COWBOY BEANS, Also known as, Whistle berries, Pecos strawberries and Fart-n-darts

courtesy of Google Images

In my latest travels out West, I had to make a stop at a small eatery in Cave Creek Arizona where they serve what I think is the worlds greatest bowl of beans. More a bean soup than anything else, the dish simply burst with the flavor of beans. Sitting there enjoying my big bowl of beans in their own gravy, I made a vow that when I got back home I’d  re create this recipe. The menu at the place simply said, “Cowboy Beans” so I was left on my own to discover their recipe.

Within a few days of returning home, I dragged out my heritage recipe collections to see if any I had came close to the recipe they served up there in Cave Creek.  Nope.

I discovered that all my recipes were of the variety that made thick, brown sugar and molasses style beans. Similar to the popular Boston Baked beans or store bought Bushe’s or Campbell’s Baked beans.  These, I am positive, were not the same style found whipped up by trail cooks from their Chuck wagons.

I had never thought much about what kind of beans those Cowboys really ate and that got me thinking. Exactly what kind of beans did they really eat while out on the trail?

They surely didn’t do the molasses style since that would have meant traveling with loads of brown sugar and jars of molasses. The sugar would have quickly hardened into a rock and the molasses , being rare out west, would have been worth its weight in gold.

Since many trail drives started out in or around Texas, it made sense then that the spices,  beans and cultural taste would be indigenous to the Mexican influence.

I scoured the Western cooking blogs and web sites and found to my amazement, most posted nothing but common syrup thick pork –n-bean recipes and even at that, they used canned rather than dried beans.

Now I have a slight sugar problem, not bad mind you but enough to make me alter my cooking habits a bit in order I don’t fall over dead before I complete my personal bucket list.

So I went about searching through every type of cook book from Western to Vegan for a healthier, non sugar recipe and still I could not find what I had in mind.

Then I found it. When I had been camping out in Texas, I ran across a State of Texas sponsored history attraction that was dedicated to the Texas Trail drives. There amidst the Charles Goodnight collection, was an old Chuck Wagon showing how it was set up. Alongside it in a glass and wooden case, was the reproduction of a few common recipes used back in the day. I photographed them closely and then immediately forgot about them.

Suddenly remembering this, I opened up my Kodak collection of photos and found what I had been searching for. Their recipe for ‘beans in gravy’ eaten on the trail.

Well, I immediately converted the recipe into today’s amounts and whatnot. I changed the sautéing of the veggies in butter and oil versus a “a good hand sized glob of suet” (it sounds worse than it is, suet was a homemade tasty unfiltered lard .

While the beans stayed the same, I had to guess on what a ‘ Mexican pepper’  was,  so I used a combination of one  Poblano and two Cubano peppers. There are many I could have used but these are common down here. I charred them up on an open fire like written but changed from canned to fresh and roasted, my diced up tomatoes. All in all, the new recipe was near as possible to that of the real Chuck Wagon one.

Let me say this. I was thrilled with my beans, they were absolutely delicious!

Sometimes heritage recipes aren’t as tasty, well formed or as good looking as those of today, but a heritage recipe whether good or bad does something a modern recipe can never do. It lets you literally touch the past by using your tongue.


 

 Ingredients

2 cups of dried (not canned) red beans

2 cups of dried (not canned) pinto beans. Some folks advise to pressure cook these guys before hand to get ’em soft

1 large yellow onion (Spanish or Sweet is fine) chopped up fine

3 Tbl chopped up garlic

3 green chili, Cubano, Poblano (your choice of Mexican ) peppers. Grill or roast them up for a minute then then chop them up

3 ripe tomatoes, grill them up for a minute then remove seeds and chop them up

1 Tbl vegetable oil for sauteing veggies (if using olive oil, use light to reduce the olive flavor)

1 Tbl of butter added to sauteing oil

7 quarts of water (for added flavor use 2 cups of vegetable stock and 5 quarts of water)

1 large ham bone with meat attached, pig foot or large slab of salt pork or suet. (Add extra pork fat if using ham bone for taste and

for added ham flavor, add 2 packets of Goya Ham Concentrate to the mix)

Spices

1 1/2 tsp coriander seed (toast them up first in a small skillet for bursting flavor, toast until you smell them)

1 whole unbroken bay leaf (remove after cooking)

OPTIONAL,  Add 2 dried hot red chili peppers (1/8 tsp of cayenne pepper can be used instead if you ain’t got chilli peppers)

1 tsp of black pepper during simmering

1 tsp of salt during simmering. (Salt to taste,  add more salt if desired when almost finished cooking)

Cooking instructions

Soak beans overnight in water to cover, changing water once; drain.

When beans are ready, saute onion, garlic, green chiles and tomatoes in butter and oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.

Add water / stock and ham bone then bring to a boil.

Add beans, toasted coriander seed, bay leaf and dried chilies.

Continue to boil for 30 minutes, then lower heat, cover and simmer for three to four hours.

After a few hours of simmering, remove the lid, leave it off, and season beans with salt again to taste.

Continue to cook until beans are soft but not mushy.

Remove ham bone and bay leaf before serving.

Makes about 16 servings

Fire roast the tomatoes before chopping them up

Chop up the tomatoes

Chop the onion up into small pieces

Saute veggies in butter and oil

Add Ham bone. I save my ham bones from previous hams by freezing them after the ham is eaten. Add fat to the ham bone as by itself, it will be too lean.

Add microwave heated ham to pot

Roast up the Coriander in a skillet

Fill pot with 7 quarts of water and start to boil. Add beans only after pot is boiling

Boil covered for 4 hrs then uncover and add salt

Don’t forget to remove ham bone, fat and bay leaf when cooking is finished.

Old west ditty.

“Beans, beans the musical fruit,

the more you eat the more you toot!

The more you toot, the better you feel,

So eat your beans at every meal!

Advertisements

Moist, sweet creamed corn cornbread

I returned from my Western States adventure with mixed emotions. Oh, don’t get me wrong now, I had myself a great ‘Ol time. I went discovering, (read my blog at www.campfireshadows.com) gold prospecting, wandered around the desert and mountains… I just had a ball!

What I meant to say though, was after unpacking my vehicle, putting all my wash together, repacking all my outdoor gear etc, I stepped into the kitchen and stood there just looking. The one room I love to make a mess in was spotless, like no one lived here. It looked down right lonesome! My pots hung without movin’,  my stove had no drips on it, my sink was empty… dang it if I didn’t feel bad starin’ at it.

Well, bein’ a fella that doesn’t sit around mopin’, I opened the fridge to see what I had readily available for that evenings dinner. I wasn’t about to go out and fast food it, I did that travelin’ all the way back home!  Inside the freezer I still had some containers of chilli I could thaw out, all I needed was some of my cornbread mix to go with it.

I usually make a giant tub of corn bread dry ingredient mix and keep it in the freezer. When I want corn bread, I scoop out 3 cups of the dry mix and add a single batch amount of wet ingredients to it.

By 6pm I had a quart of thawed and heated chilli and my cornbread skillet ready to pop into the oven.

I use a cast iron skillet to bake my corn bread in. The thickness of the cast iron makes sure the baking is even and the sides brown the cornbread perfectly to a golden brown.

As I was maulin’ my meal, I wondered how many folks even eat cornbread anymore. I know the ones I know up in West Virginia eat it with nearly every meal. Someday I’ll post their Cornbread casserole recipe! But like most people, they follow the directions on the package and end up with a dry ‘Ol crumbly cornbread that when eaten, imitates you draggin’ yourself through the Sonora Arizona desert at high noon with no water! Dry!

Well my cornbread ain’t that way at all! Soft (almost cake like), sweet, pieces of real corn within it, and best of all…Moist!

Try this recipe out just once. If you don’t like it… well, if you don’t like it then your taste buds must be damaged to all get out from all that dry crusty stuff you tried draggin’ over your tongue with previous corn bread recipes!

Corn bread

Dry mix ingredients;

1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1 1/2 cups of all purpose unbleached flour

1 1/2 cups of corn meal

½ cup of granulated sugar

Wet ingredients;

2 large eggs

1 cup of milk or butter milk

1/2 can (15 oz size of can) of creamed corn. Use only half of the can then freeze the rest in a zip lock bag for future use

2 Tablespoons of melted butter

 

Directions;

              pre heat oven to 400 degrees

1-      Using a spatula, mix dry ingredients together well in a large mixing bowl.

2-      In a separate smaller bowl whisk together eggs and milk.

3-      Stir in melted butter and creamed corn into the milk and egg mixture. Do not whisk.

4-      Create a low spot within the center of the dry mix bowl and slowly pour and mix the wet and dry ingredients together

5-      Pour into a 9” cast iron skillet or round 9” cake pan.

6-       Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown and the cornbread springs back when lightly when pressed with the spatula.

* Photo by the author in his kitchen

Hands down, the finest sweet potato pie ever made!

A honest to gosh true Southern favorite. It’s so good folks, I now use it as a desert!

 

 

Crust:

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour. Do not use bread flour as it has too much gluten protiens in it.

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup finely-chopped pecans

1/2 cup cold butter (one stick)

1/4 cups ice-cold water, or as needed

( The original recipe calls for doing all this by hand. Trust me, use the modern method!)

In a food processor, pulse together all the dry ingredients, including nuts and the butter into short bursts until the mixture forms pea-sized lumps. Add the water through the feed chute as you pulse until the mixture forms a stiff dough and pulls away from the sides of the food processor bowl. Form the dough into a 6-inch disk and wrap it in plastic; chill for one hour. The dough can be made in advance. It can be kept refrigerated for several days and even frozen.

Filling:

1/3 cup chopped pecans, medium chopped

2 to 3 large sweet potatoes (about 2 lbs total), peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 large eggs, slightly beaten

1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

1/2 teaspoon real vanilla extract or 3/4 teaspoon immitation vanilla

1 tablespoon melted butter

Pecan halves for decoration

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Roll the chilled pie dough into a 12-inch round and press into a 9-inch pie pan. Flute the edges. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the crust is set and beginning to brown slightly. Remove the pie pan from the oven and let it cool.
  • Put the sweet potatoes into a medium pot and cover them with water by an inch. Bring to a boil. Boil slowly until the potatoes are tender with no absolutely no resistance at the center when pierced with a fork.
  • Drain off the water and mash the potatoes by hand with a potato masher. Do not use a food processor or mixer.
  • As you mash the potatoes, add the sugar, cinnamon, medium fine pecans and nutmeg; then whisk in the eggs, milk, and vanilla. The butter goes in last.
  • Once the filling is well-mixed, pour it into the baked pie crust. Discard vany extra mix. Do not over fill crust. Arrange pecan halves around the outside edges and sprinkle the top of the pie with more ground cinnamon. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the filling is set and the edges of the crust have browned.
  • Serve the pie warm or at room temperature with real sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.