29 January 2010

Back in the Saddle - Let's Talk About Cowboy Coffee

I have been remiss in my posts and need to get back in the saddle. My somewhat lengthy stay in California and getting back into the swing of things at work took me away from what I really love doing  and that's working from the back of the chuck wagon.

So, since this is a new year, uh-oh - just looked at the calendar and it's the end of January already, I want to start out fresh and fresh starts always calls for a good cup of coffee. That's what I'll ramble on about today. But, before I get into the details I've decided to form a new society - THE C. C. D SOCIETY or The Cowboy Coffee Drinkers Society or CCDS (I just thought this up so I'll make up the rules as I go). Since the real recipe for Cowboy Coffee, herein referred to as C.C, has been a closely guarded secret one of the objectives of the CCDS will be to spread the C.C word and provide it to the world. So here goes:

Throw 4 pounds of coffee into one gallon of water. Put the can or pot on an open fire. Ah rule time. If it an't on an open fire, it ain't C.C! Stir violently with a stick until the grounds are wet. Bring the mixture to a boil.  You will know it's done after the coffee sinks to the bottom and when you throw in a horseshoe or length of lead pipe and it floats. If it sinks, it's not C.C. Being to weak, it is relegated to class of tin-horn, wanabe C. C. coffee.

OK, OK, rule time again. Those bona fide and installed members of the CCDS are hereby authorized to modify the official CCDS recipe with the stipulation that they provide the alternate recipe for publication.

Now that the current membership has voted on the rule changes (I polled myself as I am the only member at this time) I am posting this modified recipe.

Throw a large handful of coffee into a 140 year old graniteware coffee pot, hanging from fire irons over an open fire, and 1 gallon of water. Boil. Move over lower heat coals. Pour a couple spoonfuls of cold water down the spout. This will help the grounds sink to the bottom of the pot.  Rule time yet again. First man at the pot is obligated to serve others waiting on a cup. Any CCDS member around the campfire may, in a loud voice, proclaim, "MAN AT THE POT". The man at the pot is also obligated to serve others waiting on a cup.

Additional CCDS rules ideas:
1. Every member is President
2. The President can call for a vote on any matter, at any time.
3. A quorum will consist of any odd number of members present - 1, 3, 5, 7, etc. The odd number being specified so as to prevent a tie and any tussles that might happen around the camp. I hate it when I have to pull out the ol' hog-leg to settle arguments.

So it begins. Let's see how the membership grows.

As far as I can tell one of the most popular brands of coffee during the time of the great cattle drives was Arbuckles'.

In 1865, John Arbuckle and his brother Charles, partners in a Pittsburgh grocery business, changed all this by patenting a process for roasting and coating coffee beans with an egg and sugar glaze to seal in the flavor and aroma. Prior to this, coosies had to roast green coffee beans themselves. Marketed under the name ARBUCKLES' ARIOSA COFFEE, in patented, airtight, one pound packages, the new coffee was an instant success with chuck wagon cooks in the west faced with the task of keeping Cowboys supplied with plenty of hot coffee out on the range (from http://www.arbucklecoffee.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=ACR&Category_Code=AL).

What was interesting about Arbuckles' is that they packaged the roasted beans with a coupon for future merchandise purchases but the really neat part is that each one-pound package came with a stick of peppermint. Didn't have any problems finding a cowboy to help grind the beans.

Check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ht-vD7a_7To
OK, CCDS business: I move that the song, "Arbuckles' Coffee in an ol' Tin Can" be made the official song of CCDS. Do I hear a second? I second. any discussion? Nope. There being no objections, the motion passes. 

More later,

06 January 2010

California for the Holidays

I hopped a plane and headed west to be with family over the holidays. Now, let me tell you, I really love Dutch oven cooking outdoors. And, the weather where I am in CA is not bad so, I was thinking what a great time to try out some new recipes. Oh yeah, I do keep a couple of black pots and a fire table at my family's place out here. The problem is my Mom-in-Law. I love her dearly but she is just not into this idea of cooking outdoors over hot coals when there's a perfectly good kitchin to use inside. So, bribery is in order.

It's the holidays I really like's pumkin pie. But, I want to try something a little less traditional. A friend of mine pointed me to a recipe that he got off of the Internet somewhere and said was worth sharing. It's pumpkin cake with a coconut cream topping. Since my wife and Mom love coconut here goes:

1 box yellow cake mix
1 can pure pumpkin
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/4 cup milk

1 2/3 cups coconut
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
6 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoon milk
1 t vanilla extract


In a large bowl, combine cake ingredients. Mix until batter is smooth

Preheat Dutch oven to 350°. Coat lightly with canola oil.

Pour cake batter into into Dutch oven. Bake 35-45 minutes, or til a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Tip: You can use parchment paper or aluminum Dutch oven inserts. But the Dutch oven purists (who I tend to pay attention to) will tell you that if your oven is well seasoned the cake shouldn't stick. Do what works best for you.

Meanwhile, combine the topping ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring til blended. Simmer about 1 minute, or til thickened. Spread the topping over the warm cake. Let rest at least an hour before slicing.

A little Chuckwagon History

In my last post and in my profile I mentioned my chuck wagon. So, for those not in the Great State of Texas or those areas near where the cattle drives took place in the last quarter of the 19th century here's a little history. Mind you, I'm not a degreed historian, just an ol' cook with an interest.

At the end of the Civil war (or the War of Northern Aggression for my friends in the South) the economy in Texas, as well as the other southern states, was a wreck. In Texas, most of the cattle were scattered. One enterprising Texan, Charles Goodnight, who was a scout for the Confederate Army, came back and understood the opportunity that lay ahead. But, only if he could round up the cattle and drive them to the established markets in the north. Without going into how he pulled this off and wound up building one of the largest and most productive cattle ranches in Texas, one of the things he did was buy a used Army Studebaker wagon and modified it to include a chuck box that provided a complete trail kitchen. He understood that an Army traveled on it's stomach. So did an outfit driving cattle. The chuck wagon became the kitchen as well as the camp HQ and gathering point. Don't know about you but my kitchen in the house is also the social hub. It was the same back on the trail drives.

A good coosie, an Americanization of the Spanish cocinero or cook, was a valued resource who's pay was only 2nd to that of the trail boss. In fact, if the trail boss was out it was the coosie who would wind up in charge. He was the cook, doctor, dentist, teacher and arbiter of camp arguments.

There were three meals a day usually - breakfast, dinner, and supper. Breakfast and supper were somewhat substantial assuming the chuck in the wagon was available. There were times when a cowboy might only get away with some warmed up gun wadding, biscuits from the night before. Of course these instances did not indear a cook to the outfit. But, a cowboy had to be careful about criticizing the cook. No telling what might wind up in his grub. Worse, the complainer might very well be called on to assume cook duties if anything happened to the coosie. The dinner meal was usually fast as the herd was on the move. Coosie would get ahead of the herd far enough to set up a quick camp and get a meal of biscuits and beans prepared.

As you can guess, the day for ol' coosie started before sun up and went pretty much non-stop until after the supper was served, cleaned up and he was able to role and light up his last fixin's of the day before undressing up and hitting the bed role.

Well, there's so much more I could talk about but it's recipe time. The supper meal was quick on the trail. Here's an old recipe for Skillet Bread. It's done in a cast iron skillet over a heat source providing a medium heat.

2 cups flour
3/4 cup sourdough starter
1/4 cup lard (that's what they used back then or even salt pork or bacon grease. You can substitute with vegetable oil)

Mix flour, sourdough and lard (hehehe) in a large bowl. Do not overmix. Gently knead the dough in the bowl until it forms a ball. The dough should remain sticky. Tip: do this with your hands floured. Grease up a cast iron 8 - 9 inch skillet and set over a medium heat. Pat the dough into the skillet.

Let the dough cook until it starts browning in spots on the bottom - 8 to 10 minutes. Use an appropriate tool to lift the bread onto a plate. Turn it back into the skillet so the top side is now on the bottom of the skillet and continue to cook another 6 to 8 minutes. Turn the finished bread out onto a plate and serve up in wedges. This will serve maybe 8 but I've seen 4 hungry cowboys make quick work of one skillet of this stuff.

Once your happy with the basic recipe I encourage you to experiment with fillings or spices such as sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg or whatever's handy. That's they way the ol' coosies did it.

See ya down the trail.