While doing research for “KITCHENS WEST” (a series of articles that I wrote in the 1990s for Cookbook Collectors Exchange), one of the cookbooks I discovered along the way is titled “A TASTE OF TEXAS RANCHING/COOKS & COWBOYS”, co-authored by Tom Bryant and Joel Bernstein. One has to wonder–how did these two cowboys, one from New Mexico (Bernstein) and the other from Montana (Bryant) manage to team up to write such an in-depth cookbook, combining recipes, history and storytelling—with even a few poems thrown in for good measure?
Bernstein is a writer and working cowboy from Peralta, New Mexico. He has written several books and numerous magazine articles about ranching and cowboys in the modern West. During the past 35 years he has taught, written, rode and cowboyed in Wyoming, Montana, and New Mexico.
Georgia-born Tom Bryant began his writing career after a horse fell on him while cowboying in Montana’s Big Hole Valley. It was during his recovery that he began writing about his cowboying experiences, which have been published in newspapers and magazines.
Now, I have read through both Tom Bryant’s and Joel Bernstein’s introduction and accounts of how they fell in love with Texas and decided to write a book about Texas ranching—but try as I might, I couldn’t find any indication how the two met. We’re just told “The two friends discussed ranching and cooking and then set out to gather information for a book on cowboys and cooks”. Maybe they felt it was unimportant to what they were writing—I just wondered, as I am inclined to do, about the story behind the story.
“It has been said,” writes Elmer Kelton in the foreword of A TASTE OF TEXAS RANCHING/COOKS & COWBOYS “that changes in ranching operations between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War II were less pronounced than the virtual revolution that has occurred since. Yet, a few elements in ranching—particularly love for the life—have remained much the same as in those first free-wheeling days. Those areas of change, as well as the elements that have not changed, are reflected in the experiences of Texas ranch people quoted by Tom Bryant and Joel Bernstein in this book…”
Kelton explains that he feels a kinship to the authors’ subjects, having himself grown up on a cattle ranch and having invested 42 years of his adult life as an agriculture journalist in almost daily contact with ranchers and farmers.
There is a lot of history in A TASTE OF TEXAS RANCHING/COOKS & COWBOYS– understandably so, since Texas itself is so big and has such a colorful background.
In the preface to A TASTE OF TEXAS RANCHING/COOKS & COWBOYS the authors tell us, “It is difficult to discuss Texas, the largest state in the contiguous United States, without delving into the influence of the Spanish and Mexican cultures. Texas is separated from Mexico by the not-so-wide Rio Grande, and for many years, Texas was a part of Spain (1519-1685 and from 1690 to 1821) and France (1685-1690); and Mexico (1821-1836); was a Republic (1836-1845); was in the Confederacy (1861-1865) and finally became a permanent part of the United States (1865)”
“Texas means friend, or friendly people. As we traveled throughout the State interviewing ranchers, we were almost always warmly received, treated with that old southern hospitality for which the people of Texas, our friends, are so famous…”
The authors found Texas fascinating—the great expanse of country (about 800 square miles north to south and about another 800 square miles east to west)— and the diversity of the land and the people. Texas, they explain, is now a leader in the space industry. Austin, the capital city is a burgeoning mecca for computer technology. Even though there was much to see and visit, the authors concentrated on ranching, which in Texas is as old as Texas itself.
“One of the missions of the Spanish,” write the authors, “was to build ranches, so the cattle and horses they brought over were the best available. And Texas proved a perfect place for those animals to survive and breed and expand…”
It was the cattle that created Texas’ largest ranches and it was the Mexican vaquero who worked those ranches and gave birth to the American cowboy.
Bryant and Bernstein traveled throughout Texas, visiting with ranchers, cowboys, cowgirls, and cooks, on big outfits and small ones. Bernstein says they all had one thing in common—hospitality, a willingness to help him, and enormous pride in being Texans.
(When I first began writing THAT’S WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE SOUTH, it occurred to me that it was impossible to do Texas cookbooks justice in one short article that combined cookbooks from the southern states…it was then I put the idea of a post about Texas cookbooks on my back burner and left it there to simmer. Since I have so many cookbooks about the cowboy, ranchers, ranch-hands and their particular contribution in the development of the United States, I felt it important to write focusing just about cowboys—for whom I have always had a soft spot in my heart despite the infrequency of my even riding horses on my brother’s farm. What can I say? I love cowboys!)
I find myself wondering if a similar train of thought crossed the minds of Bryant and Bernstein when they compiled their first book A TASTE OF RANCHING/COOKS AND COWBOYS in 1993 by Border Books. The two traveled farther afield, to ranches as far north as Canada and throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada! Perhaps they thought to themselves uh-oh! Texas is too big to sandwich in with all the other western ranching states, and decided to devote a book solely to Texas ranching—for this is exactly what they did!
A TASTE OF TEXAS RANCHING/COOKS & COWBOYS combines old history and new, and provides an in-depth look at Texas ranching as it is today. While there are recipes, this is not predominantly a cookbook, Don’t over look the recipes, however! they’ve all been chosen with care and every one will make your mouth water…check out the recipe for Depression, or Fudge Pie, which contains no eggs or milk. Along with photographs to accompany each chapter, you will find some recipes to go with—such as Martin’s Marathon Mud Cake, Black Forest Cherry Cheese Cake, an interesting variation of my favorite Pepper Steak (worth making!), Monkey Bread and Rice, Chilies & Cheese, Ford Ranch’s Grilled Steak and Ellen’s Holiday Yeast Rolls..or when you are feeling ambitious, you might want to try Box Creek Etouffee, submitted by a woman named Cathi who wrote that she prepared this in a Dutch oven over an open fire in the fire place.
A TASTE OF TEXAS RANCHING/COOKS & COWBOYS has an interesting mixture of recipes to accompany an illustrious history—if nothing else, it demonstrates that ranching has entered the 21st century with along with the rest of us. There are some surprises (such as Orange Chiffon Cake) but the recipe I found most interesting and would like to prepare for a party is something called Mexican Pile-On which comes to us from Slash Seven Ranch from Ann Osborn. It is apparently her signature dish, along with Marinated Eye of Round Roast which is fondly referred to as “The Roast”. It may be a while until I have a party big enough to feed everyone Mexican Pile-On but Marinated Eye of Round Roast is earmarked for my next holiday dinner.
To make MEXICAN PILE-ON you will need:
2 bags of corn chips
1 large box instant rice, cooked
1 pound grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 heads shredded lettuce
7 diced tomatoes
3 diced onions
1 jar chopped olives
12 ounces chopped pecans
1 8-oz can flaked coconut
1 large jar hot sauce
FOR THE MEAT SAUCE
4 pounds hamburger
3 chopped onions
2 18-oz cans tomatoes
1 large can tomato sauce
2 small cans tomato puree
1 large can ranch-style beans
2/3 tablespoon garlic powder
Brown the meat and onions. Then add remaining ingredients. Simmer 2 hours. Serve in bowls. Arrange the chips first, followed by the rice, meat sauce, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, olives, pecans, coconut and hot sauce. Serves 16.
(No indication is given for some of the sizes – such as 2 bags of corn chips. I would get the large size of everything. What kind of olives? Given that black olives are in most of my Mexican dishes, I would go with those).
MARINATED EYE OF ROUND ROAST
Whole eye of round
½ cup salad oil
½ cup tomato catsup
½ cup wine vinegar
1 tsp black pepper
1 clove garlic
Combine all of the above Ingredients and pour them over the roast. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight.* Cook covered at 275 degrees until the meat is tender. Slice and pour the sauce over the meat or serve the sauce as gravy.
Sandy’s cooknote: I would put the meat in a glass or stainless dish and cover it with plastic wrap before putting it into the refrigerator.
A Taste of Texas Ranching/Cooks & Cowboys is available on Amazon.com for $14.51 new softcover, or starting at $2.97 preowned with many available copies. Happy Trails to you!