Perpetual stew, otherwise known as forever soup, sounds straight out of a fairytale. Remember Strega Nona, the children’s book about an old woman whose magical-pot made never ending pasta?
But we assure you perpetual stew is very real, and Brooklyn resident 23-year-old Annie Rauwerda has been cooking hers for 46 days.
Once a common dish in medieval times, perpetual stew’s origins can be best described in British historian Reay Tannahill’s book, Food in History. In the Middle Ages, Tannahill writes, pubs and inns always had a cauldron of stew boiling in case weary travelers or guests wandered in, day or night. Tannahill says that the hearty soup was commonly made with cabbage, hare, and pigeon.
While her soup doesn’t contain hare nor pigeon, it has been cooking in her trusty Crock-Pot (give that poor thing a raise!) since June 7. Rauwerda, owner of the Depths of Wikipedia Instagram account, first became interested in perpetual stew after discovering it during one of her internet deep-dives.
“I’d never heard of it until I saw the Wikipedia article when I was browsing during quarantine in 2020,” she says. “There’s something so charming about a stew that never dies. I can’t really explain it.”
Rauwerda started with some inoffensive classics: potatoes, leeks, salt, and pepper. Over time, she introduced more ingredients, including celery, carrots, bean sprouts, rice, garlic, onion, and dill. (But boy, says Rauwerda, that last one was a mistake.) There’s certainly been a learning curve.
“On days when I’m not going to eat a ton, I add in just broth, water, or coconut milk,” she says. “I try to add in more liquids than solids nowadays,” she says. “Because it burns more easily if it’s thick.”
She’s been documenting the stew’s progression from the get-go, sharing clips on TikTok. Rauwerda opens her undying stew up to the public most Sundays in a New York City park called Fermi Playground. Rauwerda didn’t anticipate the attention her documented journey garnered. “The response has been pretty crazy,” Rauwerda says. “I was hoping some people would pay attention, but I never expected this much attention. I’m not doing this to make money or anything – I’m actually losing money. But it’s my joy, my burden, and my obligation.”
If you haven’t checked out Rauwerda’s daily stew blog, here are a few of our favorite posts:
June 16, 2023: Keeping stew levels low. The broth is so unique and complex and yet I can’t bear to eat another bite. I’m kind of sick of stew, but definitely not sick from stew. Important distinction.
June 23, 2023: Added a ton of sweet potato. Initially, this terrified me. Didn’t want another dill situation. But I’m feeling tentatively optimistic.
June 27, 2023: Some new ingredients had their stew debut: endives and cascatelli, a pasta shape invented in 2019 designed for prime sauce holdability! Can it hold stew, however? Tune in this Sunday to find out.
Before these events, Rauwerda prepares fresh stew and mixes it into the original recipe to increase the volume so everyone can try it. Guests can RSVP and bring an ingredient to ceremoniously add to the stew (no meat or dairy, so everyone can enjoy it no matter their dietary restrictions). Every addition is welcome, although Rauwerda was seriously scared when someone plopped a bunch of turnips and radishes into the pot. Turns out, it was actually pretty tasty.
A lot of people ask her, before taking a bowlful, if the stew is any good. Her response? It depends on the day.
“There were shockingly good reviews last Sunday,” she says. “I never promise it’ll be good. Sometimes it’s actually really bad.”
At its best (July 16, day 41), the perpetual stew had a tangy, spicy, paprika-heavy flavor.
“I was really mindful of the flavor. I put in so much smoked paprika, it was amazing,” she says. And its worst?
“July 11,” Rauwerda says almost immediately. “It was at the end of the Sunday stew event, people had pretty much eaten all of the good stuff in the stew, so there was only broth left. Then someone added a whole can of unsalted crushed tomatoes, someone else added canned chickpeas, so it was just globs of spiceless, bland tomatoes and chickpeas.”
So how long will this stew live? The death date, Rauwerda says, is August 6. But she’s thinking about freezing a bit of it and reviving it one day in the future. We’ll end this never-ending stew story with a bit of wisdom from Rauwerda herself:
July 18, 2023: I used to spend my afternoons click clacking at a computer, eating hot chips, lying, buying $7 iced lavender lattes, living in sin. Now I spend my afternoons chopping up an eggplant and searching “how to know if a yuca root has gone bad.” Everyone should spend a month continually cooking a stew, and I mean that.
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