My great-aunt Louise had curly hair and eyes that lit up when she smiled. She loved kids, and we loved her right back, flocking to her whenever she was visiting. She was one of those people who had a way of looking as if she were about to impart a joke at any moment, her lips slightly curved up into a secret smile. She always came down to our level when talking to us and had a way of making us feel as if we were in cahoots together against the world, with Louise in our corner. After being diagnosed with cancer, her first statement to the doctor was, “If I’m gonna die, I don’t wanna know.” To which the doctor responded, “Well, you are.” Despite that doctor so flippantly setting out to remove the wind from Louise’s sails, her spirit would not bedampenéd. Rather than feel sorry for herself or take to her bed (as any of us would be tempted to do in her place), Louise decided that she wanted to do one more thing for all of us before she left. With that in mind, she set about crocheting with wild abandon, making a doily for each and every member of her family, right down to me, her great-niece. I’ll never forget the image of her, racing against time as she sat with a scarf tied around her head, sitting bent over her handiwork as she tried to finish each of the doilies. Aunt Louise left us in 1996, and she finished each doily she had set out to make. Eight years later I had a little girl with curly hair and eyes that light up when she smiles. These days, Mama and I find ourselves on the phone talking about Louise every time we make her delicious beef stew. “Louise always made the best beef stew. She used those little pearl onions,” Mama will say, as if pearl onions are something rich and extravagant. I guess compared to plain old diced ones they are. But after telling you the story of my great-aunt Louise, I’m sure you know that’s not the real reason why we enjoy this stew so much—this was her favorite. 

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons Tablespoon shortening
  • 3 Pound beef stew meat, (cut into 1%-inch cubes)
  • 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
  • 5 Cup water
  • 3 beef bullion cubes
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 Teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ Teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1½ Tablespoon salt
  • ¼ Teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 medium potatoes
  • 6 medium carrots
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 10 pearl onions
  • One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes

Preparation

Step 1

Heat the shortening in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the beef and brown it well, turning on all sides. Remove from the pot and set aside.

Step 2

In same Dutch oven, add the onions and sauté until tender.

Step 3

Return the meat to the pan, add the water, boullion cubes, garlic, parsley, bay leaf, thyme, salt,and pepper. Cover and simmer until just tender about 30 minutes.

Step 4

Cut the potatoes and carrots in chunks and the celery into 3-inch sections. When the meat is tender, add the potatoes, carrots, pearl onibns, and celery. Cook for 1 hour, or until the vegetables are tender, adding the tomatoes 20 minutes before the end of cooking.

Step 5

Serve with crackers or cornbread.