“Asleep he rides the range.
On a saddle that has seen its better days.
And hear the coyotes call.
They sing the sun to rest as evening falls.”
Recorded by Eddy Arnold
Written by Harry Shannon and Ron Fraser
Growing up, and learning about American History in school, the books used did not go past the Mississippi River. Surprisingly, when my son was in elementary, middle and high schools, the history books used were the very same ones that I had learned from. American History began with the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock and ended with the Vietnam War; and no mention of any of the states west of the Mississippi.
Being a “latch-key kid”, my best friend, and babysitter, was the television, and I would watch westerns like they were about to go out of style. I loved the cowboys, and the indigenous people referred to as Indians, the ramshackle towns with the sassy, brassy female tavern owners. The gun fights were exciting, as well as the posse going after the villain. Oh, but the landscapes, how wondrous were they! I never thought I would actually get to see the states where out of this world landscapes were the norm, and now I live there!
Of course, every good western had the chuck wagon rolling along with the cattle drive. Huge cast iron pots elevated over roaring fires, steam rising up from whatever was being cooked. The men sitting around with empty bowls, full bellies, and then someone would pull out a guitar, begin strumming, and the singing would begin.
Cattle Drive near Looking Glass Road
What I wanted to know was, what were they cooking, eating, and was so good? Picking up a copy of The Cowboy Chuck Wagon Cookbook, by Kelsey Dollar, I was hoping to be educated on this subject. Published in 2003, and even though the author has been born, raised and lived in the southwest, I had much doubt that the cowboys of the 1800s ate as well as the recipes listed in this manual. I could imagine rabbit or venison stew, beans and potatoes, but zucchini bread and banana cake? I just could not imagine zucchini plants and banana trees growing amongst the sage and rabbit brush. Of course, chuck wagons did have basic staples such as beans, rice, potatoes, flour, sugar, and seasonings; maybe some dried fruits, hardy vegetables and herbs. Then again, I am an east coast gal who learned about the southwest via Hollywood invented shows and movies, so what did I really know?
Anyway, back to the cookbook; eyes closed, flipping the pages, and my finger landed on “Aunt Polly’s Dumplings” (page 80). Depending on the area you might have been raised in, dumplings are very different in definition. There are the Asian based dumplings which appeared in the January 13, 2023 issue of the San Juan Record; have you tried making those yet? In the Slavic areas of Europe, pierogies, filled with meat or cheese, were considered a dumpling. In the British Isles, and America, though, a mixture of salt, water, fat and flour created a very lumpy batter. This batter was separated into portions and dumped into a simmering stew or soup; hence, they were called either lumplings (due to the batter texture) or dumplings (due to being dumped into a cooking pot). Of course, with the invention of baking soda and baking powder, plus an increased use of milk and butter, the totally edible, and very enjoyable, biscuit was created.
So, as I watch the snow being plastered onto my windows, the hankering for a hot and hardy helping of chicken and dumplings is feeling good right now.
Aunt Polly’s Dumplings
Pinch of salt
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. butter
½ cup milk
1 egg (optional)
Mix top ingredients together like a pie crust. (I think they mean salt, flour, baking powder and butter) Then mix all ingredients together. (I think that means add milk and the optional egg) Drop spoonfuls into your favorite soup. (For me, I top my chicken mixture) Cover. Cook until centers are not doughy.
I realize the directions are a bit, huh? However, I think the author is trying his best to imitate the style of a chuck wagon cook, in the 1800s. Nothing fancy, just get ‘er done!