Stacey Kayne: Chuckwagon ~ More Than A Cowboy’s Meal-On-Wheels

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Chuck away, come and get it!”

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The chuckwagon has always struck me as a fun part of cowboy history. Just as kitchens were the heart of the home, the chuckwagon was the heart of any cattle drive. Movie’s generally show a colorful, jovial sort of fellow, “Cookie” as they are often fondly called, in charge of keeping a cattle outfit fed. In truth, most chuckwagon cooks were known to be ill-tempered and stern. These chefs of the open range were far more than simple campfire cooks. Cookie was also the doctor, barber, dentist, letter-writer and banker of the cattle crew, and he was regarded in high esteem only second to the trail boss. His pay also came second to the trail boss, often double or triple to that of a cowhand.

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On the cattle trail chuckwagons were loaded down with all the cowboy bedding, water barrels, dough kegs (a main staple), cast iron Dutch oven as well as the food supply. Canvas usually draped the outside of the wagon in a hammock fashion, which stored fire wood, tools and dried cow chips. Packing and unpacking a wagon was a skill all its own. These wagons were usually drawn by oxen or mules and followed along behind, usually joined by the cattle crew’s “wrangler” – a young inexperienced cowpoke charged with herding the spare horses. Once parked, the chuckwagon became cattle drive headquarters–and the cook was in charge.

chuckwagon7Charles Goodnight, co-founder of the Goodnight-Loving Trail running out of Texas and through New Mexico and Colorado, needed a sturdy wagon that could withstand five months of rugged travel along the cattle trails.  He rebuilt his Army supply Studebaker wagon, adding steel axels and what became known as the “chuck box” at the back with a hinged lid that also became a work table when parked. In chuckbox1866 the first “chuckwagon” hit the Goodnight-Loving Trail.

“Chuck” is considered to be the least-expensive cut of beef. This gives some indication of the type of food served from these contraptions. There’s a misconception that most cattle crews had all the beef they could eat while on a long drive — not so in most cases.  Cattle drive chuckwagon6outfits were generally contracted to drive cattle by the owners, and those owners expected their beefs to arrive alive and kicking at the stockyards, not in the bellies of cowboys. On most drives, while beef was served occasionally, these hard working beef herders ate mostly salted pork, beans, black-eyed peas, potatoes, sour dough biscuits and cowboy coffee. A cowboy hungry for a steak must have felt a lot like a thirsty sailor…steers as far as the eye can see, and not a steak to eat! 

Cookie had no shortage of responsibilities, rising hours before the crews to prepare breakfast, chuckwagon3staying on the move and having meals ready for the returning crew—cooking rain or shine, freezing snow or brutal heat–no wonder they were cranky!  He was expected to know practiced medince and tended to any injured cowboys riding in, and truly seems to be a source of rough-handed nurturing for young cowhands far from home. If Cookie was having an agreeable day and feeling generous towards the boys, he might whip up some Spotted Pup for desert (sweetened rice with raisins) or pie using dried fruit.  

 I have read that chilies and peppers were planted by cooks along the edges of many cattle trails for added convenience. I wonder if there are still wild peppers and chilies growing in those areas.

chuckwagon

Who remembers that Chuckwagon dogfood commercial?  YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BBqgMQluDM

Did y’all know Chuckwagon Racing is competitive sport?  Here’s a couple fun You Tube links:

Houston Race:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUr742hGzMY
Music Video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEU4ZsYawBI

 

"Courted by the Cowboy"  Stetsons, Spring & Wedding Rings Anthology

THE GUNSLINGER\ 

Cheryl St.John: National Pie Day Tomorrow

sixmeatpieNow here’s a holiday I can sink my teeth into!

 

Pies have been around at least since the ancient Egyptians. They filled their pies with things like honey, fruit and nuts. The ancient Greeks enjoyed pie in Egypt and took the recipes home with them, then surrendered the recipes to the Romans, who thought so much of pie as to make offerings of pie to their deities.

 

Pie was destined to catch on, but it sure hasn’t always been the coconut cream, cinnamon apple or French silk we know and love today.

 

sixbananapieOriginally, pies were simply cooking and serving container fashioned from dough for holding ingredients, like all types of meat and fowl, and their juices. Without a top crust they were called coffins, and those with no crust were traps. Large short-sided pies are tarts and small pies are tartlets. When someone made a pie of some type of bird, he or she would leave the legs of the bird outside the edge of the pie and then used the legs for handles.

 

Those crusts were often too hard to be eaten and some of the recipes called for making ’bulletproof’ dough. These pies were often much larger than we imagine and used for entertainment purposes as well as eating.

songofsixpenceRemember the nursery song “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie” and “When the pie was opened the birds began to sing?” That is literally what they did—placed live birds, frogs and other small creatures, even dwarves and sometimes a small orchestra—inside the pie. Of course the top and bottom crusts were baked or “petrified” separately, the ingredients placed inside and then the top ‘soldered’ on, so they weren’t actually baking the live ingredients. During the meal, the pie was served and the entertainment emerged to enliven royal feasts. Wild, huh?

 

sixchocpiePies made their way to England and later America. The colonial settlers came up with cottage and shepherds pie. From the American natives, the pilgrims learned about fruits and berries. Women at that time conserved their rations by making round pies and shallow pies. During the1700s, pies gained popularity in many homes, picnics and fairs.

 

Pies have been adapted to fit into every culture. Today we have chicken potpies, fruit and nut pies, mince pies, pumpkin and squash pies, as well as cream pies and ingredients like custards and creams and meringues. Most families enjoy pie traditions and pass down recipes. There is hardly a home or restaurant in the US that doesn’t serve pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

 

stjohn.jpgWhy all this talk about pie? Well, tomorrow, January 23rd is National Pie Day, and I didn’t want you to be caught off guard. You might have the ingredients on hand, but if not, pick up something to whip together your favorite pie. I doubt you’ll serve a blackbird or a frog tomorrow, but what is your family’s favorite pie?

 

The Fillies would be plum grateful if you shared your favorite pie recipes with us!

 

Here’s an idea to get you started:

 

Nothing Better Than Pie

 

Crust:
1/4 cup butter, melted
15 to 18 Keebler Pecan Shortbread Sandies cookies, finely crushed

Stir butter into finely crushed cookies with fork. Press into a 9-inch pie pan; freeze to firm.

First layer:

2 cups Cool Whip
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon sugar

With electric mixer, beat all ingredients together until blended; spread onto crust and return to freezer.

Second layer:

2 cups Cool Whip
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup peanut butter

Beat Cool Whip, sugar and cream cheese together until blended. Mix in peanut butter and spread on top of pie; return to freezer.

Third layer:

2 cups Cool Whip, plus extra for topping.
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 ounces German sweet chocolate baking squares, melted

Beat Cool Whip, sugar and cream cheese together until blended. Beat in melted chocolate. Spread on top of pie and return to freezer.

Before serving, top with more Cool Whip.

The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy

History of Bubbles

Rumor has it that when the French monk, Dom Perignon, first tasted the champagne he created, he said, “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!” Whether he actually said it or not, it’s a great description of this sparkling wine.

I don’t drink a lot of champagne, but someone recently gave me and my husband a bottle of Dom Perignon. How nice!

 

French Benedictine monks were the first to create champagne in the 17th century, named after the Champagne region of France where they lived. One of the monks was Dom Pierre Perignon (1639-1715). Some say he was the very first monk to discover champagne, but the topic is controversial. During those times, monks produced wine because it was blessed and used during mass.

Because of the cooler temperatures and shorter growing season of the grapes in the Champagne region, the grapes were picked late in the year and fermentation was often cut short. A second fermentation process began in the spring when weather got warmer. This second fermentation process created natural bubbles of carbon dioxide. If the champagne was stored in barrels, the effervescence escaped. But when stored in bottles, how the monks stored it, the bubbles were trapped inside. Hence, champagne.

 

Some of the cheaper versions of sparkling wine—some produced in North America—have the carbon dioxide bubbles injected directed by machine. This is not true champagne.

The first bottle of the brand name Dom Perignon was produced in 1936–named after the famous monk.

Sometimes in my Westerns, I’ll have my Mountie hero open a bottle of Bordeaux or Burgundy wine from France, to indicate that Mountie Officers often came from cultured homes and wealthy Eastern families.

What’s your favorite drink? Maybe it’s non-alcoholic? Right now, mine is green tea. This summer, I loved visiting Napa Valley in California. (The photo below.) I live near the Niagara Region of Ontario, and its most southern point goes as far south as the northern tip of California, and so the weather here is conducive to growing grapes. The Niagara region produces some world-class wines. How about you? Do you live near a grape growing region where wines are produced? Or have you visited one? 

 

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Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving to all our friends in Canada!

Thanksgiving in Canada is celebrated on the second Monday of October. In the U.S. it’s the fourth Thursday of November. I’m not sure why the difference in dates–from my research, I note it’s a parliamentary thing. Although the dates are different, we celebrate the same things.

Thanksgiving originated as a special time for giving thanks for a rich harvest and our many bountiful blessings. Hooray for the day!  We celebrate with turkey dinners and family get-togethers. There’s usually lots of driving involved. It’s my day to blog, and in honor of Thanksgiving, I thought I’d do something that centered around food or drinks. See the above post!

  

A photo of my local grocery store, taken yesterday. The pumpkins are also out for Halloween!

Even the Kitchen Sink

I like pretty things.  That’s why when I recently visited a preserved village of houses, shops and streets, I was struck by the pretty interior decor. These are original colors, furnishings and buildings restored to the 1860s. For those in driving proximity, it’s called Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto.

How about the rich milky turquoise on these walls? The lovely color surprised me. Isn’t this a stunning kitchen? Homesteaders usually started out with a small log cabin as a first home, as quickly as they could clear the trees to make room. This would’ve been their second house, after living off the land for sixteen years–a two-story structure with more expensive furniture.

Here’s my favorite room in another house—the kitchen where the village seamstress took in sewing and made hats. The original log house was built in the 1830s. The kitchen was framed as a later addition in the 1850s. I’m guessing the room is about 15 x 20. The seamstress packed in a lot of interesting activities into this kitchen, and it was definitely the place where she liked to hang out.

Before the invention of interior plumbing, pioneers used what was called a ‘dry sink.’ They looked pretty much like some of our cabinets today, but with no faucet. When they washed dishes, there would be two pails standing inside the dry basin, one with warm soapy water and the other with clear. They did a whole variety of jobs while standing by this window—anything that was messy or needed water.  Canning, preserving, handling cheese, washing hair, cutting meat and numerous others.

The dry sink was positioned close to the stove, just as we like today, handy to grab a pot full of hot water or boil potatoes once they’d been peeled.  It was interesting to discover that villages like these, beyond the outskirts of a major city, were healthier than most because they had their own water wells. When epidemics like cholera, caused by contaminated water, plagued bigger cities, farms and villages that had their own water supplies were safe.

Here’s the sewing machine. (And a person dressed in costume demonstrating.)

And some other things the seamstress was working on—hats and dresses and clothing patterns cut of paper.

 

 

 

 

 

The decorations hanging near the sill caught my eye. I think it’s always been the woman who makes the home, who adds the pretty little touches and pats down all the feathers.

What’s your favorite room or corner in your house? Is there a special place where you like to read? Have you visited any interesting historical sites?

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Of Stoves and Fires

One of the great pleasures of being a Filly is my ongoing search for western tidbits I can share with you. As I mentioned before, I have an immense western library and every other weekend now, I dive into it to find those wonderful little known facts of pioneer life that hopefully will make the west come alive for you.As frequent readers know, I’m incurably fascinated with the westward trek and those brave people who faced danger, starvation, incredible hardship and disease to find that pot at the end of the rainbow.  
This weekend I found a chapter on fire and cooking in a book titled “Wagon Wheel Kitchens” that captured my attention.  It started with a notation in a book about stoves I hadn’t seen before.  
Journal entries indicate that many pioneers packed a stove in their wagon but soon discarded them.   Sounded real good, but stoves were made of cast iron. Kinda heavy.   Apparently they littered the trail west.

The first cook stoves were in the form of a box stove, a plain box with cookiing holes and a fire box.  There were later improvements, but some emigrants found it difficult to use with buffalo chips as fuel.

One pioneer woman noted that she had expectd to see the trail covered with a variety of goods, “but we saw but little that was of any good excepting stoves and there were plenty of them.”

Many pioneer families were lured by advertising into buying them, then dumped them along the way and returned to the open fire.  They preferred open fires, discovering that they could excavate a narrow trench in the ground, a foot deep and three feet long, in which they built a fire. The cooking vessels were set over this.

But starting a fire?  Not so easy.    Because of shipping and manufacturing problems, a plentiful supply of matches was not available. Borrowing fire from a neighbor was common practice. If there were no matches and no fire to borrow, then one method involved rubbing a cotton rag in powder and shoot out of a musket, or put it in the pan of a flintlock gun and explode the powder in the pan. Still another method was to use a burning glass, a small round piece of glass. The heat from the sun would shine through the glass, eventually starting a fire.

The first friction matches, according to “Wagon Wheel Kitchen” by Jacqueline Williams, were jokingly called Lucifers and had to be drawn through folded sandpaper before they would ignite. Unfortunately they were not trouble-free and so were slow to be taken up by the emigrants. They had a tendency to explode when jostled, gave off a disagreeable odor (the composition was phosphorous, chalk, glue, and sulpher) and would not strike when damp.

The earliest matches were hand-cut and hand-dipped and match manufacturing did not become big business until after the Civil War.   Safety matches, (matches that ignite only on the box they come in and are made without phosphorous), did not begin appearing until the 1860’s.

Once the fire was started, the serious work began. Cooking was time consuming and lasted far into the night. Women often baked bread, sometimes without eggs or milk, til midnight or later and rose before dawn to start breakfast.  They baked over buffalo dung with the wind blowing smoke in their faces.

 Ingenuity ruled.  In their own quiet way, women ruled.   There would have been no westward trek without them.

Some a few interesting details about cooking.

Pioneer discovered that a day of wagon motion would turn milk to butter. They would pour some milk in large jars and the jostling of the wagons bouncing along a road pockmarked with ruts and grooves transformed the while liquid into butter the size of a hickory nut.

Canned goods, including deviled ham, first came on the market in 1825. By 1853 a Missouri grocery advertised canned oysters, lobsters and sardines. But the cans were heavy and there was usually only room on a wagon for a few tins. Canned peaches was a coveted delicacy.

Okay, off to get my pre-prepared, pop-in-the-microwave breakfast. I think I’ll enjoy it now after writing this blog.

 

 

 

Stoves ~ The Heart of the Home

 

 

 

 

With each book I write one prop tends  to stand out as a research favorite.  In THE GUNSLINGER’S UNTAMED BRIDE Lily’s chocolate pot led to my chocolate pot fetish. I was fascinated by these decorative chocolate servers of the 1800’s. The chocolate pot doesn’t have a huge role in the book and yet finding just the right image for this prop played a big role for me in developing Lily’s character.

While writing my current book the hero’s stove became an item of focus, a prop I had to see to really set my mental scene. While searching for the perfect stove for Garret’s kitchen I found some fascinating images and information on the evolution of the stove, which rekindled my appreciation for the convenience of our era!

High-teck cooking of  the early 18th Century:

The hearth was heart of the home for early American families and the swinging crane was a revolutionary invention.  “It allowed the cook to move pots in and out of the fire without lifting them, to stir, add to or check the dish without straining one’s back or risking hot spills, and offered a more comfortable away-from-the-heat environment in which to work. Now the pot adjustments regulating cooking temperatures could be both up and down as well as in and out. Moreover, no longer limited to the number of trammels, there was an increased amount of hanging space and thereby increased possibilities for the number of pots and the complexity of the meals.” Found this gem of information at http://www.journalofantiques.com/hearthapr01.htm 

That’s not to say they didn’t have cast iron stoves. In 1740, Benjamin Franklin improved upon the design of stoves by creating the “Pennsylvania Fireplace”

 

 

The cook stoves of the 19th Century ~ a new evolution in cooking.

 

As early as the 1820’s the Step-top cook stove design (above) was seen.

Check out the lovely work of art below–this is an 1840 Box Stove. The detail is beautiful complete with fancy door to the fire box and ornate tray to catch the ashes.

 

The manufacture of cook stoves and ranges flourished during the latter half of the nineteenth century, as few houses were being built with fireplaces. Below is an Easy-Step Oven of 1870 – extremely complicated by today’s standards! 

 

As we move into the 1880’s and 1890’s, stoves begin to take a more familiar form.

I loved this quote about the influence of cook stoves on early American families (not so unlike some views on the influence of television in later years *g*):  “This is not to say that all change was always thought to be for the best. The cook stove, for example, was blamed for the demise of the American fireside and the decline of the family. No longer did everyone sit together around the hearth in the evening, cozily telling stories and discussing the day at the fireside. And the food was not always as good—roasted meats, for example, suffered in the iron monster.” 

Roasted meats do sound scrumptious, but I’m quite partial to my digital stove and sadly…my microwave!  But some of my fondest memories were made in my mom’s and grandma’s kitchens–around their gas stoves, which took over households in the 1920’s. I enjoyed watching/helping as my mom and grandma’s pickled, preserved and baked…jams, cobblers and chicken and dumplings…ah, the scent of happy memories 🙂 

How about you?  Is your kitchen the heart of your home?  Have any favorite stove or kitchen memories you’d like to share?

We are in the midst of remodeling ours, the new kitchen will actually be at center/heart of our house and will be open to the new living room and dining room–I can’t wait!!

In Bookstores Now!

 

The Gunslinger’s Untamed Bride