If for a brief time you are situated where none but canned meats can be obtaineda situation which from the standpoint of gastronomic comfort is to to be avoided as far as possible-you will find that the following dish, known to us as “The Cow-boy’s Delight,” will prove an acceptable interlude in the monotony:
Into a pint of boiling water slice two small on-ions and several potatoes; season well with salt and pepper; and when the potatoes are nearly done, add one can of corned beef cut into dice. If you have butter and flour, rub together a teaspoonful of each and thicken with it. This amount will barely suffice for two normal appetites on a cold day, and if a reasonably hungry cowboy drops in, the quantity will need to be at least doubled. If corned beef is scarce, use more potatoes and onions.
A dish which in our camp experience we have found particularly palatable to all partakers, goes by the name of “The Arizona Special.” It is compounded as follows:
Put into a saucepan one and one-half cups of corn-meal. Pour boiling water upon this till it is of the consistency of chicken feed. Add a lump of butter, varying from the size of a walnut to that of an egg, according to your supply of butter. Cover this closely that the meal may steam and the butter melt. Beat up two eggs and add them, with one teaspoonful of salt and two of sugar, to the cornmeal after the butter is melted. Beat this together and add sufficient cold water to make a rather thick batter that will dropnot pourfrom the spoon. Add to this two rounding teaspoonfuls of baking powder; beat thoroughly, and turn into your frying pan, which must be hot on the camp-fire or stove and greased with plenty of bacon fat. Cover closely with a tight lid and cook over a very slow fire. By being closely covered, this mixture will be practically baked. It should be turned out upon the lid when done and slid back again into the frying pan with the brown side up so as to brown the side that was on top. If this is properly made, your only difficulty will be in supplying enough of it.
“But,” some one objects, “where are eggs to be had in the wilderness?”
Of course, if you have no eggs, do not use them; but as explained elsewhere in this book, one who believes in comfort in camping can arrange to have them under any ordinary conditions. They are no more trouble to transport than anything else when you get used to it. Naturally, however. there are times when the best laid plans for an egg-supply gang agley, in which emergency, a pleasant dish is the following, which even at home is one of the best ways of using corn-meal.
Make a plain corn-meal mush, boiling it, if you have the time, for several hours. Allow it to cool only slightly, meantime stirring it well. It should be well salted and quite thick in consistency. Now into a frying pan with an abundance of hot bacon fat, drop this hot corn-meal by spoonfuls making so many fat little cakes, each separate from the other. When one side of a cake has browned this will take some timeturn the other side to brown also. Serve “hot off the griddle.” Simple as the process sounds, it must be carefully done to get the right results ; but when successful, the taste of this is entirely different from that of the usual fried cold corn-meal mush, and is sure to make a sensation with those who have not eaten it be-fore.
To one of our desert camps, three young men employed upon a Government errand connected with the Geodetic Survey came along with their pack-train one morning, and we invited them to stay to dinner. We happened to be flush of corn-meal that day, and our guests were accordingly served with this particular make of mush. From the rapidity with which it disappeared from the plates, we soon saw it had made a hit. Presently in the midst of an animated conversation, one of the party, in the act of putting a piece of mush in his mouth, paused and suddenly said to Sylvia:
“Madam, I beg your pardon, but is this delectable thingmush””
“Just what I’ve been wanting to ask ever since we began eating,” said Number Two; “it’s sure out of sight.”
“Mush! you clodhopper!” interjected Number Three, “it can’t beit’s ambrosia. Mush was never like that.”
When the true inwardness of the article was explained to them and the consumption of it was resumed, Number One nodded his head to the others. Solemnly he remarked, as one who had seen a great light on his future course:
“Get on to that, boys, she fries it while it’s hot.”
There are times when a frying-pan with a tight lid is not to be scorned as an oven. Besides the “Arizona Special” already described, we have frequently, in emergencies, had to make b. king-powder bread in a frying-pan. Two cups of flour, a heaping teaspoonful of shortening, a teaspoonful of baking powder, salt to taste and cold water to make a stiff dough, are all that are needed. A piece of brown paper spread on a stone answers fora table in an impromptu camp, and a bottle makes a good rolling-pin. Flour the paper and the rolling pin bottle, if the dough sticks ; roll it out into a cake half an inch in thickness, and bake it in the frying-pan with a lid tightly on, over a very slow fire. Of course when the bottom side browns when nearly done, the bread can be turned over and browned on the other side. Be sure not to have too hot a fire, or the bread will scorch on the outside and be raw in the middle Since it is more digestible, we prefer this sort of bread to the usual camper’s biscuit which is baked in the frying-pan and tilted up be-fore the fire to brown the tops.
There is also no reason, when camping for any protracted stay, why one should not have yeast-risen bread in a California camp. This idea may be ridiculed by those accustomed to rougher camp life, but we have never observed that there is any flagging on the part of these Spartans in consuming their full share of any homemade bread set be-fore them in the wilds.
Presupposing that one understands bread making at home, one simply sets the sponge at night, putting it in the camp oven after the fire is extinguished, and while the oven still retains a slight heat. In the morning make up the bread in the dough, set it well covered in the sun to rise, and bake in the oven of the camp-stove. If a stove is not in camp, yeast bread may be baked in, a Dutch oven, but for success in this one must thoroughly understand the management of this historic cooking-pot. The yeast to be employed in all this is that for sale everywhere in the West in the form of dried cakes. Be sure that it is not stale.
Of the few tinned goods which we have carried on our outings, we have always found canned tomatoes the most useful, despite the prejudice which exists against them in some minds’ on the score of health. Being so extensively used throughout the West, they are, we believe, generally put up with care, and we have never experienced any deleterious results from them. The men on the cattle ranges find the liquidity of a fresh-opened can of tomatoes a decided improvement on the alkaline water of many arid sections, and to them it serves as meat and drink. Of the many ways in which the juice and the tomato itself may be employed in cookery, perhaps the least known is the fried canned tomato. With a little butter hot in a frying-pan, the larger and firmer pieces of the canned tomato will generally be found solid enough to fry very satisfactorily. Season well, cover them closely in the pan, and be careful that they do not scorch.
Next in value to the tomato, canned corn is recommended. This, besides being useful heated and served as it comes from the can, may, if you have an egg or two, be developed into quite a presentable corn-pudding, or if beaten up with an equal quantity of corn-meal into a thin hatter with an egg, a little butter and baking powder, and the whole baked in the form of cakes in the frying-pan, a result is attained which in the wilderness has more than once been feelingly voted “an all-right corn fritter, you bet.”
One finds some excellent brands of canned string beans in Western stores, but in view of your necessary stock of dried beans, the canned articles need not enter into your calculations, unless you have a surplus of room. In that event, a can of these string beans will make a very pleasant interlude of greenery in a long-draw.-out diet of dried foods.
In the matter of cooking fish in the wilderness, there is some choice. One of the best ways is the time-honored one of wrapping the fish, well washed, salted and peppered, in damp tissue paper if you have it, or failing that in ordinary brown manila paper dampened, and laying it thus enveloped in. the hot ashes of the camp-fire. Some experience will be needed to teach the novice the proper hotness of the ashes and the length of time to leave the fish in, but the knowledge gained will be worth the sacrifice of a few trout. It is to be noted that the ashes, while they need to be quite hot, must not contain redhot coals to come in contact with the fish. The degree of heat striven for in your ashes should be in a general way that of a hot oven, for which the ash-bed acts as a substitute.
To secure in the fish an entirely different but just as delicious a flavor, find a thin, smooth slab of stone a foot or so square, and support this at the four corners on four small stones to serve as short legs. Build under the slab a hot fire and keep it going until the stone is thoroughly heated; then grease this improvised griddle with bacon fat, and lay your fish, well seasoned, upon it. If the fish are small, it will not be necessary to turn them as the steady heat of the stones will cook them evenly through.
In making this sort of a griddle, do not be disturbed if a stone or two flies explosively into several pieces. Some stones do that. In such an event, try another kind.
“Salmon à la San Francisco” is excellent for using up a can of salmon already opened. It received its name from being a popular dish in the dark days immediately succeeding the great San Francisco fire, when everybody was cooking in the streets and open lots. This is it : Boil potatoes so as to have rather more potato than salmon. Mix potato and salmon and season highly with salt and pepper and scraped onion, chopping in also, if you have it, a boiled egg. Add a little warm water to keep from being too dry, and bake in a frying-pan tightly covered over a very slow fire, as directed for the “Arizona Special.”
Apropos of rabbits, on which the camper-out in California reckons more or less largely for variety in his bill of fare, it is said that the flesh of the jack-rabbit at some seasons of the year, is not good for food; but in our own experience we have never encountered specimens which were not perfectly satisfactory if parboiled for a few minutes, the water then thrown out, and the meat started again in a fresh supply of hot, salted water. The jack-rabbit, which at its best is a delicious game meat, is always preferably to be boiled or baked; but of course when it comes to “them leetle bresh rabbits,” as one of our chance acquaintances ‘in the San Gabriel foothills lovingly called the Mollie Cottontails, these may be fried as simply and easily as spring chickens.