of a bitch for dinner”. The cook already weary and tired from other visitors coming in gave the cowhands a withered look and replied, “Yeah a few more drop in an’ we’ll have a crowd of ’em.”
Though the stories are as varied as a snowflake, one thing that can be agreed on by all of ’em… NO vegetables, such as corn, tomatoes, onions, etc. To do so was to spoil the dish. Aside from that, recipes varied from one cookie to another. Some liked the stew thin, others liked it thick, but no matter what it had to be served hot.
While we don’t know where the stew got its bad name from, what can be agreed upon is because of one of its ingredients—”Marrow Gut”. It gave the stew its distinctive flavor. other ingredients may be omitted, but as one cowhand said.
“A sonofabitch might not have any brains and no heart, but if he don’t have guts he’s not a sonofabitch”
Marrow gut isn’t really gut, rather a tube that connects the two stomachs of cud chewing animals, and is only good when the calf is young and living off of milk, as it is then filled with a substance resembling marrow. This is why only young calves were used and what gave the stew its delicious flavor.
To make the stew a fat calf was killed. From it, while it was still warm, the following was procurred:
- marrow gut
- pieces of tenderloin
The various ingredients were added a hand full at a time, slowly stirred after each addition of contents. The brains were cooked separately and some cooks added flour to thicken the batch. When cooked, they became beady then added to the stew. Salt and pepper were added to taste. The stew itself took several hours to cook and about the only way you could ruin it was to let it burn. If a cook committed this blunder, he better be prepared to receive names less complimentary than that given to the stew.
If you enjoyed this, make sure to pick up the book, “Come an’ Get It” by Ramon F Adams. There are tons of tales of the range as they relate to the cook.