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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Food for Thought

By Jill McDonald-Constable (AKA 'English Rose')

Greetings all!! And huge thanks to Kathleen!!

Today I want to start off my post by talking about one of my favourite subjects – FOOD! I really like food. I collect cookery books and have about 200 of them! I even took a Cordon Bleu Cookery Course after leaving school. I read cook books like other people read novels, and I can almost taste what a recipe will be like from just looking at the ingredients. I have even been known to take a cook book to bed with me. I know! Weird or what?

Being a country girl at heart, and having lived on farms and smallholdings most of my life, I was often surrounded by large quantities of wild foods, and made the most of it all, as well as all the produce we grew ourselves, and anything else I could get hold of. (Pigeons are pest, and the farmers here will pay men to go out and shoot them, and rabbits, so they don’t decimate the crops, I like pigeon and rabbit! Once we lived on a farm with a large lake filled with trout. I like trout too!) 
I do have some help in the kitchen sometimes, as you can see, though often they are more of a hindrance!

This is my favourite chef, Garcon, ready to spring into action!

Anyway, the purpose of this introduction is by way of a small research project for me, and to lead us on to the subject of cowboy food! Being a Brit who only knows about cowboys from the films I watched, (which really didn’t dwell much on food) I know my knowledge of this subject is dismally lacking.

After reading Sarah McNeal’s post a little while back, about blunders in research, and the comments that followed, I think I am now developing a sense of paranoia about getting these little details as correct as possible. Your fault, Sarah! (LOL!) And yes I know I could read books, search the web and such, and I do, but there’s nothing like listening to real people telling you their real experiences is there?

All the ladies of PRP are prolific authors and I haven’t yet had the chance to read every one of all the books you have produced! Looking at the list, it’s going to take me years! Therefore, I haven’t had the chance to see if the subject of food is covered in more than just one or two, however, I also know what a helpful lot of ladies you are, therefore I am sure that my new ‘man’ will be prepared with all the right foods when he sets off on his long trip to the sea!

(LOL! Sorry, just had a mental picture of a load of rough tough gunslingers at the seaside, building sandcastles! There’s that weird sense of humor of mine again! I do apologize.)

Teddy having a rest before cooking the Harvest!

I do have a lot of questions about the types of food my latest hero would be carrying. Be prepared now, my questions will be coming at you like bullets from a Gatling gun! So, here I am, pen and paper at the ready and waiting for your stories.

I am not counting, of course, the groups of men on the cattle drives, as they had a tuck wagon and a cook to feed them, likewise the wagon trains were mostly well equipped. I just want to know about a single man, travelling a long way on horseback, alone.

What did they eat when they were wandering the country alone? What food did they carry in their packs? We all know about cowboy beans and bacon, and it’s often made fun of in films, but would a lone cowboy be able to carry those items? Bacon would go sour wouldn’t it, and most dried beans need soaking for hours, so they wouldn’t really be a viable proposition if he was in any sort of hurry. Surely, he didn’t carry pans, skillets, or a Dutch oven with him, did he?

We know about ‘jerky’ and ‘pemmican’. (I believe they are slightly different things. Or is it the same thing with different names in different parts of the country?) And are fruit ‘leathers’ a new thing, or would something like that have been available to my man? Would they go sour? How much could be carried? We did have a very interesting conversation on the PRP site recently regarding ‘grits’, I thank you for that ladies, but would a man carry them? Or flour? What would he do for bread?

Obviously, the man would stock up on his provisions whenever he reached a town, but what things would he stock upon? There would be a certain amount of wild food for shooting or gathering, I know. The things he could shoot or gather would probably be different according to where he was in the country though wouldn’t they?

It intrigues me that one small food item can have so many different names depending on where in the country it is being cooked. For instance, here in UK we have a floury white bread roll, using exactly the same ingredients, with slight variations in size and shape from county to county, but with a huge variety of names. Baps, floury baps, bread rolls, burger rolls, oven bottom muffins, sandwich rolls, barm cakes (yes ‘m’ not ‘n’) batch roll, stottie cake, cob roll, finger roll – and – well I think you get the picture!
What one item do you have like that in USA? Would a lone cowboy be able to carry it, or the ingredients to make it?

Is there one old ‘cowboy’ food item that you still enjoy eating today? If not, just share with us, what is your favourite food? I think my favourite main meal must be poached salmon, on a big fat bed of home-grown salad leaves, with garlic mayo, followed by a very unhealthy Eton Mess. ‘Scuse me a sec, just got to wipe the drool off the keyboard!

Oh, that’s such a lot of questions. I’m a nosy parker! There is just one last question though. -  Why do most of my posts have questions in them?

Thanks so much for coming by ladies, and for helping out a ‘forriner’ to your culture. Bless you all.


  1. Jill,

    Like you I love cookbooks. I remember when I was just starting out on my own, little money and I came across this cookbook "American Heritage Cookbook" and it had recipes and information by section of the country, the immigrants, and time frames. I wanted that so bad I went without other things so I could get it. I think I got one of the last copies of that particular book. (new of course). It has a special place on my bookshelf.

    As to bacon, it might spoil, and of course salt pork is slightly different. Both I belive were carried. Canned goods came into existance aroun 1812 or so in the US, so they probably would have carried some canned goods. I can of course check my cookbook when I get home from work and let you know what else I found out.

    Love your chef, I want one. (Smile) Doris

  2. Jill, when I worked at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, each year in May they had a "Chuckwagon Gathering" where they had chuckwagons from some of the still-active working ranches in the US to come and cook. I went to that of course (had to) when I worked there, but here's what I loved about it. You paid $5 for a bowl and plastic silverware. Then you could go to all the different chuckwagons and try out their food. Some of them had biscuits they cooked in dutch ovens in holes dug in the ground, with hot coals laid on top of the lids, and some of them cooked peach cobbler that was. There was stew--just beef and potatoes, some had carrots in it. There was chili. Not a ton of variety, but there might be three chuckwagons that had stew and they would all be a little bit different. That was a neat experience, because they cooked it as they would have 'back in the day'.

    Very interesting post. I wonder what, besides coffee and tobacco, of course, which would have been easy to carry, the lone cowboy would have taken--as you say, it seems as if bacon would have gone rancid, but you read of them carrying it in some books. I know there was hardtack--very hard-bread kind of biscuits--and jerky (jerked meat) that would have kept and stood you in a bind, but what kinds of fresh things a man would carry, I'm not at all sure. Oh, one thing. I know that cowboys carried cans of tomatoes when they could to counteract alkali dust and water. Here is one link you might find some good info from:


  3. Thank you for your great comments ladies! Doris, I think you must love cooking more than me! I never went without anything to get my cook books (I would get them from charity shops!) Your Heritage book sounds great, I wish I had one! I have a reproduction copy of Mrs Beeton's book, Maybe you have heard of her? I do have a big one called American Classics, but it's a very scientific tome,which talks about all the different ingredients they tried to come up with the best of whatever thing they are cooking (Key Lime pie, for instance, Yum!) My little chef and his friend were made by my 87 year old Mum, and are pure Mohair, all hand stitched. Gorgeous aren't they?

    Cheryl, Thank you. That gathering sounds fantastic, wish we had things like that here. I've always wanted to cook in a Dutch oven, very economical and they look good too, I do Iike cooking equipment that looks good. Oh, I forgot about the hardtack, thanks for that. And I never knew they carried tins of tomatoes, but was that only from a certain date? I don't know when tinned goods were first introduced?

    Great comments ladies. Thank you.

  4. Hi Jill, I haven't actually been riding across the country, but just arrived in Santa Monica afte a drive along Route 66 from Chicago, with detours to Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. But I have become partial to jerky. I also liked biscuits and gravy at breakfast. These are nothing like our biscuits and gravy, of course. Biscuit is like a scone and gravy is ....well, maybe someone will supply the recipe? Cheryl told me her recipe in Oklahoma City, but it would be incorrect for me to give that without her permission!

    I enjoyed your post.

    Keith aka Clay

    1. Keith, I never understood why people are secretive about their recipes--I want to share all of mine to anyone who wants them--the more enjoyment to spread around! I appreciate your honor, dear friend, but if I can ever be of help to anyone about any recipe, I'm always glad to help.

      Love to you! You're a seasoned Route 66 traveler now!

    2. Cheryl,

      My husband had an elderly aunt who coveted her "secret" recipe for a custard pie. Although she'd give the recipe out, she fudged on the ingredients and there were stories of some wild disasters when other people made the pie. lol

  5. Hi Mr spooky guy down a mine! Thank you for your comment. What's jerky like to actually eat? I have an idea what's in it but is it really tough? Biscuits I think I understand, but gravy, how can it be anything other than - well - gravy?
    Thanks for posting.

  6. It varies. Not too tough and is a bit like the pepperoni sticks you get in the UK, but beef or bacon etc. Biscuits and gravy is a popular dish especially in the south. Quite delicious in my opinion. Check the link

  7. Sorry, the link was truncated!

  8. Jill,
    It was the Better Homes and Garden Heritage Cookbook.
    Also canned for us is tinned for you and it started around 1812 here in the states. Doris

  9. Keith, thanks for that, I'll pop over and take a look in a while. Well those pepperoni stick are not bad, but I really wouldn't want to eat too many of them!
    Hope you are enjoying yourself over there and soaking up the atmosphere!

    Doris, Hello again! Thank you, I might just have to look out and see if I can get that book over here anywhere! (stop it! Walk away from the cook books woman!) Thanks for the info on cans too. And for taking the time to come and comment.

  10. Doris, Hi! I have managed to order a copy of that Heritage Cookbook, in my WIP the heroine has some 'cooking' scenes, it will be nice to be able to give a genuine idea of what she's cooking rather than just saying, 'a loaf' or 'a pie'. Thanks for that info.

    1. is chock full of fun recipes and fun facts. Doris