Saturday, January 30, 2010


By definition cowboys are herders on horseback who tend cattle, and perform other ranch-related duties. However, the historic American cowboy is the stuff of legend, a hero, the lone spirit of independence and self-reliance. What every kid dreamed of as he re-enacted the wild frontier with cowboys and Indians, his holster hanging low on his hips, a sharp-shooter in hand, cowboy hat tilted just so, spurs on his boots, but most of all a whole lot of attitude. A cowboy lives what he believes, and doesn't care about fitting into anybody else's idea of how he should live, act, or be. He's got his own moral code, one based on substance, strength, courage, and chivalry. He's a short-hand for honest labor, wide open spaces, and western traditions. The "every man"' you can count on to "cowboy up" in tough times.

"I wasn't really shot with a silver bullet," she confessed to no one in particular. "Or was I?"
She smiled the deliciously secret smile of one who instinctively recognizes the reality of myth.

- tom robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
But what about cowgirls? How do they fit into the Western tradition? Women worked on ranches from the get-go, not just as wives and daughters but hired ranch-hands who worked side by side with the men, and during wartime they even ran them. But it wasn't really until Wild West Shows became popular worldwide that cowgirls started to get noticed as skilled performers. Women like Annie Oakley suddenly became household names, showing off riding skills, bulls-eye marksmanship, and trick roping. Their stars were further hitched by the Hollywood Western, and the increasing popularity of the rodeo. But when I think of cowgirls, my mind hollers trailblazers! Gals with gumption who weren't afraid of hard work, or rough conditions. I imagine back in the day, the notion of women kicking up dust, wrangling horses and herding cattle, or riding bulls on the rodeo circuit, probably just wasn't done, or at least not in polite society. It's reassuring to know that the times didn't necessarily dictate to all women. That there were more than a handful willing to stir up a cuss to assert their own individuality, and wouldn't settle for just rustling up grub for the men. That just like the cowboy, they could "buck up" and pull their own weight. Go get 'em, girl! Yee Hawww!

Cowboy cookery in the Old West was usually served up by chuck wagons. Cowboys were often on the move, and ravenous from the long days and hard work driving cattle. On the long trail, the chuck wagon was "home" on the range. It was Cookie's (as the wagon chef was often called) job to have breakfast ready at the crack of dawn, and hot meals ready at the next camp. At chow time he'd yell, "Chuck away, come an' get it!" If the cowhands got lucky, they'd get something sweet to eat. The most common dessert on the range was dried fruit like peaches, apple, or apricots, stewed up with a lot of sugar. Sometimes sugar was added to biscuit dough and fried up as a make-shift donut. More enterprising Cookies married the two and made hand-pies, as well single-crust, two-crust, and cobblers. On double-crusted varieties, the top crusts were often cut with the outfit's brand, not just for decoration but to let the steam out.

Dried and Fried Fruit Pies
1 1/2 cups dried apricots
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup apricot jam or preserves
1/4 cup finely mince pecans or dry bread crumbs
1 Flaky Pie Crust (*see recipe below)

shortening for frying
  1. In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the apricots with the water. Simmer over low heat until the fruit is plump and soft and most of the water absorbed, about 25 minutes. Add more water if necessary.
  2. Drain the apricots, and chop them. Mix the apricots in a small bowl with the jam or preserves, and the nuts or bread crumbs. Can be refrigerated up to 24 hours.
  3. Roll the pie dough out 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick. Cut it into rounds with the tope of a coffee can or with a large biscuit or cookie cutter. Spread equal portions of filling on each round, moisten the dough edges lightly, and fold the rounds over into half moon shapes. Crimp the edges with a fork.
  4. In a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, heat at least 4 inches of shortening to 350° F. Fry the pies in batches, turning them over midway through the cooking, after they rise to the surface. Remove them when they are golden brown and crispy, about 3 minutes. Drain them, and sprinkle them with sugar. Let them cool for at least 5 minutes before eating. Makes 8 pies.
Note: The pies can be baked rather than fried. Placed them on greased baking sheets, brush them with a little beaten egg, sprinkle with sugar, and bake at 375° F for about 20 minutes, or until they are lightly browned.

Flaky Pie Crust
1/4 cup lard, chilled
1/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
5 to 7 tbsp ice water

Using a food processor, a bow with a pastry blender, or your fingers, cut the lard, butter, and vegetable shortening into the flour and salt. Whatever your method, don't overwork the dough, which reduces flakiness. Add the ice water a few tablespoons at a time, until the dough holds together. Divide the dough into 2 disks, wrap them in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

recipe via foodgeeks

No comments:

Post a Comment