A caravan of chuck wagons rolled into town yesterday. Our annual Duke of the Dutch Ovens cook-off helps preserve the history and traditions of life on the plains. Friends and acquaintances gather to visit and enjoy some hearty old West trail grub. The menu includes juicy chicken fried steak, a variety of pinto bean concoctions, sourdough and plain biscuits or bread, potatoes galore, and my favorite...dutch oven peach cobbler...yumm.
I wander through the encampment capturing images of the early American West and talk with the friendly chuck wagon crews. One of the people I'm honored to meet is the 1950 New Mexico State Fair Queen...as beautiful as ever. She wears a delicate silver bracelet inscribed with her achievement. The sights, smells, and sounds of the gathering transport me to an era of unfettered dreams and endless possibilities. The American spirit of self-reliance permeates the midday High Plains air.
A traditional chuck wagon is a horse-drawn wagon used as a mobile kitchen to get food to people on the move...such as, cowboys working herds of cattle or wagon trains crossing the prairie. Texas rancher Charles Goodnight introduced this mobile kitchen idea to cowboy life on the range in 1866.
The cook-off contestants compete on several levels. The wagons must be in drivable condition equipped and constructed with methods and materials available in the late 1800s. The crews must cook using authentic old West tools and utensils. Attire and setting up a traditional camp are important. Last but not least, the food must satisfy a hungry cowboy after a long day of chasing ornery cattle through the chaparral. How do the “cookies” make the magic happen...dutch ovens.
Dutch ovens are cast iron cookware for boiling, baking, stews, frying, roasting, and other uses limited only by the imagination of the cook. The ovens are durable and versatile. Lewis and Clark had them along on their expedition. The dutch oven popular among cowboys on the range has three legs, a bail handle, and a rimmed, concave lid to hold hot coals for more uniform heat distribution.
|The Missing Coffee Cup|
|Dutch Oven Biscuits|
|John Deere Chuck Wagon|
|Tired Little Wrangler|
|Ready To Ring The Dinner Bell|
|Hearty Trail Food|
|Chicken-Fried Steak And Gravy|
|The New Kid On The Block|
|Old West "Cookie"|
|Ready To Serve|