In April I had the experience of cooking for two weeks for an archaeological crew of 14 currently working in Eagle Nest Canyon. This was as close to cooking for cowboys on the range as I will ever get, and I had always wanted to do that. The chuck box was calling my name! Well, really I wasn’t going to be cooking IN the canyon, but rather in the wonderful kitchen of the Shumla School, temporary headquarters for the Ancient Southwest Texas archaeological project from Texas State University.
Being a planner, I made out menus, downloaded recipes, gathered ingredients and equipment, and took off for the Lower Pecos. I was going to cook everything from scratch, wholesome, real food, with plenty of fresh vegetables and even homemade bread. I could do this, even though I was the only kitchen volunteer the first week. After all, I was only cooking dinner. The crew made their own breakfast, took sandwiches for lunch, and washed their own dishes. What could be hard?
There were various things I hadn’t counted on, however. Like the stove. A huge commercial kitchen stove, with six burners and a grill. It looks intimidating, but after a day or so, I got the hang of it (the ovens are a bit contrary). Something else I had to contend with was simply
finding the stuff to cook with. Where are the pots? ( in the metal cabinet) Where is a spoon? (in the other room) Where are the sharp knives? (there weren’t any–they were all too dull to cut water). Dry food was kept in two huge metal cabinets, and spices were kept in another room–a gigantic pantry. Two freezers held an assortment of stuff, but I basically had to empty them out to find anything. The commercial refrigerator was crammed with my milk, your milk, our milk, and everything else.
I was also overly ambitious. I had planned to make cookies, a main dish, a side dish, a salad, and
dessert everyday. Which I did the first two days. It nearly killed me. I worked on dinner for seven hours on Day 2, which was too much. I was pooped. It took me those two days to get the feel of the group I was cooking for: 1) they didn’t have much of a sweet tooth, and 2) they liked meat.
I had planned for big appetites. I downloaded several Pioneer Woman recipes (thanks Ree Drummond!) , and they were big hits. Make her Pizza Lasagna for a crowd! Delicious. It uses both ground beef and ground breakfast sausage, then adds pepperoni to the mix. She also uses three
cheeses in this dish: ricotta, mozzerella, and parmesan. I made fresh focaccia bread one night, and corn bread another. I did make several desserts, and my favorite was a chocolate chip cake with chocolate icing. I was prepared to make some incredible Martha Stewart fig bars too, but had to wait for those until I got home. Somehow at the end of the day, beer won out over sweets for most of the crew.
The second week another very welcome volunteer came to help in the kitchen. Michael, thank you! She was fantastic! Well, she too started out fast and hard, then burned out. By the end of the second
week she was down for the count. So much for my fantasy of cooking over a campfire for the roundup. Cooking from scratch for a bunch of hungry people every day is hard work! But I think the crew appreciated it, because after my two weeks was up, they had to go back to cooking for themselves when they got in from working down in the canyon. Many of us know that routine. Only for them, the nearest fast food joint is about an hour away. They don’t really have a choice. Somebody has to cook to feed them all.