April 29, 2009

COOKING THE BOOKS & Other Economic Musings

by Stephen Bly

Hot baths meant extreme luxury. Only the nicest hotels offered such amenities. Some of the more modest hotels advertised: BATHS--25 cents, USED WATER--15 cents. In my opinion, this provided great motivation to save up your money, or hang out with likewise smelly friends.

Smelly friends might include those of the high finance sort. Early banks in the Old West were usually owned by individuals about as honest as the general population. A number of old-timers didn’t trust them at all. Banks could close up, proprietors move overnight, and monies never retrieved. Some say that form of banking didn’t completely disappear out West until the banks crashed in 1929. Others wonder if that system hasn’t hit the economics of today.

My present female protaganist, Carla Loganaire, (Creede of Old Montana), was raised in fame and fortune circles of her time. Her daddy made mega-dollars with imported glass, mirrors and windows. He partnered with Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. Carla had been over to their New York house many times as a child, but like most young girls, had a crush on Elliot, not TeeDee (Theodore Jr. and future president). Much later she swooned over Avery John Creede, who resembles in deeds and character Tap Andrews and the infamous Stuart Brannon of Arizona fame. Never heard of ‘em? Ah, you’ve got lots of Bly novels to catch up on.

But Avery John Creede didn’t run in Carla’s crowd. That’s the main rub to their on and off romance. She tried to hire Avery a Chinese cook, to improve his culinary tastes. But he much preferred plain trail food of biscuits, bacon, and beans. That fit his pocketbook too. He didn’t even want to slaughter his own cattle. If one wandered in from some other herd, he’d butcher and fry it up. But for the most part, bacon and salt pork suited him fine.

By the late 1880s, air-tights (canned food) were available. That made delicacies like peaches and tomatoes more accessible. But chuck wagon meals could be quite tasty. One trail dessert favorite was called “hounds ears and whirlups.” You dropped sourdough from a spoon into hot grease and fried it brown. The dough would spread out in the shape of a dog’s ear. Whirlup sauce was made from water, sugar, flavoring and spices. If available, dried fruit was chopped or mashed into the mixture and brought to a boil. It thickened a tad as it cooled, then you poured it over the hound ears.

That sounds better to me than Pooch. That dessert consisted of tomatoes, sugar, and bread cooked over the campfire. Ahh, for life on the trail: “Pour the coffee and pass the pooch!”

Romance in the Old West could often be made or broken by culinary likes and dislikes, as much as differences in socio-financial standing.

On the trail,

Available Now! The Land Tamers
Coming Fall 2009! Creede of Old Montana


Vickie McDonough said...

I'm shuddering at the thought of sharing bath water, but it's true that folks used to do that. The baby was washed last--can you believe that?--and that's where the term "don't throw out the baby with the bath water" came from. No wonder infant mortality rates were so high way back when.

I'm not sure if I could gag down Pooch or Hounds tooth. Must be too much of a city gal. :)

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

Vickie: Thanks for the note. Janet's mom used to make a form of Pooch (she was an Oklahoma gal)--she never developed a taste for it, even so.

Terry Burns said...

Stephen, I always enjoy everything you write. This article, and the picture at the top reminded me of when I used to go to the Cowboy Campfire Cookoff. In the pro division you had to be a working ranch cook and I used to love to go and hang out with those guys. My favorite was Richard Bolt who cooked for XIT. Richard taught me how to make a pot of red beans that wouldn't give you gas. I really enjoyed those events. Hmm, maybe I'll do my column on that.

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

Terry: Thanks! Great column idea! We would all benefit, I'm sure.