Friday, January 13, 2017

San Juan County’s First Eating Contest.

Before I begin, I better put the disclaimer; this is a work based on historical fact and historical fiction (which means not exactly fact).  Why the disclaimer?  Recently, a new documentary about the Hole in the Rock Expedition was aired on PBS.  Hosted by Gerald Lund, it was based upon the actual event and on his historical fiction novel, “Undaunted”.  As a writer of fiction, Lund took several facts of the expedition, did a twist on them, and presented a livelier version.  Seems a few folks were a bit bent out of shape on Lund’s playing with the facts.  That’s called “poetic license”; I’ll sort of be doing the same by calling it an “eating contest”.

On December 17, 1879, four pioneers, George Morrell, George Sevy, George Hobbs and Lemuel Redd (they ran out of men named George apparently), set out as a scouting party.  They were hoping to find, not just an easier route for the over 200 waiting, but the pioneers that had stayed on from a previous expedition group from Salt Lake.  Rations for six days were taken, however, they were gone by December 22nd; the men were lost, hungry, weary and very cold.  Should they go back, should they go forward?  Forward it was and on the morning of December 25th, Salvation Knoll was crested; the beautiful blue of the Abajo Mountains only ten miles estimated.  Four days later, the men finally reached the encampment at Fort Montezuma which wasn’t really a fort-like fort, just a few cabins and wagons.

Salvation Knoll
Much of the information about this adventure came from the journals of George Hobbs.  On Route 163, there is a memorial plaque on a red rock which his descendants dedicated to him.  Originally, George had carved his name upon a rock once the four men had reached the San Juan River area.  However, this rock was eventually removed by the BLM; that rebel, George Hobbs, had vandalized BLM land even before its institution!  There is a geocache nearby, before the fenced off area, for those interested in this hobby.

In Saga of San Juan (DUP of San Juan County, 1957), and later on, Hole in the Rock (David Miller, 1959); a section of Hobbs’ journal is quoted, establishing San Juan County’s first eating contest (my contribution of historical fiction). “Food enough cooked for three families and set for us.  After eating 5 biscuits and the meat all being consumed, I thought I would quit, as it might injure me.  …couldn’t resist the temptation of taking another biscuit.   In all I believe I ate 22 biscuits.”  While he mentions that the other men also ate more, Hobbs kind of infers that he was the big winner.  “I thought this would be a happy death…”

(George Hobbs Photo Courtesy of The Hole in the Rock Foundation)

Gerald Lund’s version of the story had the men eating “Johnny Cakes: which is made from cornmeal; biscuits are made from white or wheat flour.  Guess what?  It is not unlikely that both may have been served, since the Mormon pioneers did bring the recipes for both from wherever they originally hailed from.  Now as the amount eaten, I tend to wonder if George Hobbs was either being exaggeratory, delusional or doing his own version of historical fiction. His journal of the Hole in the Rock Expedition was written sometime after settling at Bluff Fort.

Think about it, he’s starving, yet his stomach had probably shrunk due to lack of food and water; how did he consume all that food in one sitting?  Whether biscuits or Johnny cakes, they would have been slightly dry; maple syrup was not available, so butter and/or honey might have helped get them down.  Nowadays, eating contests are serious, money making business; oh, but there are still the small hometown contests at the local fairs and celebrations.  Which brings me to a GREAT suggestion for Pioneer Day Weekend…two eating contests, one for biscuits, the other for Johnny cakes.  Contestants would have some type of liquid available for drinking; honey, syrup, butter for slathering on, so the food slides down the gullet easier and quicker.  The person who can eat the most in say, one hour (typical length of a starving pioneer’s meal) wins!  Someone pass this article onto the Chamber of Commerce people, in charge of Pioneer Day activities, right away!

Guess I better warn my boss now, I do intend on being off that day from work.  I am not missing this event (which I truly hope will take place) for anything; and of course would do a bang up job of an article for the San Juan Record.  It’s only January, let the planning begin; and here are two pioneer recipes that should be used in preparing the biscuits and Johnny cakes.


Buttermilk Biscuits
(Favorite Utah Pioneer Recipes by Marla Rawlings)


2 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2/3 cup lard or shortening
Up to ¾ cup buttermilk (available for baking since the 18th Century)


In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.  Cut in shortening until crumbly.  Stir in just enough buttermilk to moisten.  Turn biscuits out onto floured surface and roll to ¼ inch thickness.  Cut with “recipe” cutter (round instrument of some type) and bake at 425F for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Note: more than likely, the biscuits were laid inside a cast iron skillet or pan, then baked over a fire.


Johnny Cakes
(A Melting Pot of Pioneer Recipes by Winnifred C. Jardine of DUP)


3 cups cornmeal
1 cup flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. molasses
3 cups buttermilk
2 well-beaten eggs


Sift together dry ingredients.  Slowly stir in molasses and buttermilk, mix well.  Add beaten eggs and beat hard for two minutes.  Pour into shallow, well-greased pans and bake at 400F for 30 minutes.  (A favorite dish of Prophet Joseph Smith)

Note: Johnny Cakes originate with the Native Americans; introduced to the white man as the founding of North American (1500s-1600s) began.  They would have resembled a tortilla, or a cornmeal flat bread.

Mary Cokenour

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Jalapeno Jelly is Not Cream Cheese Exclusive.

The first time I ever tasted Jalapeno Jelly was at the wondrous Kitchen Kettle Village located within Gordonville, PA. the store itself produces and sells hundreds of jarred jellies, jams, relish, salsa, pickled vegetables, and contains a bakery creating the most delicious baked treats.  Visitors are encouraged to sample from miniature jars with pretzels and crackers to munch on; recipe cards are available for use ideas.  Within the Village itself are all manner of small shops and restaurants; on the main street is a Quilt Shop full of fabrics to make any quilter(and I am one)faint in ecstasy (purchased my quilter’s frame there!)

Besides sampling the products au natural, some of the recipes were created, so you can taste why you needed (yes, needed) to have the item.  The Jalapeno Jelly was mixed together with cream cheese to make this delectable spread for crackers or vegetable sticks such as celery and carrot.  Ah, but I have a creative mind when it comes to the kitchen; and somehow knew this jelly would be a wonderful accompaniment to chicken or pork.  After trying out several cooking techniques, the best were either baking in the oven, or grilling on the barbecue.  Slathering on the jelly as another might do with barbecue sauce; the flavors were drawn in by poultry and meat alike.  Sweet, savory, mildly spicy; it paired with sides mild, medium or hot quite well.

This past holiday season, a lovely woman, Leslie Hyde Kelley,  gave me a jar of Jalapeno Jelly.  “Oh”, I exclaimed in joy, “this will be so wonderful on chicken!”  To which she answered, “Finally, someone who doesn’t just mix it with cream cheese!”  Now as much as I and hubby do enjoy this spread as a treat (instead of fish fingers and custard while watching “Doctor Who” on BBC America); having it on chicken is a lovely meal.  So Leslie, thank you again for the jelly, and here’s what I did with it.  Unfortunately, with all the rain, ice and snow we’ve experienced over the last few weeks, barbecuing outside was not an option; the oven had to do.


Jalapeno Chicken with Rice Side


4 chicken breasts, cut in half widthwise
1 Tbsp. salt and paprika
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 (8 oz.) jar jalapeno jelly
2 (5.6 oz.) packages Knorr Rice Sides – White Cheddar Queso Flavor or Spanish Rice Flavor
1 cup diced green bell peppers
½ cup diced onions


Preheat oven to 350F; spray 9” x 13” baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Mix together salt, paprika and ground black pepper; rub onto both sides of chicken and place chicken inside baking dish.


Spread half the jar of jalapeno jelly over the chicken; place in oven and bake for 10 minutes.  Remove dish from oven, spread remaining half of jelly over chicken again; return to oven for 10 additional minutes.

Place baking dish on top most rack in oven, turn on broiler and broil for 5 minutes to give chicken a “barbecued” look.


While chicken was baking, prepare Rice Sides per package instructions, but add in bell pepper and onion to cook with package ingredients.

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour


Friday, January 6, 2017

Another Easy Chicken Recipe.

When it comes to bone-in chicken, there is only two ways I usually use it; deep fried or baked in barbecue sauce.  So, when I received a ten pound bag of chicken leg quarters, all I could think was, "That's a lot of chicken to fry up."  Yes, when it comes to bone-in chicken, I don't have much imagination for its use; Roy and I are more prone to eat boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Ah, then an idea hit me, why not make the chicken and stuffing crock pot recipe, but use this chicken instead.  I layered the chicken on the bottom of a six quart crock pot, covered it with whole kernel corn, stuffing mix and a soup mixture.  Six hours later, on low heat, the meal was done; miserable part was, the chicken came off the bones.  As I spooned out stuffing with chicken, included were pieces of bone that had to be picked out before serving.  Talk about a mess and nuisance!  The chicken was parboiled to remove skin and fat, so I wonder if I should have simply cooked it for four hours instead, to keep the chicken intact.

Alas, I have no photos of that cooking mishap; hint, do NOT allow your spouse to use a camera without taking photos off of it first!  He doesn't know how he did it, but all my photos had been deleted while he was recording a snowfall outside.  Fortunately, I used the loss of the photos as an excuse to make the dish again, but in a different fashion.

After parboiling, skin and fat removal, seasoning, the chicken was placed into a baking dish.  Corn, stuffing and soup mixture went into a separate baking dish.  The corn stuffing finished 10 minutes earlier than the chicken, but this gave it time to settle.  Now this meal was so much better; the chicken came easily off the bone, but didn't have to be picked out of the stuffing.  Roy brought over some to his mother and brother to try; they cleaned their plates and wondered if more was available.  I'd definitely say it was a huge hit!

Trial and error; sometimes cooking is a fail, but it spurs you on to try again and find a delicious solution.

Baked Chicken with Corn Stuffing


8 chicken leg quarters
2 tsp. each salt and ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. paprika
2 cans (14.5 oz.) whole kernel corn
4 Tbsp. butter
2 boxes (6 oz.) chicken flavored stuffing mix
1 can each (10.5 oz.) cream of chicken and cream of celery soup
1 and ½ cups milk


Parboil the chicken for 15 minutes; let cool slightly before removing skin and any remaining pieces of fat.  Preheat oven to 350F; spray inside of two 9” x 13” baking dishes with nonstick cooking spray.

Mix together salt, black pepper and paprika; split mixture in half and sprinkle over both sides of chicken.  Place chicken, bone side down, into one baking dish; place inside preheated oven.

In second baking dish, pour corn (with liquid) inside and place butter in four corners of dish; spread stuffing mix over corn.  In a medium bowl, mix together soups and milk; pour over stuffing and spread out evenly.  Place in oven alongside baking dish with chicken.


Chicken will take about 40-45 minutes to bake (internal temperature of 185F); corn stuffing will take about 30-35 minutes to bake (soup mixture firmed up, liquid from corn entirely absorbed by stuffing).

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour