Witches Brew, Domestic or Feral

By , October 28, 2014

Halloween has come ’round again. This year, as almost every year, we turn to family traditions, some of which have become, shall we say: less traditional.

At some point in my childhood, my mother introduced the family to witches brew, a dish that became traditional Halloween night fare.

It’s essentially a hamburger bean soup. It is so quick and easy to make, I imagine Mom found it perfect for a particular night of the year on which the kids are bouncing off the walls. They’re pulling together their costumes, madly excited to go out trick-or-treating, perhaps snitching the family’s candy already. Trick-or-treaters at the door constantly interrupt.

A quick, dead-easy meal that children are guaranteed to eat and enjoy would be just the thing! Mom used to serve it with apple cider, and pumpkin pie for dessert.


Witches Brew

Serves 4 (once!)

1 lb hamburger

1 large onion, chopped

1 can pork ‘n’ beans (#2 1/2)

1 can sliced mushrooms

1 can tomato soup

Salt and pepper to taste

Brown hamburger. Mix in onions to sauté if preferred. Combine all ingredients and heat through.


When Michelle and I married, I brought the recipe with me.

Now that we’re on the “homestead,” we still make witches brew, although we sometimes make it from scratch instead of throwing together store bought canned ingredients. Since moving here, the dish has gone somewhat feral.

Just how we make it depends on what’s available. Some years, we’ll use our own baked beans, prepared ahead of time (see Seeking Simplicity: Stripped Down Baked Beans). A quicker method we like is to add to boiled beans, as described below.

We almost never buy ground beef anymore. Usually, we’ll use textured vegetable protein (TVP), or broken up garden burger patties. One year, I used the last of a porcupine we’d bagged in the garden earlier in the autumn. The resulting texture was impossible to tell from shredded beef.

Most particularly, we use our own wild mushrooms. “Domestic” witches brew is about the only dish in which I’ll gladly tolerate canned mushrooms; I much prefer wild. Sometimes, even if we’re using canned goods for everything else, we’ll throw in our own mushrooms instead of canned. We use whatever we have available, but I find mock matsutakes provide the right quality to duplicate canned mushrooms, for those who are more traditionally inclined.

Here’s the guidelines for the simplest version of “feral” witches brew:


“Feral” Witches’ Brew

About 1 lb of ground meat—fresh game, ground beef, sausage, or textured vegetable protein, broken up garden burger

1 large onion, chopped

2 1/2 cup beans—pinto, red, black, or navy—your choice

1 or more cups of mushrooms, fresh or dried

2 cans tomato paste

barbecue sauce or catsup (or try 1/2 Cup brown sugar or molasses, more or less to taste)

salt and pepper to taste

Sort, wash, and soak beans overnight. Cook on low heat until soft. Pour off and save excess water.

If using dried mushrooms, break or cut into small chunks and pour extra bean water over them and cover for about 30 minutes to reconstitute. If fresh, cut into small chunks and sauté with meat and onions.

Brown meat. Add onions and mushrooms to sauté if desired.

Combine all ingredients except barbecue sauce or catsup with beans, adding back extra water for a thick soup consistency.

Add a generous amount of barbecue sauce, catsup, brown sugar or molasses until soup is sweet, similar to pork and beans.

Simmer on low heat until ready for dinner.


Happy Halloween, and bon appetit!

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