Sunday, November 8, 2009

Boxcar Beef Stew

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner is another one of those classic books that everybody has heard of, but I never read as a kid.  There's a huge series of these books - according to Wikipedia, 121 of them - but only the first 19 were written by Ms. Warner.  The first book was published in 1924, but like all good classics, it doesn't seem dated much - no more than the Little House books are. 

The books follow the story of orphans Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny Alden, who run away from an orphanage and from anyone who tries to send them to their grandfather, who they believe to be cruel, though they have never met him.  I won't spoil what happens, because this really is one of those books that people should read for themselves.

 The siblings set up house in an abandoned boxcar in the woods, and Henry does some odd jobs for a local doctor, so they can get money for food.  They set up a fire pit in woods near the boxcar and, between a few handouts of too-small vegetables and some money that Henry earned, were able to cook tasty things for dinner, like stew.  I left the turnips out of my stew recipe, because I am not particularly fond of turnips, but they are specified in the story, so do what you will.

My friend Christina - the one we can all thank for the If-You-Give-A-Mouse-A-Cookies - recommended that I make a beef stew like the Boxcar Children had.  She is full of good ideas!  Thank you!!

Boxcar Beef Stew
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 lbs. stew beef, cubed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups water
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. dried parsley
2 bullion cubes, crushed
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. corn starch
4 medium potatoes
3 whole carrots or a small bag of baby carrots
Other veggies as desired, like peas or green beans

1. In a 6-quart saucepan or pot, heat the oil.  Coat the beef in flour (I put the beef and the flour into a lunch-bag-sized paper bag and shook it to coat it) and brown it in the pan.  You may have to work in batches, but it'll be worth it, since this is the only time to get that nice brown texture on the outside of the beef.
2. Once the meat is all browned, add the water and spices (through corn starch, above), and bring to a boil.  Cover the pot, reduce heat and simmer for about an hour and a half, until the meat is tender.  NOTE: If you don't want to bother with all the spices, use a beef stew spice pouch that you get in the grocery store.  It's about 50 cents and tastes pretty similar.
3. Peel the potatoes and cut into fork-sized pieces; my potatoes were cut into 8 pieces each.  Cut the carrots into one-inch pieces; baby carrots can be cut in half.  Once the meat is tender, add the potatoes and veggies and cover.  Let this simmer 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

This recipe is easy, but time consuming.  But, let me tell you, this was so worth the time, I can't even tell you.  I had this for dinner, and it's supposed to make 8 one-cup servings, but maybe because I was hungry, or maybe because it was tasty, I ate at least two cups of it.

Here's a better view of my dinner, because I know you're all so curious.  It was so good!  And I re-read the book while I ate, making it all the better. 


  1. I loved these books as a kid! Your stew looks great too. :)

  2. This stew looks AWESOME, and exactly how I would have imagined it if Jessie had made it. :-) Thank you for making this!!! I have to try it myself as soon as the weather cools down again. And I did not know that the first book was written in 1924..that would explain why the illustrations and some of the concepts of the book are so different from the ones in the later books. I had always wondered about that disconnect. But the first book is my favorite, and I'm so glad to see a recipe from it on here!!

  3. Has anyone made this in the crockpot?