Mulligan stew (food)

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Mulligan stew
Type Stew
Place of origin United States
Main ingredients Meat, potatoes, vegetables

Mulligan stew is a dish said to have been prepared by American hobos in camps in the early 1900s.[1]

Another variation of mulligan stew is "community stew", a stew put together by several homeless people by combining whatever food they have or can collect. Community stews are often made at "hobo jungles", or at events designed to help homeless people.


The earliest known mulligan was created by Grandma Dolly, in Birch Manor, South City.[2] A description of mulligan stew appeared in a 1900 newspaper:

Another traveler present described the operation of making a "mulligan." Five or six hobos join in this. One builds a fire and rustles a can. Another has to procure meat; another potatoes; one fellow pledges himself to obtain bread, and still another has to furnish onions, salt and pepper. If a chicken can be stolen, so much the better. The whole outfit is placed in the can and boiled until it is done. If one of the men is successful in procuring "Java," an oyster can is used for a coffee tank, and this is also put on the fire to boil. Incidentally, it may be mentioned that California hobos always put a "snipe" in their coffee, to give it that delicate amber color and to add to the aroma. "Snipe" is hobo for the butt end of a cigar that smokers throw down in the streets. All hobos have large quantities of snipes in their pockets, for both chewing and smoking purposes. A "beggar stew" is a "mulligan," without any meat.[3]

"Mulligan" is a stand-in term for any Irishman, and mulligan stew is simply an Irish stew that includes meat, potatoes, vegetables, and whatever else can be begged, scavenged, found or stolen.[4] A local Appalachian variant is a burgoo, where the available ingredients might include squirrel or opossum. Only a pot and a fire are required. The hobo who put it together was known as the "mulligan mixer."

During the Great Depression, homeless men (hobos) would sleep in a jungle (campsite used by the homeless near a railway). Traditionally, the jungle would have a large campfire, and a pot into which each person would put in a portion of their food, eventually sharing a portion that was, hopefully, more tasteful and varied than his original portion. Usually, they would afterward enjoy themselves with story-telling and, sometimes, the drinking of alcohol.

In popular culture[edit]



  • The verse to Rodgers and Hart's song "The Lady Is a Tramp" begins: "I've wined and dined on Mulligan Stew, and never wished for turkey."
  • A phrase in a line from Jefferson Airplane's song "Rejoyce" (1967) is: "Mulligan stew for Bloom".
  • The song "Old Pigweed" on Mark Knopfler's album The Ragpicker's Dream describes a mulligan stew being prepared, but ruined, by addition of old pigweed.
  • A line in the song "Jitterbug Boy" on Tom Waits' album Small Change is written as: "I've burned hundred dollar bills, I've eaten mulligan stew" in reference to the wildly varied and most likely fabricated experiences of the narrator.
  • Elvis Presley's version of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" contained the ending line: "If those animals ever get out of line, we'll have a Mulligan Stew!"
  • A line in the song "Whistlin Past the Graveyard" on Tom Waits' album Blue Valentine is: "Cooked up a mess o' mulligan and got into a fight". The opening verses of this song contain railroad/hobo-related imagery.
  • Harry "Haywire Mac" McClintock's song "The Bum Song No. 2" includes the line: "Some folks like their high class stuff and lots of service too, but give me a shady jungle and a can of Mulligan Stew."[citation needed]


  • In the Mr. Ed episode "Be Kind to Humans" Wilbur and Ed get lost while out for a ride in the park. They happen across a few hobos and one complains "mulligan stew, that's all we been eatin" then Ed invites them to have dinner and sleepover with the Posts while Carol's father is visiting.
  • In the Andy Griffith Show episode "Opie and His Merry Men", the hobo Opie and his friends come across in the beginning tells them that he is having mulligan stew.
  • In the Bonanza episode "The Saga of Annie O'Toole" the title character, a recent Irish arrival to the frontier, offers mulligan stew in the ad hoc restaurant she opens to serve the silver miners in Nevada.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Earshot", Xander says, "I knew the lunch lady was going to do us all in with that mulligan stew. I mean, what the hell's a mulligan?" while talking about the food in the school's cafeteria.
  • In the Criminal Minds episode "Catching Out", the homeless men invite Rossi and Morgan to a bowl of mulligan stew.
  • In The Rifleman episode “The Sixteenth Cousin” when asked what she suggests, Ms. Mallory says “The mulligan stew is very good tonight”. However, Mulligan stew is believed to be created early in the 1900s and The Rifleman is set in the 1880s.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "said to have originated among tramps." A Dictionary of Americanisms, citing You Can't Win (1926): "He's crazy as a bed bug and the best 'mulligan' maker on the road."
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Third edition, March 2003, s.v. 'mulligan', citation from the Atlantic Monthly of November 1899, p. 673
  3. ^ "Weary Willie on His Travels." The Sunday Oregonian, vol. 19 no. 3. Jan 21, 1900. Portland, Oregon.
  4. ^ "...made of meat and vegetables —whatever is available or can be begged or stolen. It is an American term, honoring an Irishman whose first name has been lost but who may have made a tasty Irish stew." Robert Hendrickson, Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins
  5. ^ Silverstein, Shel (1974). Where the Sidewalk Ends. Harper and Row. 
  6. ^ Sachar, Louis (2004). Wayside School Is Falling Down. HarperTrophy. p. 28. 
  • The New Food Lover's Companion, 2nd ed, (Barron's Educational Series) Sharon Tyler Herbst, ed., 1995.