Food & Drink

Pinebark Stew

A South Carolina favorite made with freshwater fish, a tomato-curry broth, and a hint of fresh pine


Given the abundance of pine trees in the south, you may not be surprised to learn that they’ve been used as an ingredient in the region’s cuisine for centuries—from pine-needle tea to sap-boiled potatoes. South Carolina pinebark stew is one of the most beloved coniferous concoctions. Don’t worry, you won’t actually be munching on bark. The stew is made with any freshwater fish, a tomato-curry broth with chunks of potatoes, and, yes, a hint of fresh pine. This interpretation, made with catfish, gets a gentle dose of pine flavor two ways: vegetables roasted in pine-needle smoke and a garnish of finely chopped pine needles—similar to a sprinkle of rosemary.


    • 1 large Vidalia onion, quartered

    • 1 1/2 pounds whole small yellow potatoes

    • 6 garlic cloves, peeled

    • 4 cooked hickory-smoked bacon slices, crumbled, with the fat reserved

    • 4 to 5 handfuls clean fresh green pine needles, plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped for garnish

    • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    • 1 cup ketchup

    • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

    • 1 teaspoon hot curry powder

    • 3 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes

    • 1 pound catfish fillets or strips of other freshwater fish, such as crappie, trout, or bass, cut into chunks


  1. Preheat the oven to 450 ̊F and turn on the vent hood if you’ve got one.

  2. Toss the onion, potatoes, and garlic in a large bowl with the reserved bacon fat. Layer half of the pine needles in the bottom of a Dutch oven and set it over high heat. When the needles begin to smoke, add the onion, potatoes, and garlic, wrap tightly with foil and cover with the lid, and transfer to the oven. Let the vegetables roast and smoke for 25 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and, using tongs, remove the vegetables from the pot. When the vegetables are cool enough to handle, chop the onion into bite-size pieces, halve or quarter the potatoes, and mince the garlic. (Discard the roasted pine needles.)

  3. Return the vegetables to the pot and add water to cover, about
    11⁄2 quarts. Add the salt, pepper, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and curry powder and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and fish and cook for 10 minutes more, until the fish is cooked through.

  4. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve garnished with the bacon crumbles and a sprinkle of finely chopped pine needles.

Recipe from Garden & Gun’s The Southerner’s Cookbook