Like most boomers, I grew up on pot roast, mashed potatoes, green beans, and jello. During my college years in Arizona I learned to love Mexican food, and while living in California I learned to drink wine and cook gourmet foods. During a visit to Italy I discovered real Italian food. Along the way, I also acquired a taste for Thai food, and in Wyoming, I learned about German food. Many of the original settlers in our town were Russian German, and I have enjoyed their favorites: cabbage burgers, German sausage, homemade noodles, butterballs, and kuga.
Kuga, a coffee cake with fruit filling, comes out at funerals, potluck suppers, and other special gatherings. Our elderly ladies still make the classic kuga, although some younger ones are making a fine kuga as well. At the dessert table I always scan the offerings in advance, looking for a pan of kuga. Of course, it is doled out in small servings, so one never quite gets their fill of kuga; a serving is just enough to tease until the next time.
It is the availability of fresh food, however, that keeps me spoiled. I have several sources for fresh eggs, which always have a rich yellow yolk and deep flavor. I maximize that flavor by soft boiling them in my electric steamer. Those who enjoy hunting share their antelope, elk, and deer. Antelope is my favorite; to me, it tastes like the best, most tender beef. I like elk meat second-best and deer meat least of all. However, many people prefer venison over all the others. Regardless, wild game is lean and flavorful, and the hunting season is just beginning.
Our youth raise animals for 4-H projects and show them at the fair each summer. On Friday night of fair week, buyers gather for the annual 4-H auction. To support the kids, the buyers pay high prices for their pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, and steers. Many of the animals go off somewhere for slaughter, others make their way into local freezers. I have eaten pork and mutton from the 4-H auction, both excellent, both with the flavor that only comes from home grown meat.
Yes, I have eaten Rocky Mountain Oysters, fresh from the ….source. One year I attended a branding and watched the person in charge of castrating the steers plop the …harvest into a bucket. During the morning, the bucket filled to nearly overflowing. Later, the host offered fresh, fried oysters. Being the only city girl present and feeling all eyes on me, I decided I better “cowgirl up” and give em a try. Thankfully they were great, very much like real oysters in taste and texture.
Cream can is the other staple after a branding. In the morning before the branding iron heats up and the calf roping begins, the cook layers sausage, cabbage, carrots, onions, and potatoes into a milk can. This simmers all morning over a gas fire ring. After the branding, the men pour the creamy, steaming contents onto giant platters and the feast begins, washed down with cold beer.
However, despite the availability of wild game, oysters, cream can, and 4-H animals, beef is what’s for dinner. This is cattle country. Chicken is almost non-existent, pork is okay, beef is preferred above all else. Like kuga, beef comes out for all the special occasions and just about any other time, all the time in fact. Most of the local beef gets shipped off for slaughter, but ranchers retain some for their own freezers. We also have a direct distributor who raises organic beef and offers it for sale online. I dream of their New York Strip steaks and filet, but their fresh hamburger will do just fine, too.
Since moving here I have raised my own vegetables and often trade for meat and eggs. I had to purchase several used freezers for my vegetables and local meat. I have also learned to make pickles, and can up about 4 dozen jars each year, to give as gifts.
I still eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner in that order. I have not adopted the noon “dinner” habit, which consists of a large meal mid-day with meats, vegetables, potatoes, and pie. This is essential for ranchers and farmers who are out working at dawn and famished by noon, but not for pudgy ministers who sit on their butt much of the day and contemplate the universe. I have been invited to such noon dinners, but am ready to fall asleep afterwards. I do enjoy, however, hearing the elderly ladies tell stories about cooking food and pies all morning, every day, for their husbands and ranch hands.
Pies…another topic for another day. Wyoming men and women make the best pies ever. Right now I am too hungry to write more…where is that can of Slimfast?