Luke Clayton: A little outdoor cooking
Outdoors columnist shares more cooking recipes for the field
I have always enjoyed reading about the mountain men that were the first white men to explore and eventually open up the western United States. I’ve often “pondered” upon what they ate and how they lived in an often hostile environment. We have all read about how they would shoot a buffalo or deer and enjoy an evening meal of fresh meat cooked over an open fire but I’m sure even those hardy souls did not live on meat alone. I’ve read accounts from journals that included “wildfowl” eggs, berries, roots and just about anything else they could find to supplement a steady diet of meat.
I guess those of us that spend a good bit of time in the outdoors hunting, fishing and camping all like to aspire to have just a little “mountain man” in us. In truth, had I lived back in the 1820’s I would have probably stayed back in Pennsylvania as an apprentice blacksmith or saddle builder rather than head to the wilds of the American West as a trapper but who knows? I might have made it as a hunter and camp cook but don’t think I could have hacked crawling fifty miles with an arrow in my leg! I do know that even in this modern era in which we now live, I enjoy doing things the “old way” and this includes outdoor cooking. This brings me to the topic of this week’s column: a couple of easy but tasty recipes I’d like to share with you.
About this time of year, the mountain men would probably have been feasting on “wildfowl” eggs from ducks and geese nesting in the high country and probably eating a lot of berries to supplement their diet of grilled buffalo steak. Well, we’ve been getting our eggs from the hen’s nest but it’s a very good year for blackberries around our place. Here’s a simple recipe for making fresh blackberry fried pies:
Place fresh blackberries in a heavy skillet with a little butter and half cup of water. Cover the skillet with a lid and simmer for about fifteen minutes. Now, remove the lid and add sugar or honey to taste, turn the heat up and reduce the liquid. The goal is to have most of the moisture removed and create a thick berry paste. Now, take some very fresh soft flour tortillas and place a couple tablespoons of the berry paste in the middle of each tortilla. Fold the tortilla over the paste and using a dampened fork, crimp the edge around the folded tortilla, forming the shape of a fried pie. The rest is easy, heat a couple inches of cooking oil in a skillet and fry each pie until it is golden brown and crispy. You will see that the tortilla will puff up a bit and make a crunchy shell that contains your berries. Now, dust the fried pies with a little brown sugar and a little bit of ground cinnamon. Go sparingly with the cinnamon, a little goes a long way. This is a quick desert you can make while camped at the lake or hunting lease. I often cook the berries into a paste at home and freeze them. This cuts the prep time in half and once at camp, we can be eating fried pies in a few minutes.
I can imagine the mountain men out in the mountains of New Mexico sometime enjoying the influence of “Mexican” flavors in their meals. Wild onion if available, dried peppers, salt and a bit of cumin and some finely cut game meat would have been the ingredients necessary for some very basic “Mexican food.” When I find the true Mexican flavor lacking at my favorite restaurant, I often resort to this tasty recipe. It’s actually a dish with a variety of ingredients but the basics are finely cut meat, peppers, onion, garlic and tomatoes. I use wild pork backstraps in this dish but any lean meat will suffice. Begin by slicing the backstrap into very fine slices and then dicing into little pieces. Place in a cast iron skillet with a little olive oil and cook on medium high for about ten minutes and then add a chopped onion, several cloves of chopped fresh garlic, a couple of jalapeno peppers (I use frozen homemade smoked chipotle peppers). Continue to cook uncovered for about ten more minutes, until all the veggies are tender. Now, add a couple small cans or one large can of tomato paste and water; cover simmer about 45 minutes, checking once or twice for moisture. When the meat is tender, remove the lid and instead of cumin, I add Fiesta Brand Carne Guisada seasoning to taste. This is the perfect blend of spices and it also adds a bit of thickening to the mix.
This is a dish that lends itself well to variations; add carrots, celery and potatoes and skip reducing to a thick paste and you have a tasty Mexican stew.
I often enjoy this concoction reduced down to a thick paste and eaten on hot flour or corn tortillas, it makes for a very tasty camp meal at the lake or hunting camp. I often make a big skillet full and freeze for a quick meal.
I’m sure these recipes were not prepared exactly the way the mountain men made them, after all there were no stores to purchase fresh tortillas, veggies or pre mixed spices. Another reason I wouldn’t trade my life today for that of a mountain man of the eighteen twenties!
Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton via email at his website www.catfishradio.org .