The Story Behind Burgoo

Marva Gill

With the upcoming Burgoo Festival later this week, we decided to find the history behind the food and the festival.  The stew has been around in Kentucky for more than 150 years but with many different stories on who created it.  One story that is just outside of Anderson County that can be verified involves a French chef named Gustave Jaubert.  Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort hired him shortly after the Civil War to cook for its employees where he served his burgoo.  Not long after that, he started catering events all around the state and earned the title “the Father of Burgoo.”  The New York Times even republished an article from the Louisville Courier-Journal on November 7, 1897, about one of Jaubert’s events which served his burgoo and barbecue.

Burgoo here in Anderson County also dates back to those times and was similarly used for events and organizations.  We found references in newspapers as early as 1922 about an ‘Old Fashion Burgoo’ being cooked up in honor of tobacco representatives from around the state.  W.Y. Spencer organized the event while Columbus McKee supervised the making of the burgoo.  In the book “History of Anderson County,” Columbus McKee was said to be the official burgoo soup maker for all political rallies and barbecues starting back in 1867.

As a festival, however, burgoo has a much younger history.  The Burgoo Festival was originally started back in 1994.  Marva Gill, one of the original organizers of the festival, was with the cooperative extension service and was disappointed that the festival at the time, called the Flim Flam Festival named after the movie, Flim Flam Man, was a flop.  So she decided to see if a new festival could be put together that would be more successful.  Consulting with an expert from the University of Kentucky on tourism, she learned that most successful festivals involve a food.  And with burgoo being known to have its roots all around this area, the new festival committee decided to celebrate the stew.

And this year’s festival is jam packed with fun events.  Starting Friday night at 5pm, there will be multiple musical bands playing and ghost walk tours of downtown.  For Saturday, there will be a burgoo cook-off, 5k run/walk, number of pageants, Civil War reenactment and much more.   And starting at 10am, there will be a dunking booth where a number of our city officials will be getting dunked throughout the day.  And finally on Sunday, there will be a pedal tractor pull and the culmination of the Civil War reenactment. To see a full list of events, check out the official Burgoo Festival website.

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Posted in Food & Drink, Fun & Entertainment.

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