Cooking on the cattle trail, cooking at a round-up, and cooking at home were three entirely different disciplines. Camp cooks might not necessarily be great bunkhouse cooks, and round-up cooks might not cut it on the trail. For this article, I'm going to talk about round-up cooking.
First, a confession: I don't measure or use recipes as defined by those things called cookbooks. My mama didn't measure and neither did her mama, so that's just the way it goes in our family. But it's a real advantage when you read old-time recipes that call for a pinch of salt and two handfuls of flour. We know just what to do. But telling someone else how to make a dish is a wee bit more difficult because of it.
Tonight, after the cattle are all bedded down and the horses put back in the remuda, the cowhands are in for a real treat. We're having beans and cornbread. As my husband is the bean cook around this outfit, I had him write this up for us. Warning: he can be...well, indelicate at times.
Mr. Rogers' Ham and Beans Recipe
(simple and very tasty)
One or two hambones, hamhocks, or better yet ham shanks, smoked.
1 lb dry navy beans
3 bay leaves
3 or more cloves garlic, crushed.
4-6 shakes of Tabasco Original or a few dried cayenne flakes.
One large white onion, or medium yellow. White is best.
Pinch of dry mustard.
One small squirt of catsup (modern addition).
- Soak beans overnight (at least 4-6 hours), be sure to use lotsa water, drain and rinse in collander.
- DO NOT COOK IN SOAKWATER, unless you live alone and enjoy your own farts.
- Put ham in pot, dump drained beans on top, add new water to cover plus 1 inch.
- Cover and bring to simmer. DO NOT BOIL HARD.
- Chop onion and add to pot. Reserve some chopped onion for topping.
- Add bay leaves, garlic, mustard.
- Simmer another hour and half or so. DO NOT BOIL. Add more water as needed to keep beans covered. (Note: What Mr. R actually means is a gentle boil.)
- DO NOT ADD ANY SALT. AND DO NOT STIR, IT BREAKS THE BEANS.
- Remove ham bones to chopping block. Remove meat and separate from fat, skin and gristle. Chop meat and return to pot. May also return bones, if desired, and marrow can be extracted and added to chopped meat. Discard fat, skin, and other crapola. Continue to simmer slowly, covered, while doing this. DO NOT BOIL.
- When beans are tender, add Tabasco and catsup (if desired) and stir carefully. This will break a few beans, but not too many, and will thicken the sauce.
- Did I mention the beans must not boil?
- Serve immediately, topped with more chopped onions, fresh pepper to taste, and hot corn bread.
- Some people also add salt to taste, but you should not need any as the ham will have imparted more salt than you should be eating anyhow. Unless you can find salt-free ham, good luck with that.
- If you are Jacquie, put your cornbread in bottom of bowl, ladle beans and ham over, top with onions and dot with catsup. If you are not Jacquie, do not do this as it ruins the beans and makes the cornbread soggy.
Now for the cornbread. These days, most cornbread os more like yellow cake. Also, people get fancy and put kernal corn, jalapenos, cheese, and every other thing in their cornbread. That's fine, but first it's good to know the basics. I make the cornbread, so here goes.
Mrs. Rogers' Cornbread
Oven: 425 degrees
Grease a 9"x9" pan and dust with cornmeal
Mix dry ingredients together:
2 cups Cornmeal (we prefer blue but yellow or white are fine)
3/4 cup Flour (I use spelt)
1/4 cup Sugar or Honey (to taste)
1 1/2 Tbs Baking powder
1/2 tsp Salt
In the dry ingredients, put:
1 cube soft Butter (or 1/2 cup oil)
1 to 1 3/4 cup Milk (depends on the type of cornmeal and flour--should be a nice batter, like pancake batter)
Mix (not too much!) and pour into the greased pan and bake for um, well, that depends on the kind of flour and cornmeal you use. If you use yellow cornmeal and white wheat flour, then 25 minutes ought to do it. If you use blue cornmeal and spelt flour, baking time will be closer to 35 minutes. Depending your oven, of course.
Yum! Hot cornbread smothered in beans and ham. Life is good.
Might not be so good if that's all you ate, though, which was often the case on a trail drive--only you'd have beans with wild game meat (if any meat at all), and sourdough biscuits. We'll get into sourdough cooking next month.
I don't have any excerpts in Much Ado About Mavericks about round-up cooking that make any sense without going into a lot of detail, so here's a scene where Ben Lawrence comes home to the Bar EL Ranch for the first time in thirteen years. He's greeted by Teddy and Homer, two "strays" Jake picked up. Yes, Jake's the heroine. Her name is Janelle Kathryn, aka J.K., shortened to Jake. She's the foreman, hired by Ben's deceased father. "Skeeter" is the detested nickname foisted on Ben by his father.
This isn't exactly a romantic scene, but it gives you a little insight to Jake, who likes to think of herself as a hardened cowhand, no more, no less.
Much Ado About Mavericks (♥ Hearts of Owyhee ♥ #3)
by Jacquie Rogers
The towering, lone cottonwood was the first thing Ben saw when he turned the team onto the Bar EL lane. The tree had nearly doubled in size since he’d left for Harvard—but then, so had he. Grass had replaced the sagebrush around the house, lending the two-story frame building an air of peacefulness.
The fragrance of the newly mown lawn intermingled with the familiar odor of cow manure. “Smells like money,” his father had always said. Ben didn’t agree—he’d made piles of money in Boston without ever once shoveling shit.
He had known no peace in Henderson Flats, or in that house. His shoulders tensed more the closer he got, relaxing only when he assured himself he’d be stuck here only a short time.
“Jake! Jake!” Two small boys shouted and ran, arms waving, to greet them as Ben pulled the wagon into the yard.
“Who’re these boys?” he asked, wondering if they weren’t his half-brothers. He wouldn’t have put it past the old man—just to spite his mother.
“My strays. Found ‘em, kept ‘em. Good boys.”
The older boy grabbed the harness and the younger one scrambled up to the seat. “Are you Skeeter?” He studied Ben. “You don’t look like no ‘skeeter I ever seen.”
Ben held out his hand. “I’m Ben Lawrence.”
The little boy jumped on his lap. “I’m Theodore Somethin’ Somethin’, but you can call me Teddy.” He pointed at the other boy. “That there’s Homer Franklin Collingwood. I just about can’t say it in one breath.”
Ben chuckled. “Yes, Homer does have quite a sobriquet.”
Teddy frowned, then smiled. “Aw, yer joshing with me. Homer ain’t no drunk.” He scooted off Ben’s lap and onto Jake’s. “So where’s Skeeter? You was supposed to bring him back.”
Jake patted the little fellow, who couldn’t have been more than five or six, on the back. “Folks change sometimes, Teddy. He went away ‘Skeeter’ and come back ‘Ben.’ That’ll happen to you someday, too. You won’t be ‘Teddy’ no more—you’ll be ‘Ted,’ a fine man’s name for the fine man you’ll be.”
Ben hopped down from the seat, smiled, and shook hands with Homer. “You’re a sharp looking boy. Glad to meet you.”
“I ain’t no boy,” Homer retorted, scowling. “I’m a cowhand at the Bar EL and the Circle J. Teddy is, too. Jake’s our boss.”
Teddy ran beside Homer. “Yeah, we gots jobs and make money and sleep in the Circle J bunkhouse. Don’t want no wimmen, though. Them old fellers, well, they’s always talking about wimmen.” He hawked up a wad and spat, seeming mighty pleased with the six or eight feet it traveled. He grinned, showing his baby teeth. “Can you do that?”
Ben swallowed a chuckle, then shook his head and grinned at the boy. “I’ll need some practice, and probably a good teacher. Maybe you can help me later.”
The boy puffed out his chest. “Sure enough. Ain’t nobody can spit farther than me. Not even Jake.”
Much Ado About Mavericks available at the Kindle Store
♥ Hearts of Owyhee ♥
#2 Much Ado About Madams (FREE July 13!)
A short story: Willow, Wish For Me (Merlin’s Destiny #1)