AUBURN – The mobile kitchens that allowed countless “cookies” to cater to the hungry cowboys of the American West more than a century ago may be a relic of the past, but a taste of history and hearty fare are still served up regularly from Arlin Sigmon’s chuck wagon.
“It’s something a little different,” said Sigmon, of Auburn, who started building his chuck wagon several years ago from a vintage wagon he purchased in Sac City 50 years ago for $65.
The horse-drawn vehicle reflects plans from the Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop in Letcher, S.D., that have been adapted to suit Sigmon’s own custom designs.
Like any authentic chuck wagon, Sigmon’s rig includes a box on the rear with hinged lid that lowers to become the cook’s worktable.
The box, which is fitted to the width of the wagon, contains shelves and drawers for holding food and utensils. Sigmon, who is a charter member of the Top Rail Saddle Club in Lake City, rolled out his chuck wagon in early August to serve the 35 saddle club members and friends who gathered at Grant Park, north of Auburn, who assembled for a trail ride.
The meal was good practice for Sigmon, who plans to put his culinary skills to the test at the chuck wagon/Dutch oven cooking contest at the Spirit of The West Festival in Sioux Falls, S.D., in mid-September. “They judge you not only on your cooking, but your wagon, so I’ve tried to pay attention to all the details,” said Sigmon, whose wagon is as authentic as possible, right down to the dinner bell triangle.
Sigmon, who has learned some tricks of the trade by faithfully watching campfire cooking programs on television, also relies on his own special ingredients, including pure maple syrup he makes from the sap that flows early each year in the tall maple trees in his grove.
The maple syrup adds a rich depth of flavor to the juicy pork loin that’s served with western baked beans, scalloped potatoes, cowboy biscuits and fried fruit pies.
“I’m still learning about all this, but it’s fun,” Sigmon said.
Maple-glazed wings, ribs or pork loin
(Don’t be stingy with the sauce when mixing, advises Arlin Sigmon, who likes to add a little extra of each of the ingredients.)
1/2 cup pure maple syrup.
2 1/2 pounds chicken wings, ribs or pork loin
5 tablespoons chili sauce
1 tablespoon garlic, crushed
1 onion, diced
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Combine maple syrup, chili sauce, garlic, onion, cider vinegar, mustard and Worcestershire sauce in a shallow dish. Marinate the wings, ribs or pork loin for a minimum of four hours in the refrigerator.
Keep meat covered and turn occasionally to coat each piece thoroughly with the marinade. Grill, oven bake or barbecue the meat until cooked, basting occasionally. Serves 4.
Western baked beans
3 cups pinto beans or northern beans
Salt and pepper to taste
2 small onions, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 or more teaspoons red chili powder
1 cup tomato sauce
3 slices of bacon or 1/2 cup salt pork, diced
Cover beans with water and soak overnight. Simmer slowly for about an hour. Drain the beans, saving the liquid. Put beans, salt, pepper, onions and garlic into a casserole dish or Dutch oven.
Sprinkle beans with brown sugar and chili powder. Then cover with tomato sauce and 1 cup of reserved bean water. Arrange bacon slices or salt pork on top.
Cover and bake in a 300-degree oven for 5 hours. Add extra bean liquid when needed. Serves 8 to 10.
10 potatoes, peeled
5 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice potatoes and place in Dutch oven. Dot potatoes with butter. Pour milk over the mixture. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
*(Although cheese cannot be used with scalloped potatoes in competition chuck wagon cooking, you can put Velveeta or the cheese of your choice over the top when the potatoes are done cooking and let the cheese melt.)
(This recipe comes from Angie Sandburg, who lives on a farm between Yetter and Lytton with her husband, Clay. The pair enjoys helping Arlin Sigmon with his campfire cooking.)
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup milk
Stir together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the middle of the mixture and stir in milk.
Knead dough on floured surface a few times. Work dough as little as possible.
Roll dough to half its thickness and cut with a two-inch biscuit cutter. Transfer biscuits to an aluminum pan in a Dutch oven. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Yields 7 biscuits.
(Note: If you cook the biscuits over a campfire, you’ll need 30 coals, including 20 on the bottom and 10 on the top of the Dutch oven.
Pastry for fried pies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup Crisco shortening or lard
5 tablespoons cold water
Pie filling of your choice
Combine flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in shortening, using a pastry blender or knives until all the flour is blended in to form pea-sized chunks.
Sprinkle water into the mixture, one tablespoon at a time. Toss mixture lightly with a fork until dough forms a ball.
Press dough ball between your hands to form a “pancake.” On a lightly-floured surface, use a lightly-floured pin to roll dough into a circle. Cut pie pastry with a 3-pound coffee can. Place the pie filling of your choice on one side of each circle. Fold dough over and press edges together with a fork. Place each pie in pot of hot fat (bring oil to a temperature of 385 degrees) and fry until golden brown on each side.
Place pies on paper towels to drain. Then roll each pie in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. Makes about 7 pies.
Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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