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The Chuckwagon Cookbook

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 The Chuckwagon Cookbook By B. Byton Price

Recipes from the Ranch and Range for Today's Kitchen by B. Byron Price  

Since 1991, the the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, has sponsored a Chuck Wagon Gathering in late spring dedicated to the history and traditions of cow camp cooking. Dozens of contemporary cowboy cooks have put on demonstrations during the gathering, sharing meals and recipes with visitors while telling the story of open range cookery.

B. Byron Price, director of the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of the American West, has compiled many of those recipes in this volume along with some history of cow camp cuisine dating back to the mid-19th century.

"Historians credit freighter-turned-ranch Charles Goodnight with creating the prototype chuck wagon in 1866," Price explains. "His model was simply a wooden cupboard made of bois d'arc (Osage orangewood) that was bolted to the rear of an army wagon. The design of this 'chuck' or 'grub' box, as it became known, perhaps drew inspiration from the portable writing desks of the period and the compact mess chests then popular with travelers, campers, and soldiers for cooking and dining in the field."

Price goes on to explain how use of the chuck wagon spread across the American West with the massive cattle drives that employed thousands of hungry cowboys. The chuck wagon and its basic, down-to-earth meals became as much as fixture of cowboy culture as saddles and spurs.

"The ranks of range cooks were filled by men of many cultures and backgrounds," Price points out. Experienced and competent camp cooks were always in demand, but when pressed to fill a suddenly vacated post many outfits had to make do with draftees, even if they could barely "tan a steak" or had trouble boiling water without burning it.

This cookbook combines colorful stories of these characters and their culinary methods with recipes somewhat tempered to the modern palate and accessorized kitchen. 

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