A modern take on camp beans paired with beef steak and fried potatoes makes a hearty but easy made meal.
I’m always reading these recipes online, usually from some cook from New York City, for things called Cowboy Cattle Drive Casserole, Cowboy Cookies, Cowboy this, and Cowboy that??? Well, I don’t know for sure, but some modern day Cowboy’s may well be eating that stuff, but the Cowboys I knew growing up ate meat, tators, beans, and biscuits. In the old days, before refrigeration became common, they ate lots of cured pork, rabbit, or fresh chicken. Beef on the menu, only becoming abundant after refrigeration and freezers became available in the mid-20th Century, for most people, in the rural parts of northeast Oklahoma.
As a child growing up, I spent a lot of time at my Grandparents home in Centralia, Oklahoma, which is now a Ghost Town. There was back then, as well as today, many ranches and Cowboys in the area. I used to hang out at the small businesses in town at that time. There were only three, a store and two garages. The local men of the community would gather at these businesses to socialize and play Dominoes or Moon. The Ranch Cowboy’s would be traveling from pasture to pasture performing their work and would periodically stop in town, to have a part welded or flat fixed at one of the garages, or sometimes they would stop in the store, to have a quick bite for lunch.
In the summertime, there was lots of hayfield work going on and at lunchtime you would find a mixture of Hay Haulers, Cowboy’s, and what Grandpa called, “Loafers”, hanging around the store. I don’t ever remember these Cowboys eating Cowboy Cattle Drive Casserole for lunch, no; they were usually eating a fresh store made bologna and cheese sandwiches, or a can or two of Vienna sausages and crackers.
I was always amazed by these Cowboys when I was young. They were usually driving an old ranch truck with stock racks, and have a saddled horse jumped up in the back of the truck, or pulling an open top trailer with one or two saddled horses in it. They would walk into the store wearing a sweat-soaked cowboy hat, a bandanna either around their neck or hanging out their back pocket, for wiping sweat, pearl snap long-sleeved shirts, spurs on their boots that jingled as they walked, and leather gloves in one of their back pockets of their blue jeans. These Cowboys were the real thing and nothing like the ones we were seeing portrayed at the Coleman Theater Saturday afternoon matinees. They would eat their lunch, then put in a fresh chew of Beechnut or Redman, and be off to work again.
Recently, I decided to cook up some beans, different from my normal versions, using ONLY ingredients that I would assume were available to these “Old Time” cow camp cooks. I wanted to see if I could create a quality bean dish using limited ingredients. I was very pleased how the beans turned out, and proved to myself, that by using your imagination, quality meals can be produced with limited ingredients. I then took those same ingredients I used for the beans and adjusted them to match modern day conveniences for a recipe I now call Cow Camp Chuck Beans. Next, I paired them with a beef steak cooked over an open flame, sliced some potatoes and fried them in an iron skillet, and added some homemade biscuits, for “my version” of Cowboy Chuck.
Cow Camp Chuck Beans
Ingredients1 lb Pinto Beans 8 slices Fresh Side Meat Chopped 1 Tablespoon Bacon Grease ½ Onion Chopped 1 clove Garlic Minced 2 Large Dried Ancho Chilies (Stems and Seeds removed) Toasted in a skillet and Ground 1 Tablespoon Ground Cumin 1 Tablespoon Sweet Paprika 1 Teaspoon Powdered Garlic Powder Salt and Pepper to Taste
Soak Beans in Cold Water for at least 2 hrs.
In a Dutch oven, add Bacon Grease and Salt & Peppered Chopped Side Meat, Sauté till meat starts to brown, add chopped onion and Minced Garlic and Sauté till Onions are soft.
Rinse Beans and add to the Pot, cover with water, add Ground Chilies, Garlic Powder, Paprika, and Cumin. Bring Beans to a boil, then turn down heat to simmer, adding water as needed until done. Salt and Pepper to Taste. If Beans are not thick enough, remove 1 cup of cooked beans, mash and add back to the Pot.