Thursday, July 19, 2018

Luck of the Pot.

Living in Monticello, the Colorado state border is a mere twenty minutes’ drive along Highway 491.  To put your mind at ease immediately, the “pot” I am referring to has nothing to do with legalized marijuana in Colorado.  However, with Pioneer Day coming fast, I am about to go off on one of my convoluted writing journeys.

The Big 4 Tractor has been a main attraction, for the most part, in our small town.  This giant, for its time, tractor was made by the Emerson-Brantingham Company in 1912.  Purchased by the San Juan Arid Farm Company for $4,500, shipped to Dolores Colorado before making the trek to Monticello.  It took about three days, but at a top speed of three miles per hour, along an unpaved roadway, no surprise, right?  This was a two person operation; the driver who was required to stand the entire trip, and the fuel hauler.  Once a week, William Young would make the 110 mile journey to purchase fuel (gasoline, not diesel); hauling it in a wagon containing 50 gallon barrels.  Mainly used at a 3,200 acre dry farm at Piute Knoll and Piute Springs, between 1912 to 1915; a severe drought forced bankruptcy and the use of the Big 4 came to an end.

Eventually purchased by the City of Monticello in 1962, it was featured, and driven, only once in the Pioneer Day Parade.  However, it made its way to Veterans Memorial Park, where it sat rusting, disused, except by the children who played in the park and loved to climb the tractor.  Long story short, the tractor was eventually restored, is housed in its own protective building next to the Frontier Museum on Main Street; proudly cruising in the Pioneer Day Parade yearly.

So back to my story about pot, no, not that pot, another type of pot, namely a cooking vessel.  Besides Pioneer Day’s celebration, reunions and get-togethers of all types are a summer event; graduating classes, family, military, and the simple, “let’s just get-together and celebrate”.  What type of foods are typically served?  Usually, and here comes the pot, potluck meals!  The term “potluck” has its origin in 16th century English, “pot” meaning a cooking pot while “luck” referred to “chance or fortune”.  In this instance, “whatever is available to eat” aka “already cooked in the pot” for unexpected guests who showed up spur of the moment.  By 20th century English, “to take potluck” had acquired a more general sense of “to take what comes” or “to take one’s chances”. 

In America, mid-19th century meaning of potluck became “a communal meal where each guest brings a dish to be shared”.  It often helps if the guests inform the host(s) of what they will be bringing, or get suggestions, so not half the dishes are the same.  Variety is the spice of life, and who wants to eat 12 different types of potato salad at one meal!?!

Since I did mention potato salad, here’s a recipe for a new style I experimented on, with deliciously amazing results; oven baked potato salad.  While any type of potato can be used for this recipe, I prefer using Golden Yukon Potatoes.  The flesh is yellow, buttery flavored with a creamier texture than other types, such as russet, red-skinned or even Idaho baking potatoes.  The skin is thin, so I don’t peel it all off, but leave some for color and texture.

Oven Baked Potato Salad


1 medium to large potato per person
1 tsp. olive oil per potato
1 tsp. mayonnaise per potato
Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 450F.  Line a baking dish with aluminum foil.

Peel the potatoes (leave some skin on for color and texture, or not), cut into 2-inch pieces and place into bowl.  Add one teaspoon of olive oil, for each potato, mix well and place potatoes onto aluminum foil (use spatula to get all the oil in as well). 

Cover the potatoes with another section of foil, folding ends of both sections of foil together to create a packet.  Place into the oven for one hour.  Remove from oven, cut a slit into top of foil (be care of escaping steam) and pour potatoes into a bowl (some might have stuck to the foil and browned; add them in anyway, they’re yummy this way!).

Mix in one teaspoon of mayonnaise per potato used, add salt and pepper to taste.  This potato salad can be eaten hot or cold.  It is so delicious, you might want to add in extra potatoes and other ingredients for those who will definitely want seconds!

Mary Cokenour

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