Slumgullion Stew

In another life, perhaps, I might have been a food historian (although I sometimes wonder if there even was such a thing when I was going to school). This is a subject that fascinates me and over the years, I’ve accumulated a bookcase filled with books on the history of food, recipes, food cultures in various parts of the world – (examples of this might be “A Taste of History, 10,000 years of food in Britain” by Maggie Black, or “The Joy of Eating” by Katie Stewart, or “The Food Chronology” by James Trager, or another favorite, “The Delectable Past” by Esther B. Aresty). You get the picture.

And nothing presents a greater challenge than being introduced to an unfamiliar dish or recipe and asking myself “What’s in this dish? How is it made?”

That was my situation in Oregon on the coast one day in September at a place called Moe’s on the pier in Florence. “Slumgullion” was on the menu. I had no idea what Slumgullion was.

“It’s good,” my friend Bev assured me. I took her word for it; we both ordered bowls of  slumgullion with a side of garlic cheese bread.

But back home, I couldn’t find slumgullion in my dictionary, or in ANY of my seafood/fish cookbooks, or ANY of my Oregon or Washington cookbooks. I also checked my Florida cookbooks since a lot of seafood recipes originate there. Nada.  It was not listed in a favorite reference book called “The Encyclopedia of Cookery”. “The Food Chronology” makes no mention of slumgullion.

All was not lost; Google can usually come to the rescue and there I found a definition “A seafarers term for a meaty and thick stew which contains a little bit of everything” which sounds about right.  But then I found a website which offers the German Slumgullion and states that “This dish got its name from two words put together, “slum” which was an English word for mud, and “gullion” which was a term that miners used for a pit…the homes were often poor and used any kind of meat (even squirrels and birds) that they could find and any vegetable, bean or starch they had on hand to make enough food to feed the whole family. Similar is the Irish mulligan stew.…”  Nowadays, the author claims, the modern slumgullions usually have a combination of any meats or vegetables you might have on hand and maybe a can of tomato or mushroom soup and some noodles. defines slumgullion as a watery meat stew.

Then I found a website,, in which nearly thirty recipes for “slumgullion” are offered, all appearing to start with some onion and ground beef and after THAT I found in which food writer Gary McCarty writes, “Okay, so I had never heard of slumgullion (an Irish meat and veggie stew-like substance) until I announced yesterday via e-mail that I was whipping together some turkey chili with leftover fowl and whatever chili-like ingredients I could find in the kitchen. A friend then replied via e-mail that he was making turkey slumgullion, which sounded suspiciously akin to the methodology of using whatever was on hand that I employed with my chili. Anyway, I then felt obliged to look up some slumgullion recipes, but none sounded particularly pristine or Irish…” (the ground beef and onion didn’t sound particularly slumgullion-ish to me, either) – but I think it’s fairly safe to say that “slumgullion” in the loosest of definitions is a pot of whatever leftovers you find in the frig and toss together to make a stew or chowder.

My sister Becky used to make a stew out of leftovers that we generally referred to as “Everything but the kitchen sink” stew. Slumgullion wasn’t in our vocabulary.

That being said, the most interesting definition turned up in an issue of

Dear Word Detective: My daddy (a poorly educated word-lover) liked to call apparently ordinary beef stew “slum gullion.” I find myself doing so, not knowing what it really means. The “slum” makes it sound like it’s connected to poor people, but what’s a “gullion”? Modern dictionaries I’ve consulted are vague or worse. Help?.

Yes, modern dictionaries are no fun at all, full of dull downers like “origin unknown” and, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it in this case, “probably of fanciful formation.” But “slumgullion” is indeed a well-established word with a long history, today meaning a kind of hash or stew, especially one of humble origins.

The earliest occurrence of “slumgullion” recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary is from Mark Twain’s “Roughing It” in 1872 (”He poured for us a beverage which he called ‘Slumgullion’”), which Twain used in the then-current sense of “a weak or inferior drink.” In the 1880s, “slumgullion” was apparently also used to mean the watery refuse from processing whale blubber as well as the muddy sludge created by mining operations. The earliest use of the “stew” sense of “slumgullion” yet found dates to 1902 (Jack London, “Daughter of Snows”: “‘What do you happen to call it?’ ‘Slumgullion,’ she responded curtly, and thereafter the meal went on in silence”), and, given the earlier meanings of the word, that must have been seriously nasty stew.

So the root sense of “slumgullion” appears to boil down to “unappetizing liquid concoction,” which probably isn’t fair to all the decent stews it’s been applied to over the years”.  (I really dig the Word Detective website).

Now you know the rest of the story. If you are in Florence, Oregon, go to Moe’s and try their hearty, thick, yummy slumgullion stew. It’s neither unappetizing nor watery. The slumgullion at Moe’s resembled and tasted like a clam or fish chowder, with a liberal sprinkling of cooked small shrimp scattered over the top of the soup.  Yum!

(originally published in Inky Trail News. Reprinted with permission)

Happy Cooking!



48 responses to “Slumgullion Stew

  1. Sandra,

    Perhaps I can muddle the stew a little more. My introduction to Slumgullion Stew reckons from the burg of Lake City, Colorado. Lake San Cristobol was formed by a large mudslide damming the river now known as Lake Fork of the Gunnison. The slide is a yellowish looking conglomeration of rocks and dirt. I believe the yellow comes from limonite. The cooks of Lake City like to have an annual Slumgullion Stew cook-off. The idea is to create a stew that somewhat resembles the ancient mudslide. I imagine there are hundreds of recipes. Would you like to know mine?
    I start with lean pork thinly sliced and brown it in the kettle. Next I throw in an onion (chopped coarsely) and sliced mushrooms. By now the meat is starting to brown and I season it with garlic salt and onion pepper. I throw in some butter to keep things from sticking while I cut up my carrots and potatoes. I mix in two cans of cream of potato soup. I clean the can with water in one and milk in the other. Next I put two cans of green chile enchilada sauce. Stir it up, cook until the carrots and potatoes are soft and of season to taste.

    • Thanks, Tracy – this is a version of slumgullion stew completely new to me – I will be sure to share it with my Oregon penpal, Bev, who introduced ME to the slumgullion stew at Mo’s in Oregon. Isn’t it wonderful what turns up on blogs or on google?
      With appreciation, Sandra

  2. Sandra, my dad made Slumgullion (40 yrs ago?) by saving whatever leftovers were around in a big tupperware container in the freezer. It usually consisted of meat, gravy, veggies, and potatoes or noodles, but almost never tomatoes. It accumulated in layers, and when it was full we had the easiest ready cooked dinner, accompanied by white bread. It almost always tasted the same, but there were ocasionall suprises. I am not sure where he got the idea to do this or name it. My dad was from Germany, but grew up in Philadelphia. I like the 49’er story!

    • Cindy, thanks for writing! I think slumgllion stew does have German origins – although my grandmothers were both German & I never heard of it growing up in Ohio.

  3. My mom grew up during the Depression. Her family were French Canadian immigrants to NH. She was a cook in the Army during WW II and operated a restaurant in Manchester when she got home from the service. She made slumgullion quite often and it was made from whatever was on hand. I’m sure a lot of folks made some kind of leftover stew, but she probably got the term from someone during her Army days. Honestly, it could have been served in the best restaurant as a gourmet stew. Whatever she put in would have been veggies from her extensive garden plus whatever combination of leftover meats we had on hand. She was a creative cook before it was popular. I found this site by googling the term because I wondered if anyone else out there makes it. Good to hear it’s still around!

    • Hi, Bev,
      I really enjoyed reading about your mother and her culinary history! This is so fantastic and really interesting. Just the idea of being a cook in the army during WW2 fascinates me. Thank you so much for writing! What I love about this blog is just this – you never know what will strike a chord in someone, enough to write. I appreciate this so much.

  4. I grew up eating a casserole like stew called “slumgullion” that was eaten by many generations of my families from England, Wales and Scotland, who were neither miners or fishermen – that I know of.
    We used the ground beef, onion, pasta and green beans, wax beans and kidney beans with tomatoes covered with Cheddar cheese. My favorite of all the family recipes. I too was at Moe’s but in Cannon Beach, OR and got so excited when I saw “slumgullion” on the menu. It was when I started researching the origin also, and I think it may be a “poor mans” (hence “slum) mulligan stew.
    I am making it tonight, because just thinking about it makes us want it!

    • Thank you for writing, Debora. I am simply amazed by – what’s in a name? I never heard of slumgullion stew until I ate it at the Moe’s in Oregon that my penpal Bev took me to for a lunch….we went to the coast to see the lighthouses (I have to go back–we didnt see all of them!) –
      a few people have written, like you, telling me about it being a family recipe. Kind of makes me think of a “everything but the kitchen sink” kind of stew. So nice hearing from people like yourself!

  5. Margaret Simmons

    My slumgullion, is entirely different; no meat;; any veg grown below ground, potatoes, carrots, swedes, rutabagas,leeks,onions,parsnips,beets. Clean ,and cut all, in bite size pieces; cook in chicken broth , or beef stock. season as needed, pepper, garlic powder,salt-if you must- whatever you fancy; ;don’t forget to use some of the green from the leeks,;;; with that ,and the beets, and the carrots, it will be colourful.Just one of each, will make a huge potful, you may want to invite several friends to lunch!!!!!

  6. My Mom made slumgullion all the time.. I loved hers..Sometimes the goulash would resemble it… But like most have said..Contains a little bit of everything.. MMMMMM….Good!

    • Hi, George! Thanks for writing! I am absolutely amazed by the variations & comments about slumgullion stew – which I personally had never heard of before it was served to me at Moe’s in Oregon! That was really a fish stew but it seems that most variations were kind of like what my sister used to call everything-but-the-kitchen-sink stew. Or the kind of soup you make when there are a lot of leftovers in the frig. Thank you again!

  7. Just saw “It Happened On 5th Avenue” (1947) make a reference to slumguillion as an Irish stew. Sounds good!

  8. I JUST WATCHED “It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)” which brought me to google and you regarding slumgullian stew. “A hobo and friends take up residence in a mansion whilst the family is away on Christmas holiday.” Charles Ruggles as Michael J. ‘Mike’ O’Connor raves about his wife, Ann Harding as Mary O’Connor, making the best slumgullion stew.

    • How funny to receive two comments about slumgullion stew and both regarding the same old movie! I will watch for “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” – I just love old movies! I have a fair collection of Fred Astair movies – all on VHS, not DVD – and a lot of others, like every single version of Little Women (my favorite is the 2nd one, in the 40s, with June Alyson playing Jo and Elizabeth Taylor in a blonde wig playing Amy. I think Margaret O’Brien is Beth in that version). If nothing great is on TV an old movie is great to relax with. Thank you both, Jim & Kris, for writing about slumgullion stew!

  9. My grandmother made slumgullion for our family (her mother taught her). In our family it is ground beef, onion and bell pepper cooked. Elbow noodles cooked and coated in butter then a generous amount of ketchup. You then add the meat mixture and a can of stew tomatos that you put through the blender to make a tomato sauce. That is it and it is sooo good. My grandmother passed away when I was in 4th grade but as an adult I remembered this special meal she would make for the family so I started asking and experimenting in the kitchen. The butter came from my grandfather remembering her coating the noodles, the ketchup my mother remembered then about a year ago I reconnected with my 80 year old great aunt that told me that her mother made this meal because it was affortable and my grandmother was always cooking with her mother. I now think I have got the “recipe” down to takes just like Grammy’s!

    • It amazes me how many variations of slumgullion stew have turned up–and each one is different! Thank you for writing. I had NO idea when I was in Oregon sampling the slumgullion stew at a little restaurant where it would lead. I am also tickled that you called your grandmother “grammy” as that is my moniker with my grandchildren. I often go by Grammy Sandy on the internet. Thank you for visiting my blog–please come again!

  10. My Grandmother made a slumgullion but she used corn beef and potatoes stewed in tomato juice. It was delicious!

  11. I know what I’m making tonight!! All because of a Christmas movie called It happened on 5th Avenue.

  12. i didnt know befor about slumgullion, but i understand its ingrediants. thanks sandy

  13. Heh, I just saw the movie mentioned above (‘It Happened on Fifth Avenue’) and ended up in the same place! Thanks for all the info.

  14. OK, me too! Just watched that movie and had to poke around to find out about that crazy name! Sounds like what we call “Slop Pot” around here! When the kids were very young, they each got to select an ingredient from the pantry to add to the pot! I was in charge of spices and such but they never argued about eating what was in that pot because THEY got to help create it!!! Sweet memories!

  15. “Slumgullion Stew | Sandy’s Chatter” in fact got me personally simply hooked on your page! I reallywill certainly wind up being returning much more often. Thanks a lot ,Trena

    • Thanks Trena – I am always thrilled to get more subscribers. And to think I never heard of slumgullion stew until I was at a restaurant in Oregon with my friend Bev, and we had a dish called slumgullion stew at a restaurant called Moe’s! – thanks for writing–Sandy

  16. To muddy things a bit further, my family (german and polish roots, from boston and philly area circa 1690 or so) had a family breakfast slumgullion we love to this day, although we dont eat it much any more due to cholesterol and such. The recipe is the soul of simplicity, but needs the proper technique to make it sing:
    – Whole Milk
    – Bacon, cut in narrow short strips
    – Shredded EXTRA SHARP cheese – hard and tart
    – Pepper
    – some Sapsago cheese for fine grating at the end
    – Toast – lots and lots of toast

    So, get the bacon nice and crisp, drain it, leave a touch of bacon fat in the pan. Add the milk, warm it gently. Add the cheese – lots of it, You want a lose consistency, but starting to get a little sludge-like quality to it. make sure you dont have GLUMPS (lumps are OK). Add the crisp bacon. Brown the toast, grate some sapsago over the slum (dont worry if you cannot find it, this is still great). Add a nice healthy dose of ground black pepper, adn keep it handy. Ladle the slum over the toast, and get ready to have and unctuous, mouthwatering and very filling meal. My older brother and I used to have competitions to see who could eat the most slum – I think the record was 7 pieces in one sitting……..we both have heart problems today…..

    • That’s a new one for me – but it reminded me of something my paternal (german/hungarian) grandfather liked to eat–it was something like fried potatoes into which he poured milk–I have to ask my older brother what he remembers about this dish. No one ate it except Grandpa. – thanks for writing!! slumgullion stew lives!!

  17. Pingback: The Canadian Food Project: Round Up One

    • I would love to learn more about the Canadian Food Project: Round Up One if yu would like to tell me more about it. Seven years ago I acquired two Canadian penpals and we have become the best and closest of friends. I met both of them but at separate times, in 2008, and in 2009 I visit my Ontario penpal who was at that time living in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I am mortified at my lack of knowledge about Canada despite having been born and raise in the USA–so I have been trying hard to learn more, especially reading books by Canadian authors. And I think I may have to write a sequel to the article about slumgullion stew since it has generated so many responses – Sandy

  18. We didn’t have a name for this but often had a type of macaroni hash with tomatoes. I forgot about it. Perhaps that is why I like tomatoes in my mac ‘n cheese!

    • Sara, my mother often made a macaroni and tomato recipe. The tomatoes were canned stewed tomatoes, I think and I loved them every bit as much as mac and cheese. I don’t know where my mother learned how to make macaroni-and-tomato; it would be interesting to try and trace this recipe. I have her mother’s cookbook – it’s a starting place. Can you tell me what part of the country you are in? — Sandy

  19. I just heard of Slumgullion in the movie “It happened on 5th St”.The man said it was because of her Slumgullion Stew that he married her. I thought it must be pretty good. So I am off on an adventure to make this stew. Thanks for your insights, very helpful.

    • Apparently there are many different versions of slumgullion stew – I think it all depends on what is in the frig or pantry …. I had never heard of it until I was in Oregon and sampled a shrimp slumgullion stew at a restaurant there. Thanks for writing!

  20. When I was growing up my best friends father made slumgullion. I always thought it was a name he made up but it seemed similar to Brunswick stew with tomatoes, unfortunately he is passed now. I saw “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” this year for the first time and heard the word slumgullion mentioned. Today I was having a discussion with a co-worker about international foods. When I mentioned slumgullion she said both her grandmothers who were Irish, made it when she was a girl

    • Thanks much for the input. I am beginning to think it had pretty strong Irish history. I never head of it the entire time I was growing up!

      • My mother made slumgullion all through my childhood. I loved it ! She only used ground beef, onions, garlic, Italian seasining, tomato soup and elbows ( I was picky with the veggies.. Lol ) she was Irish and German with both sets of grandparents immigrating here so I’m not sure which side it came from. I also thought the name was made up.. Glad to see there are different varieties since I do like more veggies these days.. I’ll have to switch it up a bit .. Thanx !

      • Dear Michelle, Thanks so much for your input into this blog post–when I first started writing for my blog I kept asking myself “WHAT ON EARTH CAN I WRITE ABOUT?” – not seeing or envisioning all the topics all around me–so it means a lot to me that someone, like you, is finding my blog post and responding to it. You didn’t say where your grandparents came from but I’m guessing it wasn’t very far from where my grandparents (both sides) immigrated to and what their presence meant to them and yes, their grandparents as well. This is sort of like (the movie) six degrees of celebration and how it turned our grandparents into American citizens. There is so much we cam learn from them. Thanks so much for writing!!

  21. Sandy, I found your site when I was looking to see if I could find a recipe for slumgullion close to what the American Legion made in Springfield, CO every Memorial day. They cooked for 2 days outside in a horse tank. A BIG tank making enough slumgullion for over 2000+ people. I remember all the beef, potatoes, onions, turnips, carrots and maybe tomatoes and bay leave and salt and pepper. Somewhere in my Dad’ things I have the recipe. There was always one man that cup up the onions because he was the only one that didn’t cry. He always chewed on a toothpick. But I remember the guys cutting up all these things, browning the meat in big pots on the stove inside and taking it outside to dump in the tank. The tank was set up on cinder blocks with propane heaters under it to heat and cook all the things. It seems like in the back of my brain, I remember a big tarp over the top to keep out the bus. I think they stirred it with oars. They baked corn bread for those 2 days also and baked apple and cherry pies. We had a parade in town and then to the American Legion Hall for dinner. I know they did this for over 30 yrs. I miss those days. There is no more American Legion. People died and moved and no young ones wanted to join so it was disbanded. That hall is now the Senior Center. Lunch and cards Monday thru Friday. Memories of childhood, bitter yet sweet. Things die and time moves on. Thanks Just had to add my notes in here.

    • Dear Jana, Thank you so much for this message – it warms my heart recalling a time and place in America that is hard to find anymore. I wonder if ANY of the American Legions do this sort of thing anymore?
      maybe someone who knows will read your message and write. I appreciate so much all of the messages I have received about slumgullion stew! – Sandy

    • Ps – Jana – I have been writing food related articles and recipes, cookbooks, etc since 2009 – feel free to explore my site and see if there is anything else that interests you. Also, did you read the previous slumgullion messages I have received over the past few years? – Sandy

  22. I am watching a 1947 movie on TCM, It Happened on 5th Avenue ,and they mentioned slumgullion! I just went online to google it. I too thought it was a word my Mom made up. She was Irish and my Dad was Irish and German. She would make up a big pot of slumgullion regularly in the 60’s and 70’s for us. Ours was the onion, ground beef, elbow marcaroni and tomatoes and she would put in a can of Campbell’s tomato soup too. It would simmer on the stove and tasted oh so good. Nice to see they varying recipes from around the country.

    • Oh, darn! I wish I had known it was on – I have heard of the movie a few times but never have seen it. And I love the old movies – my favorites are the feel good films always with a life lesson along the way. Thanks for writing–I really need to try to make this version of slumgllion stew–Sandy

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