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Nearly every cold climate culture has its own version of Mulligan Stew, which is a cheap, filling meal that can be made with a pot, a fire and whatever is available at the time. Also referred to as Irish Stew, Hobo Stew, and “hotch potch,” Mulligan Stew is a time honored tradition of combining a meat, a starch and vegetables for a hearty, easy and satisfying meal. Mulligan stew is perhaps the predecessor to the one-pot meal — the essential crock pot dish of yesteryear.
No definite origin of Mulligan Stew and its name can be found, but it is thought to have been a hand down from the traditional Irish stew that so many peasants relied on as a primary source of sustenance. Because so many Irish farmers raised sheep, lamb and mutton were primary ingredients in Mulligan Stew. Potatoes — although these were most likely omitted during the potato famine — and other root vegetables were stewed together with the meat to create a rich, thick stew.
Irish culture was especially influential, particularly when Irish immigration in the U.S. peaked in the latter half of the 19th century. The first mention of Mulligan stew in print was made in 1904 in an issue of the Yukon Midnight Sun. Since many Irish immigrants were faced with poor conditions in the United States as well, this peasant dish translated, and those making the stew used beef and any other ingredients that were available.
Also known as Hobo stew, this meal was a favorite in camps where the homeless lived. Making Mulligan stew often turned out to be a cooperative effort where each person contributed a separate ingredient to it. Reportedly, the man in charge of collecting and stewing the ingredients was the designated “mulligan mixer.” In this respect, Mulligan Stew echoed the “Stone Soup” story where three itinerant men, with the help of a town, made a soup based on a stone and donated ingredients.
Recipes for Mulligan stew and related offshoots vary, and are as diverse as the ingredients available to the cook. Virtually any type of red meat can be used, to which water, potatoes, root vegetables such as celery, carrots and turnips are added. Any seasonings can be added, but salt and pepper are a must. Some variations also add tomatoes or a tomato sauce to liven up the broth, or flour to thicken it. Making Mulligan stew can be an adventure for you and your family, by making a fun night of using what is available in your pantry and refrigerator, and tasting what happens!