Hello everyone. I am currently compiling a cookbook. It is made up of authentic Early American recipes and some recipes of my own creation that could have been made by Pioneers or Mountain Men. I will be personally testing each of the recipes at Rendezvous to be sure that they can be made over an open fire while at a primitive camp. For the most part, these recipes are intended to be cooked in Cast Iron cookware.
Now, many people have had bad experiences with cast iron, so they shy away from it. But, if you follow the manufacturers instructions about seasoning and cleaning and if you remember to prewarm your pots before putting the food in them, I guarantee you will find that there is no better cookware for use over an open fire. In fact, I sometimes use it when I am home cooking on my stove. If you've tried it before, try it again. If you've never tried it, now is the time to start. Like I said, just make sure you season it right and warm it up before you start.
If you got to this page from the index, then you know I am a storyteller. And most every recipe I put in my cookbook will have a story with it. I hope you enjoy both the stories and the recipes. As I add new recipes to the list, I'm not gonna take away the old ones. So you'll just have to keep reading down to find the new ones.
This first recipe is of my own creation. I call it:
Now this here recipe is called "Drunken Prairie Hen", mostly cause it's a bird cooked in wine. My old trappin' partner, 4-Toe Charlie, give it that name when I made it for him. They call him 4-Toe cause he has only got 4 toes on his left foot. Now, he tells a tall tale about what happened to the other toe. But each time he tells it, it's just a little bit different. One time it'll be some kind of Crow Test of Bravery that he had to pass in order to become blood brothers to the Crow Indian Nation. Another time it'll be the Sioux or the Cheyenne. And then there's my favorite, about how the Blackfoot cut it off trying to force him to double-cross Jim Bridger and tell them where he was hiding. That's a real exciting story. A course it ain't any truer then the rest, but it is a good tale.
The real story is that one night, while Charlie and me was working as trappers for Jim Bridger, we got drunk. Not just me and Charlie, but most of us in camp. Now I'm not talking fallin' down drunk, just stupid drunk. And we all started it trying to show off. Doin' fancy knife and tommy-hawk throwing and a whole bunch of trick shootin'. Anyway, Old Charlie says he going to do the bestest trick shot of them all. He claims that he's gonna shoot a walnut off a fence post at nearly a hundred yards. And he ain't gonna use his hands, exceptin' one finger to pull the trigger. Well none of us believed he could do it, so we told him to go ahead and try.
So he proceeds to kick off his boots and then he lays down on his back. He cocks his old Kentucky flintlock, grabs the barrel with the toes of his left foot and wedges the butt up against his shoulder. Then, putting his hands out to his sides, he takes aim at that walnut. He reaches over, real slow and careful like, with just one finger to pull the trigger. But just as he did, wouldn't you know, the durn fool hiccups and shoots off his own big toe.
O' course, drunk as he was, he was more worried about winning the bet then shootin' his toe off. And in truth he did knock the walnut off the fence post. But since nobody was sure if he hit it with the bullet or with his toe, Jim declared that all bets were off. Then he told us that everybody ought to head off to bed, after we fixed up Charlie's foot, of course. Some good did come of it though, cause I guess we all learned that shootin' and drinkin' don't mix. Do your fancy shootin' first and your fancy drinkin' later and you won't end with a nickname like "4-Toe" or "One Eye" or "Lefty".
Anyway, that's how old Charlie got the name 4-Toe. Which has nothing to do with my recipe for Drunken Prairie Hen, except that it was Charlie that give it that name so I thought it was only fittin' and proper to let you know how Charlie got his name.
To start with, you're gonna need a couple of nice fat Prairie Hens. Now, if you don't have none of them handy, you can just get yourself a couple of nice frying chickens from the farmer down the road (but ask him first afore you pick 'em out - you're less likely to get shot at). Then you're gonna need a bottle of good wine. Me, I'm kinda partial to White Zinfandel in this dish, but it'll work just as well with your favorite White or Rose' wine. I wouldn't use a Red wine though, cause it might overpower the taste of the chicken, unless of course you did manage to find wild Prairie Hens. Wild birds can handle a full bodied Red Wine better then them farm raised hens can.
You're also going to need about a pound of fresh mushrooms, the common white button type work just fine. And a cup of wild rice, the dark stuff, not the white stuff. You'll also need a medium onion, some garlic, about a cup of chicken stock or bullion, a few tablespoons of flour, a little water, some salt and pepper and a dab of butter or margarine.
The first thing you need to do is rinse and soak the wild rice. Just use a fine sieve and rinse it under running water for a minute or two. Then dump it in a bowl with plenty of fresh water, enough to completely cover it and then some. This will need to soak for about a half an hour. Then drain it and dump it in a pot with about twice as much water as you have rice and a pinch of salt. Bring this up to a boil and then cover it and let it simmer for about a half an hour.
While the rice is soaking, cut up your chickens, just like you would for frying. Trim off any excess fat from them, of course. Rub a little salt and pepper on it, inside and out. Now, if you're using bullion instead of chicken stock, just rub on the pepper, cause bullion's got enough salt for everything. Now, set the chicken aside to wait it's turn.
Chop up your onion, not too fine but not too coarse either. Kinda medium. Then you'll need to get a deep, heavy bottom, pot heating up, like a chicken fryer or a short, fat, stew pot. Once it's hot, drop in a healthy dab of butter, a couple of tablespoons worth, and swirl it around. Then toss in your chopped onion and saute' it. Saute' is one of them fancy French words that means you fry it a little, but not so much as it starts to turn brown.
While this is goin' on, mash up some garlic. As to how much garlic, well I like garlic so I usually use about a tablespoon after its mashed. If you're a bit timid, you could cut it in half, but I wouldn't go any less. If you really like garlic a lot, you could double it and it would still be just fine. Anyway, add the mashed garlic to your onions and let them get to know each other for a minute or two.
If you got your timing right, you should be putting the rice on to start cooking about now. Now, toss in your chicken, skin side down, and get it started cooking. Now this time we are gonna let it brown. They're ain't no fancy French word for this, so just brown it a little. Once it's brown, turn it over and dump in 2 cups of wine and a cup of stock or bullion. Then, put the top on and move it a little further from the fire.
If your real lucky on your timing, your rice should be simmering by now. And you want your chicken to simmer right along side of it too. Now, while these two are simmering away, you can slice up your mushrooms real nice and pretty like. And we are done with the wine, so if there's any left in the bottle, well it's the cooks prerogative as to how to dispose of the leftovers, so I'll leave it up to you.
About this time, you should also be starting whatever your gonna serve to go with this. Now the wild rice is being used as a seasoning, so don't count it as a side dish. Every meal should have at least one main and two side dishes. That's in some etiquette book some woman gave me to read once. There's lots of things you can do with Taters and Beans. One or the other would go good with this. But then you should get somethin' like corn or spinach too, just to keep your Ma happy and all. And some Biscuits would be nice. I'll give you my momma's recipe for them a little later, they're real good for soppin' up the gravy.
Anyway, back to our Drunken Prairie Hens. Now, the rice has been simmerin' for a half an hour, the chicken's been simmering for half an hour and the mushrooms have been waiting patiently by the side. So now you drain the rice and toss it in with the chicken. Then you toss in the mushrooms too. Stir it up real good and put the cover back on it for a little longer. About another 15 minutes or so should do. The chicken should be starting to pull away from the bone when it is almost done.
Yes, I said almost. You forgot about the flour. Just add about 3 tablespoons to enough water to dissolve it and stir it smooth. Now, take the cover off your chicken and move it a little closer to the fire. You want to get a good boil going now. Then stir in your flour and water. Stir it in real good or you'll get lumps. Some people take the chicken out to make it easier to stir. That's ok, as long as you remember to put it back. Either way, boil it and stir it until it starts to thicken up. Then put the lid back on it. Leave it sit for a minute or two on the fire, then pull it off an leave it sit for a few minutes more before serving.
Serve it out and stand back, cause by this time everybody's been smellin' it cook for long enough, they'll like as not stampede to the table when you holler "Come and get it!". This'll feed four Mountain Men, or a good sized family and a couple of good friends. And, by the way, in case any of your friends done already took the Temperance Pledge, it's still ok to serve this. You see, all the alcohol boils off, leaving just the flavor of it behind. But don't tell old 4-Toe Charlie that.
And there you have it, Drunken Praire Hen!
This recipe ain't got no story to go with it. It's just the way my momma alway's made biscuits. And momma's biscuits were the best in the county! Folks use to come from miles around when they smelt 'em cooking! So you make these just like I say and, come dinner time, you'll have more friends than you know what to do with!
Now, for doing biscuits and such over an open fire, you're gonna need a Dutch oven. This is an odd piece of cast iron. It looks kinda like a chicken fryer, 'ceptin it's got these little feet on the bottom. And the lid looks like they put the handle on the wrong side, 'cause the edges of the lid go up not down. But trust me, they done it right. It's supposed to be upside down.
Now to use a Dutch oven right, you need to scoop some hot coals off to one side. You want enough so they form a bed just a little bigger than the Dutch oven, but flat so they don't touch the bottom of it. That's what them little legs is for. After you set the oven down in this bed, you want to put some more coals on top of it. That's why the lid looks upside down, so the coals won't fall off. See, I told you to trust me on this. Now, you can let your oven warm up while you mix the biscuits. (if you're using one of them new fangled ovens in the house, set it to 450)
Now this recipe calls for milk. This can be fresh milk, sour milk, buttermilk or even goats milk and it'll still work fine. Although you may have to play with the amount of milk or flour you use just a little. If you have to, you can make it with water too, just add a little more shortening (about an extra spoonful). They won't be quite as good that way, but they'll still be good enough for eatin.
First you're gonna need about 2 cups of flour. Momma always used to sift it before she measured it. Then you need 1 Tablespoon of Baking Powder and a half teaspoon of salt. Now I know some folks are going around saying salt is bad for you and you need to stop using it and all. That may be all well and true, but you have to put the salt in this recipe. If'n you don't, the baking powder can't do it's job and you'll have flat biscuits, kinda like hardtack. Anyway, once you got it all measured out, mix it all together and run it through your sifter again, just for good measure.
The next step is to cut in 4 Tablespoons of Shortening or Butter (5 if you're using water instead of milk). Now some fancy cooks use a fancy tool called a "Pastry Cutter" to do this. If you got one, fine. If you don't, a fork will work just as good. The whole idea is to get the dry stuff mixed up with the shortening. When it looks kinda like course ground cornmeal, you done it right.
Next you add in 3/4 cups of milk and mix it all together. Now the only way to do this right is to mix it with your hands (so I hope you washed them before you started). It just don't come out the same if you use a spoon or something to mix it. Just get your hands in there and mash it all together real good. When you was a kid, you use to love doing stuff like that. So just pretend you're a kid again! Now, remember at the begining I told you you might have to adjust the milk or flour a little? This is where you do that. If it's too sticky, add a little more flour. If it's too dry, add a little more milk. By too sticky I mean if it sticks to you hands and you can't make a ball out of it. And by too dry I mean if you fold it in half and smash it together it leaves a seam that you can pull apart again. Just play with it a bit, you'll see what I mean.
Now, it's just about ready to into your Dutch oven. Except that, unless you want just 1 BIG biscuit, you have to split it up first. Now some folks like to roll it out and use a biscuit cutter to make it nice and purty. And some folks just make balls about the size of hens eggs and then flatten 'em. It don't matter much which way you do it, it still tastes the same. Either way, you want them to be about a quarter inch thick when your done. As to how big around, that's up to you. Make 'em big and get some or make 'em small and get lots.
Once you got them all split up, take the top off your Dutch oven and lay them inside. Make it a single layer with them not quite touching each other. Then put the cover back on the oven. Leave 'em sit for about 5 minutes, then pull the oven off the coals. Leave the coals on top though. Give them a couple more minutes and sneak a peek. When they're a nice golden brown color (sort of like good quality buckskin), they're done.
Sometimes, momma would get fancy with her biscuits. Like adding in 1/2 cup crushed Maple sugar and calling them Maple Biscuits. Or she might add in 1/2 cup honey and then sprinkle the tops with Cinnamon before she baked 'em. These are called Honey Cinnamon Biscuits. When we was real good, she'd chop up a couple of apples, coat the pieces with Cinnamon and Sugar and mix them into the biscuits. She called these her Apple Pie Biscuits. Now, when you do any of these, add the extra stuff just before you add the milk. Then add the milk a little at a time, 'cause you won't need quite as much. And the Apple Pie biscuits will need to cook just a little bit longer.
Try all of them.