This may sound unbelievable, but it’s the honest truth

Susan Metcalf Photograph Image/jpg The Most Challenging Cooking Jobs I Have Ever Had Were My Many Years Of Wilderness Camp Cooking In The Scapegoat Wilderness For Brett And Julie Todd. Every Time I Rode O
Thursday, January 16, 2020
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Cooking in the West

The most challenging cooking jobs I have ever had were my many years of wilderness camp cooking in the Scapegoat Wilderness for Brett and Julie Todd. Every time I rode out of camp, I would marvel that I had kept all those people fed under extreme conditions for a week with no opportunity to restock supplies. You see, at home I am one of those people who goes to the grocery store every day.

One morning while I was cooking biscuits and gravy in the Meadow Creek Camp, one of the guides recounted a tale about my camp cooking counterpart over in the Camp Creek Camp, Jim Conway, who had concocted a legendary recipe for Conway’s Biscuits. One evening when the guides and hunters came in for dinner, Jim was grumbling about his &%$*# biscuits that would not rise nor brown and were hard as rocks. Having no choice and faced with 6 hungry men, he served the biscuits along with his ham and scalloped potatoes that did not seem to taste quite right either. No one suffered any ill effects from dinner, but a couple days later, one of the guides was watching Jim cook and noticed the handwritten label on Jim’s flour. A partial bag of lime for deodorizing the outhouse had been sent in to Camp Creek. Although it was labeled “LIME”, it was about the size of a 10 lb. bag of flour. The mystery of Jim’s failed biscuits was solved along with the odd tastelessness of the ham and scalloped potatoes, because he had also liberally sprinkled a coating of lime over the casserole that had apparently neutralized all its flavors.

Another famous camp cook tale told often around the table in Meadow Creek was when Ruth Wendell served pancakes with “special” syrup. Ruth, who had no camp cooking experience, had raced from her home in Minnesota to cook the first time in an emergency response when the hired cook did not show up at the trailhead. She met with many misadventures on that trip, but one of them was when she substituted pickled beets for chokecherry syrup on the breakfast table. Ruthie was expounding to the hunters about how amazing Julie Todd’s chokecherry syrup was when she noticed a couple of them pushing chunks of beets off of their pancakes.

Later on as I was riding out of camp for the trailhead, I was chuckling to myself about running Conway’s biscuit recipe and Ruthie’s Syrup recipe in my column when I got home. Suddenly I realized that I also had just made a horrible camp cook boo boo myself.

In the saddle bags three horses in front of me rode a terrible camp cook faux pas. I had done a pretty good job of keeping the lone vegetarian on this trip meatless, but in her lunch she was going to find a turkey and cheese sandwich. I racked my brain trying to think of a way to take the meat out of my sandwich and somehow swap my lunch with hers on the trail without her noticing my ineptitude. I decided if she got off her horse for a bathroom break, I would make my move. I was so busy digging in my saddle bag for my sandwich, so I could get the meat out of it for the big swap, that I failed to notice the rider two horses ahead of me start to take off his rain gear.

Now, the job of the camp cook is to ride in the back and sweep up all the problems like dropped cameras or water bottles, and to watch for riders who are riding along leaning so far one way or the other that they are in danger of rolling their saddles.

During the safety talk, Brett Todd thoroughly covers rain gear, but the safety talk had been days ago, and apparently the rain gear part had not been retained by Jason. I had noticed that Jason rode very well, and obviously was very comfortable on a horse, so I decided to just keep quiet and pray that he didn’t end up on the ground. He was riding a nice big, gentle draft cross horse that would probably tolerate almost anything. Jason removed his rain coat, removed his backpack, tucked his raincoat in his backpack, put his backpack on, and rode down the trail without even stopping his dialogue with the rider in front of him. I heaved a big sigh of relief, sent up a prayer of thankfulness, and turned my attention back to praying for a window to covertly conduct the sandwich swap. (Camp cooks are very religious, as they are constantly praying as they watch opportunities for wrecks unfold every few minutes.)

A mile or so down the trail, the sun peeked out. I noticed another flurry of activity going on aboard Jason’s horse. He had his leg thrown up over his horses neck, and he was untying his hiking boot. Before I could formulate the introduction to my safety warning, he had his boot off, and he was wriggling out of one side of his rain pants. His horse plodded on obliviously, so I just watched in awe. I could not suppress a giggle, because if you have ever watched a 6’ 3” man wriggle out of rain pants on top of a horse while holding his reins and his hiking boot, it is rather entertaining. I cannot describe how he accomplished the contortions involved with getting one leg out of his rain pants, putting his boot back on and retying it, and then removing the other boot to repeat the wriggling out of the other leg of his rain pants. It took several minutes, and I giggled the whole time. Again, he never stopped talking to his colleague. He acted as though he had done this trick riding clothes removal every day of his life.

I know that this story is rather unbelievable, but it is the honest truth. I wish I had thought of taking out my own camera to video it to prove it happened the way I have described it. When I expressed my amazement to Jason about his rule defying accomplishment he said, ‘I knew that stripper job would pay off somewhere down the road.” I think I believe him!

At lunch we had a good laugh over my failed plan to covertly switch lunches and my leniency on enforcing the raincoat rules, because Sara never took a bathroom break and Jason was too amazing to scold.

I don’t have Conway’s Biscuits nor Ruthie’s Syrup recipes, but I do have some good breakfast recipes to ward off the winter doldrums!

Deviled Egg, Ham, and Asparagus

Breakfast Casserole

2 cans asparagus

2 C. cubed ham

12 eggs

2 cans Cheddar cheese soup

1/4 C. milk

bread crumbs, buttered and oven toasted

salad dressing or mayonnaise

Let asparagus drain in a colander. Hard boil eggs and make them into deviled eggs, seasoning them with salt, pepper, mustard, etc. Place asparagus in a 9 X 13 pan. Top with ham. Place deviled eggs on top of the ham, deviled side down. Mix soup and milk and pour over eggs. Top with bread crumbs and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

All in One Pan Breakfast

1 lb. frozen hash browns

1 lb. sausage

5 eggs

3 C. milk

8 slices American cheese

1 onion

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 C. sour cream (optional)

Brown sausage and onion. Drain. Mix with hash browns and put in a 9 X 13 pan. Beat eggs and 2 1/2 C. milk together and pour over the mixture. Mix cream of mushroom soup with remaining 1/2 C. milk and sour cream. Pour over the top. Bake at 325 degrees for 55 minutes. Remove from the oven, place cheese slices on top and return to the oven for 5 minutes to melt cheese.

President Kennedy’s Waffles

1 C. butter

1 T. sugar

2 eggs, separated

7/8 C. milk or 1 C. buttermilk

4 t. baking powder

pinch of salt

1 C. plus 1 T. cake flour

Cream butter and sugar. Add salt, 2 beaten egg yolks, and milk. Mix until smooth. Add cake flour and mix. In separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff and fold into batter just prior to baking in the waffle iron. This method makes the waffles very light and tender!