Cookie...Bean Burner...Gut Robber...Belly Cheater are some nicknames given to old west chuckwagon cooks. It is said that Charles Goodnight was the father of the mobile kitchen as far back as 1866. Goodnight was a very successful Texas cattle rancher and needed a way to feed his men on the trail.
The staples of chuck wagon fare would be pickled items, smoked or salt cured meats such as salt pork, beans, coffee, perhaps potatoes and onions as they all kept well on the trail. What was a rarity are fruits and vegetables unless they were found along the way. If they were really lucky a nearby farm would trade for eggs or milk.
There are still ways to experience this old west way of cookery. The American Chuck Wagon Association has events one could attend. One of the largest is the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium in New Mexico in October.
The Blogger Man family took part in a cookout a few summers ago. Although not a true chuck wagon experience...it was a great time. At the Roosevelt Lodge in Yellowstone National Park, they offer an "Old West Dinner Cookout". This is set down a trail from the main lodge. You either take a wagon ride through the sagebrush and lodgepole pines or like we did, a two hour guided horseback ride.
Disclaimer: After much searching, I was unable to locate our own photos...you'll just have to trust me that we went. So I will simply steal photos from the web.
When you arrive at camp...and attempt to regain your composure from sitting on a horse for two hours...a singer is strumming a guitar and singing western songs and...
...the cowboys/girls are around a campfire having and serving coffee.
Once everone has arrived and settled in, the dinner bell is rang. Hearty steaks with all-you-can-eat coleslaw, potato salad, baked beans, chuck wagon corn, corn muffins, watermelon, fruit crisp, and assorted beverages are offered.
I was not able to find a definitive recipe for "chuck wagon corn", but I am assuming it is corn with red and green bell peppers added and perhaps some onion.
The return horse ride takes us back via the wagon road which is only about a half hour long. My muscles and bones appreciated that!
Back at the lodge, we sat on the porch on hickory chairs while people milled about. We finished the day with a beer and two fingers of Pendleton whisky.
Inside the main Roosevelt lodge the dining room offers what I would consider "western" food. Bison burgers, wild game chili, mesquite chicken, trout, ribs and all the fixin's.
One recipe is provided for their baked beans:
Our lodging for the night were in cabins next to the main lodge. The lodge itself doesn't have accommodations, only the cabins..."Frontier" (with a bathroom) and "Roughrider" (without). Ours were the later and was just fine...the rustic cabin, it's only source of heat was a small pot bellied stove all added toward a great family experience.