Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Portable Comfort Food and Mining.

San Juan County’s geological makeup encompasses finds of precious metals such as gold and copper to deadlier elements of uranium and vanadium.  Depending on who is spoken with, there is either praise of the industry and the monetary gain to many; or those who would rather it hushed up due to the illnesses and deaths caused.  Personal feeling is, hiding history does not mean it never happened, or will prevent it from happening again.

So, I’m going to be drawing attention to the old Cottonwood Mill’s short history, and its contribution towards Monticello Mill becoming the main processing plant of radioactive materials.

The history of the millsite will be a combination of information from two sources; a verbal history from Grant Lee Shumway in the book, The Family of Peter and Mary Johnson Shumway by Ruth Shumway Robinson and Gary Lee Shumway, and the mining series published by Blue Mountain Shadows (“Mining in San Juan”, "Cottonwood Mining", “Cottonwood Mining #2 and #3”).  The first millsite, located along South Cottonwood Road aka County Road 228, was built in 1937.  The high temperatures needed to "roast" the ore caused the building to burn down the same year.  In 1938, the millsite was rebuilt, plus additional buildings containing a blacksmith shop, laboratory, assay office, boarding house for the workers, and a few cabins.  In 1942, the mill burned down once again; it was rebuilt, with a loan from the Defense Plant Corporation, in April 1943.  The mill, however, was forced to close its doors in July 1943; poor processing methods created few profits and loans could not be repaid.  In 1942, the millsite in Monticello had been built and working in full force, so all the ore, and tailings, from the Cottonwood area mines and millsite, were shipped to Monticello for processing from then on.  Remember, at that time, the dangers of uranium and vanadium were still unknown.

The Atomic Energy Commission, with help from the BLM and National Forest Service, cleaned up both mill sites.  In 1997, it was determined that travel along CR 228 had increased dramatically with hikers, campers, ATVers, 4 Wheel Drive enthusiasts.  The BLM went through the area to close off any open mines that would pose a danger, and made sure the millsite was still safe from the effects of uranium and vanadium. 

By the way, I initially expressed some concern about the radiation contamination to my good friend, Amy Watkins Kensley, a teacher at the elementary school down in Monument Valley.  Her response was, "Honey, you live in San Juan County; we all glow in the dark!" That made me feel way better about it.

Alright now, mining history class over, let’s get to the next topic, food miners ate.  Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, miners in Cornwall, England needed meals that could be hand held, eaten warm or cold, and not take time away from work.  The test of a good pasty?  Drop it down a mine shaft and see how well it held together.  Since many of the Mormon pioneers have ancestry going back to the United Kingdom, it shouldn’t be surprising that the recipe for the Cornish Pasty came with them.  In The Mormon Pioneer Cookbook by Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, page 60 has a recipe using meats of round steak and pork chops mixed together.

I’m going back in time though and use the traditional recipe from “The Cornish Pasty Association”, Cornwall, England.  In parentheses will be the American equivalent of measurements and baking temperature.  Note, instead of making 6 large pasties, I made 8 small and had enough to experiment with a flour tortilla.  Hint, stick with the pastry dough; flaky, yet holds up well when picked up to eat, and oh so tasty…a tasty pasty, what more could you ask for!?!

Traditional Cornish Pasty

For Shortcrust Pastry


500 g (4 cups) strong bread flour (it is important to use a stronger flour than normal as you need the extra strength in the gluten to produce strong pliable pastry)
120 g (1/2 cup) lard or white shortening
125 g (1/2 cup) Cornish butter (regular unsalted butter will do)
1 tsp. salt
175 ml (2/3 cup) cold water

For the Filling

450 g (1 lb.) good quality beef skirt, cut into cubes (I used Angus Ground Beef 80/20)
450 g (1 lb.) potato, diced
250 g (1and ½ cups) swede (aka turnip), diced
200 g (1 and ¼ cups) onion, sliced
Salt & pepper to taste (2:1 ratio)
Beaten egg or milk to glaze

Method (Preparation)

Rub the two types of fat lightly into flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.  Add water, bring the mixture together and knead until the pastry becomes elastic. This will take longer than normal pastry, but it gives the pastry the strength that is needed to hold the filling and retain a good shape. This can also be done in a food mixer.

Cover with cling film and leave to rest for 3 hours in the fridge. This is a very important stage as it is almost impossible to roll and shape the pastry when fresh.  Roll out the pastry and cut into circles approx. 20cm (7.75 inches) diameter. A side plate is an ideal size to use as a guide.

Layer the vegetables and meat on top of the pastry, adding plenty of seasoning. (I mixed it all together in one bowl; a 1/3 measuring cup puts out the correct portion)

Bring the pastry around and crimp the edges together (see guide to crimping on website).  Glaze with beaten egg or an egg and milk mixture.

Bake at 165 degrees C (350 F) for about 50 – 55 minutes until golden. (Mine were done at 50 minutes)

Tortilla Experiment

The meat and vegetables were perfectly cooked; my hubby, Roy, ate two, then I had to slap his hand away when he reached for a third.  That tells me that my attempt at Cornish Pasties was a success.  As I mentioned, I did experiment with a flour tortilla; it was “meh” until we added some roasted garlic salsa to it.  But, doesn’t that make it a burrito?  Anyway, bring a little England to your table and try some Cornish Pasties.

Mary Cokenour

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Cheese, Raisins, Cattle and Cowboys.

San Juan County Road 228 aka South Cottonwood Road, there is a main reason why I specifically wanted to come to this area; my dentist, Dr. Brian Goodwine of San Juan Dental in Monticello (part of the Utah Navajo Health System, Inc).  He is the great grandson of Lemuel Hardison Redd Jr., active in the development of the San Juan Mission in Mexico.  While at my 6 month checkup, Dr. Goodwine asked if I'd ever been to the Cheese and Raisins Hills; "The what?" I asked, and "Where are they?"  He told me the story of Lemuel who had cattle up on those hills; one day his ranch hands asked him if he would like to share their lunch of cheese and raisins with them.  "All you boys ever eat is cheese and raisins, cheese and raisins"; and that is how the hills in the area became so named.  I was able to also verify this story through the book, Utah's Canyon Country Place Names by Steve Allen, as told by Albert R. Lyman.  On the Internet, someone's vacation blog, didn't note the name down though, was a second story on how the hills were named.  There were several mines in the area; the miners often had cheese and raisins in their lunches.  Since the mines were not started till around the early 1930s, the first version of the story is closer to the truth.  A photo of Lemuel and his wives, Eliza and Lucy, and their story can be found in the book, They Came to Grayson put out by the Ridgeway Art Gallery in Blanding.

Lemuel Hardison Redd Jr with wives, Eliza and Lucy

Talking about mining, the ruins of the old Cottonwood Millsite is along this county road which got me to thinking about typical miners’ meals which got me thinking about Cornish Pasties.  Oh my, isn’t that a nice run-on sentence; but that story will be for another article as I’m concentrating on cheese and raisins right now.

Raisins are simply dried grapes, which would stand up well during the long journeys the pioneers traveled to win over the Wild West.  Cheese, however, now where did they get cheese from and how did it keep without refrigeration?  Time to research cattle within San Juan County and I certainly did find a moo-full of information! 

Briefly, when the Hole in the Rockers came to Bluff, they did have cattle along for the trek.  Dunham aka Short Horn which were great milkers, but also provided meat to the settlers.  However, there had already been established, within San Juan County, cattle companies from Colorado and Texas; competition for grazing land became an issue.  Excuse me while I digress a little more; eventually Peters of Peters Hill fame sold his cattle; Howard Carlisle, a British patriot, eventually sold his cattle.  The remaining cattle company was the LC, which remained in the Blanding area…. poor ranch cook Harry Hopkins, may he in rest in peace.  Digging around, I was able to find out that Peters and Carlisle began a new cattle company in Kansas City, MO.  While Peters, whose given name was Quincy, became the company’s accountant; Howard Carlisle got in huge trouble selling stolen cattle. 

Where did I get my information on Peters and Carlisle after they left San Juan County?  Scholars Archive of BYU: The Cattle Industry of San Juan County, Utah, 1875 – 1900 by Franklin D. Day, and United States. Courts; Circuit Court of Appeals, volume 47.

Emma Smith 1884 
Now back to cheese and raisins, and were they only eaten separately, or did those resilient pioneer women combine them into a recipe?   Emma Smith, wife of prophet Joseph Smith baked up biscuits nicknamed “politicians” due to their being so light and full of hot air.  I didn’t make this up; the story appears in Good Things to Eat From Old Nauvoo by Theo E. Boyd.  These biscuits were normally used to make strawberry shortcake, but other variations were: cherry, peaches, warm applesauce, raisins plus cinnamon and honey, chopped dates and nuts, or grated or cubed cheese with raisins.  There you go, cheese and raisins in biscuits; but you can use this combination in scones as well and it is delicious!

Hope you enjoyed my convoluted journey through San Juan County pioneer history, and here is Emma Smith’s Biscuit recipe.

(Good Things to Eat From Old Nauvoo by Theo E. Boyd)


2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. shortening
3/4 cup buttermilk


Sift dry ingredients. Add shortening and cut in with a pastry blender or two knives until dough resembles coarse cornmeal. Add buttermilk and mix lightly.

Turn out on floured board.  Pat out to 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick.  Cut, sprinkle with sugar and place on well-greased pan and bake at 425 degrees until golden brown.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Jackrabbit Ruminations.

This little story came about due to the posing of a single jackrabbit.  Normally they’re zipping back and forth across roadways, or racing through the desert trying not to smash into sage brush.  Photographing them is next to impossible, those buggers don’t sit still long enough, until that one day.  Sitting at the front desk of Canyon Country Discovery Center, well I have the best seat in the house.  Large window panes allow me to look across farmland and canyon rocks stretching eastward to Colorado; in the far distance are the majestic San Juans.  Typical wildlife that entertains are mule deer, wild turkeys, red fox, antics of chipmunks, aerodynamics of hummingbirds and the zipping of jackrabbits.  Then it happened, a jackrabbit stopped on a gravel path and began to “strike the pose…vogue” (Madonna song reference).  He (assuming it was a he, I didn’t actually check) sat back on those long, power punching legs; turned his head this way and that; then turned his whole body so that the mild wind pushed his ears back.  His eyes slowly closed and I swear that little bugger had decided to take a nap there and then.

So, back to the mention of a little story and let me put the disclaimer now, so those experts on wildlife won’t get all bent out of shape.   The story I’m about to tell about this jackrabbit is totally made up, a work of fiction from my mind; call me crazy and I’ll say thank you for noticing. 

Meet Jack, Jack the Rabbit; he’s not much on commitment; loves the ladies, but doesn’t stick around long enough for a lasting relationship.  He’s a bit of a cad, loves them and leaves them in a “delicate” condition.  Now the ladies, they have their own issues; so busy running to no place in particular that when the babe comes, it’s “pop it out, it fends for itself”.  Jackrabbits don’t build nests in the ground like the cute cottontails; nope, their babies are born wide eyed, bushy tailed and raring to go-go-go.  Jack has a sister, Jackie; who happened to meet one handsome hare from Wyoming.  The Wyoming Alope family are well known in those parts for slick dealing at the gambling table and serving up watered down liquor at their establishment.  Yes sir, Jackie married and became…Jackie ALope.

Then there is Jack’s uncle, Bob; the family don’t speak much about Bob, not since “the incident”.  Seems Bob got into a bit of a mess when he was hungry and decided that elderberries would make a great snack.  Well he was a bit lazy that day too, so instead of picking those berries fresh off the bush, he ate the ones sitting on the ground, not realizing they had fermented into wine.  That Cat was so drunk, didn’t realize that his neighbor’s third daughter was sleeping under that elderberry bush.  Nope, he had his way with her, No, not that way, get your minds out of the gutter; he done ‘et her!  Yep, Bob’s his uncle, but they don’t really talk about Bob in front of pleasant company.

Ah cooking, this column is supposed to focus on cooking, so let’s cook up some rabbit, aye?  In Native American cultures, the rabbit resides in legends from being a good luck charm to a parallel of coyote; the protector of witches and a trickster.  Mesoamerican belief was that a rabbit, not a man, resided in the moon.  No matter the legend, the rabbit was prized for its meat; its fur and tanned hide made into gloves, caps, cradle board cushions or padding.

In the cookbook, Pueblo Indian Cookbook by Phyllis Hughes, there is a kitchen tested recipe for Jackrabbit Stew.  While researching recipes for this article, I found that Native American cooking techniques/beliefs resembled ones I am quite acquainted with. Before serving the meal, a small portion is offered up to the spirits; similar to the offering of a piece of bread and meat to the Greek Goddess, Hestia (protector of the home and hearth; goddess of hospitality).  When it comes to measuring, it comes down to the senses; the feel of the grains, herbs and spices, a sort of knowing, in your heart, what amounts are correct.  That’s what cooking with love and passion are!

So here’s the recipe, and if rabbit or hare are not your type of fare; substituting chicken will be just as tasty.

Jackrabbit Stew
(Pueblo Indian Cookbook, page 39)


1 jackrabbit (or domestic hare or 5 lb. baking chicken)
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp. salt
2/3 Tbsp. chile powder (optional)
1 and ½ cups flour
2 quarts water
2 large onions
6 large carrots, halved
2 sweet peppers, halved and seeded
4 tsp. salt
2 cups cooked lime hominy
¾ cup melted lard or cooking oil


Cut rabbit (or other) into serving size pieces.  Dredge in flour.  Put oil in large kettle and heat until sizzling.  Brown all pieces of meat on all sides, drain and pour off excess oil.  Return meat to kettle, add water and simmer for two hours, add all vegetables and simmer until carrots are tender.

Note:  Not sure if the repeat of onion and salt are intentional or a misprint.  The majority of cookbooks also have ingredients listed in the order that they are used, while this recipe is a bit of a hodge podge.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

What is Fair About Fair Trade?

As long as I can remember, and that is a long time, the United States of America has been the unofficial “911” of the world.  Global disasters, whether brought about by human hands, or the displeasure of Mother Nature, the American government and its people were ready, willing and able to help.  It wasn’t until the 1980s that I personally took notice that when it came to America itself, we seemed to be failing the 911 calls from our own farmers.

The first Farm Aid Concert was held on September 22, 1985; organized by Willie Nelson, John “Cougar” Mellencamp and Neil Young.  The focus of the concert was to raise money for American farmers who were being threatened by foreclosure due to mortgage debts.  Now while Congress did pass, in 1987, the Agricultural Credit Act, to keep foreclosures at bay, the question remains, why, why was the farming industry in such dire straits?

Simply put, the cause is “dumping”, but an article, Global Trade can Make or Break Farmers, by Jennifer Fahy (Communications Director for Farm Aid) explains it in more detail.  Quote, “Agricultural dumping — the practice of exporting commodities at prices below the cost of production….encourages overproduction, trapping family farmers in a never-ending need for higher yields… forcing…farmers off the land, while damaging rural economies, public health and our environment.”

Jump forward to the 2000s – 2010s and the newest term to hit the food industry, “Fair Trade”; sounds similar to the term “barter”, no?  No, fair trade is, as defined by Fair Trade Certified aka Fair Trade USA, “a choice to support responsible companies, empower farmers, workers, and fishermen, and protect the environment. In other words, it’s a world-changing way of doing business.”  Formerly this applied to poorer countries, or what are referred to as “third world countries”; but recently the practice is being applied to American food industries, namely farmers.

Should you, as a consumer, make a conscious effort to purchase fair trade products?  Sadly, the answer is dependent on your, or your family’s, financial good or bad health.  Fair trade products are pricey; while a 12 ounce package of Dunkin’ Donuts (coffee beans from Latin America) costs an average of $6.99; Equal Exchange’s 12 ounce package will cost an average of $8.99.  Equal Exchange gets their coffee beans from a small town in Brazil, called Bahia, and, now hold on a minute, isn’t Brazil in Latin America!?!  The difference is large company growing and harvesting the beans as opposed to family farmers in a small village.  The product you decide to purchase is now dependent on what you can comfortably afford to pay.

In my humble opinion, the concept of fair trade is not unreasonable; we can apply it to the “small cottage” industry San Juan County is attempting to develop.   A huge corporation can make jams and jellies, selling cheaper in bulk.  At home businesses will have similar products, made fresh, by folks you personally know, just a bit more costly.  Which should you buy?  Again, it’s dependent on what you can comfortably afford; but I know I’d rather see a San Juan County, Utah, USA label on a jar of jam, then “Made in China”.  Again, that’s just my own opinion.

Mary Cokenour

Note: All photographs are of products available at Nature’s Oasis, Durango, CO


Fair Trade Certification extended to USA farmers: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/04/19/524377647/not-just-for-foreign-foods-fair-trade-label-comes-to-u-s-farms

Fairness to USA Farmers: http://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/379554-global-trade-can-make-or-break-american-farmers

Farm Aid: https://www.farmaid.org/

Farm Aid’s mission is to keep family farmers on their land to guarantee an agricultural system that values family farmers, good food, soil and water, and strong communities.



Wednesday, May 23, 2018

What’s Black and White, and Found in a Bakery?

If you’re from the tristate area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and let’s throw Philadelphia, PA in for good measure, you don’t even have to think twice about what the answer to this riddle is…Black and White Cookies.  While it was debated whether it is a cookie or a cake; in 1998, columnist William Grimes, of the New York Times, finally defined it as a “drop cake”.  In his article, “Look to the Cookie: An Ode in Black and White”, Grimes tells the tale of its origin, Glaser Bake Shop on First Avenue near 87th Street where they’ve been making black and whites since 1902.

Growing up, and working, in New York City, every bakery worth its flour made them; they’re as popular for breakfast as bagels with cream cheese and lox.  Moving out to Utah, well like I keep telling folks, the only thing I truly miss from the east coast is the food!   I tried ordering some online, but the shipping costs were just too high; so who came to the rescue, but my mother.  She was able to find a supply of them at her local supermarket (small ones in a plastic container; large ones individually wrapped), and send them via priority mail.  Receiving the box, opening it and discovering these treats; it was like hitting the lottery big time!  I ripped open one of the containers of small black and whites, and ate three; oh the pleasure was indescribable.

Now what the heck is a Black and White Cookie you are asking, if you’ve never had one.  Well, it’s a large round vanilla, as Grimes describes, drop cake made from a thickened cupcake batter; one side is white (vanilla) fondant, the other is black (chocolate).  If you’ve seen cakes that have those perfectly smooth sides, when cut the frosting barely moves away from the cake; yes, that’s fondant.  Fondant is a thick frosting that can be softened up enough to spread like frosting; then firms up to remain on the item it has covered. Or it is rolled out into a thin sheet, placed on a cake and pressed to form a seamless covering.  The fondant frosting, once dried and firm, will have the same shiny consistency that rolled out fondant has; it’s just easier to get on the cookie when spread as a frosting.  That’s the best way I can describe black and whites; you’ll just have to eat one to truly understand.

I know many readers are bakers, so here’s the recipe to try.  Fondant powder and fondant sheets can be found in larger supermarkets, in stores that supply cake decorating supplies or ordered online, if not inclined to make it totally from scratch.

Black and White Cookies

To Make the Cookie

1 cup granulated sugar
1 and ½ cups plus 1 Tbsp. vegetable shortening
1 tsp. melted butter
½ tsp. salt
½ cup plus 2 Tbsp. nonfat dry milk
1 tsp. light corn syrup
3 eggs
4 cups plus 2 Tbsp. cake flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
2/3 cup cold water
1 ½ tsp vanilla


Pre-heat the oven for 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, medium-high speed; beat together the sugar, shortening, butter, and salt; add in nonfat dry milk and corn syrup; cream together.  Gradually add in one egg at a time until mixture becomes fluffy.

In a large bowl, combine the cake flour and the baking powder in a separate bowl.  Add 1/3 of dry ingredients plus 1/3 cup of water to creamed batter.  When well incorporated, add 1/3 of dry plus other 1/3 of water; when well mixed, add last of dry ingredients and mix well.

Using two cookie sheets, nest one cookie sheet inside the other to make a double-thick cookie sheet; line the top cookie sheet with baker’s parchment paper.   Hint: For a guide, draw 3” circles on one side of the parchment paper with a pencil; place pencil side down on cookie sheet.  Spread batter over the 3” circles; make sure thickness is even (1/4” will puff up to ½” thickness).

Bake for 18 minutes; remove cookies to wire rack to cool.
Makes 18 cookies.

To Make the Frostings

Vanilla Fondant

2 ½ cups fondant powder   
¼ cup cold water
2 tsp vanilla

Put tap water in the bottom of a double boiler and bring to a simmer.  To the upper part of the double boiler, add the fondant powder, ¼ cup cold water and vanilla   Keep extra cold water nearby as fondant tends to be a dry frosting; without sufficient water the frosting will dry too fast, harden, and crack on the cookie. When the ingredients are well blended and thin (it should run slowly off of a spoon), frost one half of the cooled cookies; set aside to allow the frosting to harden.

Chocolate Fondant
2 ½ cups fondant powder
¼ cup cold water
2 tsp vanilla
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips 

Follow the directions for the vanilla fondant, but include the chocolate chips. When the frosting is melted and well mixed, frost the other half of the cookies. Make sure the vanilla frosting has set before starting to frost them with the chocolate frosting.

Let the cookies continue to set on a wire rack. When the frosting is no longer warm and pliable, you can store the cookies individually in food storage bags or wrapped in wax paper. 

Mary Cokenour