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Friday, March 8, 2013

Cowboy Baked Beans

When chuck wagon cook Wayne Calk called out to friends for help with a really good bean recipe on the facebook chuckwagon cooking group, he never imagine receiving so much assistance.  Wayne, who is the 2013 President of the American Chuck Wagon Association, is a long time competitor in chuck wagon cooking as well caters across Texas and New Mexico with his home in El Paso. As he was getting ready to compete in the Cowboy Country Round-Up held early March in Hondo, Texas, Wayne desired too stregthen his bean recipe.  After receiving eight different responses, he narrowed it down too two before finally making the decision which recipe to use.  

Chuckwagon competitions are judged and evaluated in several different categories.  Meat, Beans, Potatoes, Bread and Dessert, as well on their personal wagon and camp cooking in an authentic 1880 period using cast iron dutch ovens, cauldrons and skillets wearing period correct attire just as those early cowboys would  working the trail drives of the 1800's.

After much consideration, Wayne select a bake bean recipe calling for Maple Syrup as part of the ingredients.  He knew they would truly be great tasting, but did not know if he could master the recipe in time to place an award in the Bean category.

Adapting the recipe from feeding a mere 8 servings, Wayne needed to calculated his measurements to feed at least 60 full servings.  After making his adjustments, he began soaking the beans on Friday night so they would be ready to cook Saturday morning in time for the competition.

As morning soon came upon Wayne's crew, the fire pit was fed more wood. The coffee beans ground, water put on to boil and just before the sun began too break the horizon, he drained off the water of the soaked beans then adding other ingredients as he prepped everything for the days competition.  

Through the morning, his crew prepped making sourdough biscuits, two bowls set with flour for battering chicken fried steak.  Additional bowls are being made ready to fill several dutch ovens the blended ingredients for peach cobbler dessert.

As the pinto beans were slowly cooking, the simmering aroma combined of pork and maple syrup promoted the growing appetites among the cowboys with the soothing smell  of  fresh brew coffee over the camp fires.  The potatoes having been peeled and boiled were removed by another member of the crew as he starts mashing them by hand the old fashion way salting for taste.  Wayne stirs in additional ingredients to the beans ensuring the perfect amount of  each as he then samples the taste with a spoon full.

Crowds of folks begin to gather around ever camp attracted to all those aromas. As they walk about inspecting each wagon, one can see their amusement through their eyes as the view an array of western antiques.  A nostalgic panorama of western culture. The chuckwagons are each a private collection outfitted with historic artifacts of museum quality dating well beyond a hundred years old.  Each wagon meeting the rules established through the ACWA are required to have solid wooden spoke wheels, iron tires,  double side boards, full tongue with double tree along with a complete pair of harness ready to hitch.  The wagon box equipped with a jockey box full of tools, 30 gallon water barrel and chuck box are just a minimum yet each camp has their own touches just as each ranch outfit would have been during those trail driving days now long past.  Bed rolls nested near the wagon, high back buckaroo saddles, and other cowboy gear along with western guns often decorate the camps along with cookware and vintage utensils.  The ACWA through these competitive events keep the legacy and heritage alive as each competing member shares stories with tourist who came out to watch these cowboys perform.  Each knowledge of the history around the chuck wagon and willing to talk about their own collection before visitors begin to sitting down to their chuck wagon meal. 

Completing each dish for the lunch meal, the serving tables are ready for the crowd.  Large 14 and 16 inch cast iron dutch ovens line the tables and the crew stand ready to feed the public with serving spoons in hand.  Then with the ringing of the old triangle iron sounds the dinner bell as the cook clacks a metal rod around and around and cries out calling to the crowd, "Come and get it. Get it while it's hot."

Wayne restored his John Deere Triumph wagon.  Originally, the wagon was used for farm and light freight though ranches often converted these wagons to meet their needs.  Wayne also owns a Ford Model TT Truck converted into a Chuck-Truck which he also often uses catering.  To date, there are perhaps only three of these trucks in private collections and one in the Ford-Edison museum.

As the day came to and end, an award ceremony is held after some tough judging.  Each category awarded First, Second and Third place, and then Best over all:  Competition is always tough and walking away with one award is a good day, but for Wayne and his crew, they prove their hard work as they hear the award for third place wagon category, third place potatoes, but they nailed FIRST place in beans on a gamble that could have resulted in dead last.  I was honored to sample a taste of those beans, and must confess, they were mighty good and well deserving of the award.  The recipe shared to Wayne was given to me by Greg Martin, a good ole cowboy from Oklahoma.  Wayne truly proved Greg's recipe to be an Award Winning
 Cowboy Bake Beans.      
Wayne Calk displaying his Cowboy Baked Beans with Roger Edison

You can read about Wayne's amazing Chuck Truck, here:   Read about the Amazing Truck here: 

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