Now in my book, "Cow Chip Poetry—Lies, Lingo 'an Lore," you've been readin' about 'ol Gabby fixin 'Possum Roast' and Rattlesnake Soup'. Well, here's some of his recipes I stole from his "receipt book." Like every chuck wagon "cookie," he could only carry the simplest of ingredients to fix his vittles. Stuff like corn meal, flour and dry beans were staples. Line shack cooks varied from outfit to outfit dependin' on their stored supplies. On the ranch, bunkhouse cooks had the luxury of more shelves and greater availability of foodstuffs. So, dependin' on the outfit, bunkhouse cowhands could be "eatin' high on the hog."
In the early days, most food storage relied on curing with salt, brine, picklin or dehydration. Around the ranch house, underground dugouts and coolers were also used to help preserve various foods. It depended on the resourcefulness of the cook to make do with what he had and make it apetizin'. Besides generally havin' constant supply of beef, sometimes, he might add different meats fresh off the fat of the land; rabbit, venison, wild turkey, squirrel, duck, grouse, quail, etc. Seasonally, he would take advantage of various edible greens and wild fruits such as 'muskidines (a wild grapes.) and elderberries. Even though the chuck wagon cook carried his favorite seasonings and condiments, he also depended on gatherin' a certain amount of his favorite herbs and baking ingredients, such as sage, acorns, nuts, buckwheat, etc., that is, if they were available. Cookin' was mostly done over open fires in Dutch ovens or skillets (fryin pans), griddles and 'stewers' (stew pots or, boilin pots).
The following are authentic recipes, some over a hundred years old. Some of the ingredients and cookin' explanations are uncommon today. So, most of these old recipes are of the simple ingredients and methods used in bygone days by pioneer settlers, cowboys, trappers, prospectors and outdoorsmen. There is also some helpful instruction on the use of the Dutch oven.
A number of the recipes are from the Keenan Klan family. They were pioneer settlers and cowboys of west Texas. Interestingly, as they married in to the Mexican culture the flavors changed and became a larapin (delicious) integration of Tex-Mex and, eventually desert SoCal, ranch house cookin. To some like me, the best of both worlds is southern-fried cookin with biscuits and gravy mixed with Sonoran tortillas and beans and carne asada and some hot red chile! That even calls for a cold beer or hot coffee!
Enjoy. Here's a cowboy prayer to start: "God bless the meat and damn the skin, back yer' ears and dive in!"
© Ed Keenan