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The Chuck Wagon Cookbook

The Chuck Wagon Cookbook
Recipes from the Ranch and Range for Today's Kitchen
by B. Byron Price
University of Oklahoma Press, 2004

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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Mocha Pecan Layer Cake
Lucy Angie Guercio
Caribou Ranch


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder (use a non-alkalized brand like Hershey's)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup hot, strong brewed coffee
  • Frosting

  • 2 (3-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) finely chopped pecans
  • 1.Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (9-inch) round cake pans. Line the bottom of the pans with rounds of wax paper, and dust the insides of the pans with flour, shaking out the excess flour.

    2. In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt until combined.Make a well in the center and add the oil and buttermilk to the well. Stir gently to combine. One at a time, add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Beat in the coffee. The batter will be thin. Pour into the cake pans.

    3. Bake until the tops of the cakes spring back when pressed gently in the center with a finger, 25 to 35 minutes. Cool on wire racks for 10 minutes. Invert and unmold the cakes onto wire racks, rmove the waxed paper rounds, and cool completely.

    4. Meanwhile, make the frosting: In a medium bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer on low speed, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Sift the confectioner's sugar and cocoa powder together and gradually beat into the cream cheese mixture. Gradually beat in enough of the coffee mixture until the frosting is smooth and spreadable. (You may not need all of the coffee mixture.)

    5. Place one layer of cake upside down on a serving platter. Spread the layer with about 1/2 cup of the forsting, then top with the second layer, right side up. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Press the chopped pecans around the sides of the cake.

    Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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