It's been some time, yes, and this is 100% boosted from Professor David Shields, a friend and colleague at the University of South Carolina. It is, however, a comprehensive guide to mull -- "the signature autumnal stew of Georgia." And before you start laughing about a stew made from milk, crackers, and snakes, ask yourself: "Do I even have a signature atumnal stew to call my own"? Chances are good that you do not.
Take it away, Professor Shields:
MULL (I asked, and thanks to you, now I know)
The signature autumnal stew of Georgia has milk as its principal liquid, crackers for a thickener, a good deal of pepper as a seasoning, and chicken, game, wildfowl, turtles, or snakes as a protein. A quartet of vegetables often appears in the mix: onions, bell peppers, celery, and carrots. Potatoes also might appear. Streak-o-lean bacon provides the fat. A mull is usually prepared by a man, either outdoors, or in a rural restaurant. Like South Carolina’s Pine Bark Stew, Kentucky’s Burgoo, or Virginia’s Brunswick Stew, it appears as the principle communal meal dish of an event—a fair, a political stump meeting, a revival, a hunting party, a church social. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, “Mull is traditionally a cold-weather dish. Northeast Georgians speak of the ‘mull season.’ Chicken Mull is an occasional side at GA BBQ pits. (http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org /articles/arts-culture/mull).
The term probably derives from the first part of Mulligatawny Stew, a staple entry in nineteenth-century English language cookbooks. The vegetables, the chopped meat, the spice (curry sauce and black pepper), and cream of the classic Mulligatawny Stew provided a rough template for the Georgia Mull. The inclusion of rice in Mulligatawny Stew might account for some of the more peculiar usages of Mull as a descriptor of Georgian dishes. In the late 1950s a young Georgian woman who married a North Carolinian and moved to Greensboro described mull as rice, turnip greens, and cornbread mashed together in a little milk. Much more orthodox was the incorporation of rice in “Shrimp Mull,” a Lowcountry stew, the “pleasing union of shrimp and rice,” the rice being cooked to a porridge with pepper, salt, in milk and shrimp broth made from the shrimp shells. The shrimp meat was added at the end of the cooking. (“American Cookery Interesting,” Marietta Journal, August 5, 1964, 10).
Just as classic New England clam chowder transmuted into a tomato laden, vegetal Manhattan chowder, so society cooks and coastal resort chefs on the Georgia islands altered the classic shrimp mull into an amalgam of tomatoes, bacon, garlic, Worcestershire, tobasco, and even curry power in the last decades of the twentieth century. In the heyday of ramping up the scovill scale on Southern dishes, they turned a wholesome shrimp and rice dish into a tomato and shrimp launching pad for “fiery flavor.” This version was served on a bed of rice. (Poppy Cannon, “Georgia Shrimp Mull,” The Milwaukee Sentinel, April 4, 1969, 3).
Rice, however, is decidedly a secondary ingredient of Mull. Jim Christian of the University of Georgia in the 1980s laid out the norms for the dish. “Mull is very popular in the rural South and can be made with goat meat, catfish, chicken, squirrel, rabbit or dove. They cook the meat until it comes off the bone and put it back in the broth they cooked it in. Then it’s seasoned and most people put soda crackers, and its seasoned with flour and starch. Some people fry bacon and put that in there. They also use onions and bell peppers, celery, and carrots.” (“Southern Foods are Distinctive,” Augusta Chronicle, October 13, 1983, 9).
While availability often dictated which protein went into the Dutch Oven, certain cooks and certain venues became famous for particular forms of Mull. Roscoe’s Kountry Kitchen in Crawford, Georgia, in the late 1960s and through the 1970s became locally famous for Turtle Mull. Which kind of turtle? “Well, this here one is a mud turtle, and this is a snapper, and rest is just pure old turtles.” A native of Social Circle, Roscoe Long learned his culinary art there. “The mull is served in big bowls with plenty of crackers. It contains ground-up turtle meat, potatoes, onions, red pepper, juice of garlic, and milk. It sticks to the ribs.” Roscoe Long realized that even in 1970 he was the conservator of a waning tradition. “I’m the only restaurant around that serves turtle mull or soup or stew—call it whatever you want. Not a lot of people make it, and in the old days most everyone made it, but now they don’t.” (“Turtles go to Roscoe’s,” Augusta Chronicle, August 31, 1970, 24).
In the mid-1960s the Athens Bowhunters Club devoted its annual game dinner to the making of Snake Mull. At the Oconee National Forest campgrounds the club set up a cauldron and stewed the chopped me of copperheads and rattlesnakes. The newspapers annually reported the event, repeating the same tired joke, “Everyone ate copperhead mull but the cook.” (“Many do mull over this one,” Augusta Chronicle, October 10, 1965, C6).
If Chicken Mull constituted the commonest and plainest version of this hearty stew,
(See http://wanderluck.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/chicken-mull/) perhaps the most piquant and beloved hunt season Mull featured another bird, Dove. Louise Thrash, Food Editor of the Augusta Chronicle, transcribed Bobby Neely’s recipe for Dove Mull in late May of 1979.
In a heavy iron pot with top, line bottom and lower sides of pot with sliced streak-o-lean bacon. Add 3 stalks of celery. 1 medium bell pepper chopped fine, cover this with more streak-o-lean. Salt and pepper birds then make a layer of birds in pot, then a layer of diced potatoes, then chopped onions. Another layer of birds, potatoes and onions. Be sure to salt and pepper the potatoes and onions as you put them in. Place top on pot tightly. Bring heat up until you hear the contents bubble. Cook for about one hour bubbling, not on high. Then add ½ small bottle of Worcestershire sauce and a stick of butter. Cover and cook ½ hour, then add about a cup of milk. Never stir the pot. Cook about 15 more minutes, take top off and serve in soup plates, since the mull makes its own juices.
(“Burke County Chefs,” Augusta Chronicle, May 24, 1979, Food Section 1)
Thanks for everyone who contacted me with information in response to my query about Mull. I thought it would be useful to put the information out in one cogent profile of the dish.