Friday, August 14, 2015

Cowboys and Cookouts

By Anna Kathryn Lanier

One of the things I like to collect is cookbooks. One book I picked up a few months ago is COWBOYS AND COOKOUTS: A Taste of the Old West by Lewis Esson.  Not only is it full of recipes, but quotes, songs, poems and stories straight out of the nineteenth century. 

As the introduction says, “It is a truly extraordinary phenomenon that a ragtag group of itinerant agricultural workers that really only flourished for a couple of decades … should have left such a lasting legacy.”  Esson goes on to say, “Even in its own time, the romance of the range and trail was recognized, and the native cowboys—including disaffected Texas Confederate soldiers, who couldn’t find a place in the post-Civil War Untied States—were joined, from quite early on, by young bloods from all points of the compass, hoping to savor the unique and heady mix of danger and freedom that was cowboy life.”

After the Civil War, ranches sprang up across the Great Plains and cowboys were hired to drive the cattle to railheads for shipment to the eastern and western cities.  “The cowboys,” Esson says, “usually traveled the trails in crews of twelve, including their leader—trail boss—and the cook. [The cook] drove and ran the “chuck wagon,” which not only served as a mobile kitchen but often carried all their supplies, including foodstuffs, medical supplies (if any), ammunition, and bedding.” Common cooking equipment included the all important coffee pot, assortment of pots and pans, skillets and ever versatile Dutch oven.

Here are a few recipes from Esson’s book for you to enjoy on your next campout or cookout.


4 cups flour
1 ½ tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¾ cup cold lard
About 1 cup cold milk

1.       Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Grate the lard into the bowl and mix in lightly with the fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
2.       Make a well in the center and pour in three-quarter cup of the milk. Stir until the dough starts to come away from the sides of the bowl. If too dry, add a little more milk a little at a time.
3.       When smooth and pliable, turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead quickly for a minute or so, folding no more than ten times.
4.       Divide the dough into about 18 pieces and flatten each out with your hands. Wrap each piece around the tip of a well-scrubbed, thick, green, nontoxic shrub branch that is long enough to use safely on the fire.
5.       Cook over the fire or barbecue for about 10 minutes, turning from time to time, until golden brown all over.
6.       When cool enough to handle, pull out the branch and fill the center of the biscuit with butter, cheese, jam, or even shredded meat and gravy.


6 ½ pounds pork spare ribs, separated

For the marinade:
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1-2 tsp English mustard powder
1-2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
4 tbsp white wine vinegar
5 tbsp tomato paste
Juice of 1 lemon
1 small onion, finely chopped

1.       First prepare the marinade by mixing together all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmering the mixture over a low heat for 10 to 15 minutes.
2.       Arrange the ribs in a single layer on a large sheet of heavy-duty foil with its edges folded up to make a tray.  Pour the marinade over the ribs and wrap the foil around them to make a big parcel. Double wrap with another sheet of foil. Refrigerate for at least an hour or until ready to cook.
3.       When ready to cook, place the parcel on the side of the fire or barbecue and cook slowly for 1 to 1 ½ hours. Once in a while, using oven mitts, remove the parcel and give it a quick shake in order to baste the ribs.


1 ½ pounds cooked beans, such as navy or kidney beans
                or two cans of beans, drained and rinsed
8 oz salt pork or fatty bacon, diced
1 onion chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4-6 tbsp tomato ketchup
Salt and pepper
4 oz cheddar cheese, grated (optional)

1.       Fry the pork or bacon, stirring regularly, until the fat runs. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until the onion is translucent. Remove the pan contents, leaving as much of the fat as possible.
2.       Add the beans to the pan and lightly mash them with a fork as you mix them with the hot fat.
3.       Add the bacon and onion mixture back to the pan and mix with the beans, ketchup, and salt and pepper to taste.  Add a little water if the mixture isn’t creamy enough.
4.       Cover, set over a very gentle heat, and cook until a crust forms on the bottom of the pan, about an hour.
5.       Sprinkle with cheese to serve (optional).

You can also add chopped chilies, chili flakes or pepper sauce to taste.

**Texan and President Lyndon B. Johnson was the first president to host a barbecue on the lawn of the White House.

Anna Kathryn Lanier

Never let your memories be greater than your dreams. ~Doug Ivester 


  1. I like the idea of cooking over a campfire, but not sleeping on the ground. I think sour dough bread came from cowboy cooks.
    All the best to you, Anna...

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Sarah. I'm not sure about the sour dough bread, but it would interesting to find out.

  2. My comment would not post. I'm testing the Comment box.

  3. My second cousin who is in charge of reunions has a similar version of the biscuits. She uses canned biscuits and her husband made long thin dowels with a larger one with rounded edges on one end that they put the biscuit over and they cook over the fire then fill with scrambled eggs or chili. They call them Wha-dingers.
    Fun info!

    1. Paty, I can see where the canned biscuits would work, but also be less work. Thanks for the tip!

  4. Anna, what a great post! We had some fabulous Dutch oven and cowboy cooking on the city slicker wagon trip we took around the Tetons. We don't camp much these days but the biscuit on a stick has potential. Hugs...

  5. Yum. I want to go camping with you, Anna Kathryn! I have never heard of stick biscuits before. Of course, my writer's mind immediately wandered to the consequences of mistakenly using a stick from a toxic plant or tree. Then again, I have been watching a marathon of Murder She Wrote. Still....might make an interesting scene. :)

    1. Hey Ashley, I noticed your comment about a poisonous biscuit stick--like maybe hemlock or night shade would do...accidently, of course. LOL


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