It was a typical spring works on a ranch in central Texas. I was going to be cooking three meals a day for 15 cowboys. I was ready for a week of fine dining and luxurious accommodations.
I got to camp the day before work began to get settled in. First thing was to scope out the woodpile (was there enough andhave any critters made it into a nice two bedroom log home). Second item of business was to get the homestead claimed and set up my teepee. Any good real estate agent knows it’s about location, location, location. However, prime location in my business means no ant beds, cactus or cow piles.
After a quick survey, I had found me a pretty little spot with a short commute to work-only about 40 yards to the wagon. After settling in, I was off to bed at 8:30 p.m. That first night is always short, and after looking at the clock 45 times, at 3:45 a.m. I decided it was time to get up and build a fire. With a deep breath, I took in a good sunrise, and it was off to cooking. I got the sourdough biscuits all huddled together in the Dutch ovens and then on the coals to bake. Bacon was fried up and breakfast commenced at 5:00 a.m.
The crew that arrived was a polite bunch, but they were grabbing food faster than a K-Mart shopper at a blue light special. There wasn’t even a lick of gravy left- they put it on everything! I even saw one fellar use it as coffee creamer.
I had never fed them before, but they were a healthy looking bunch and I figured they could eat. Two of them boys, one that looked like Paul Bunyan and the other like Babe the Blue Ox, hollered as they were leaving, “No one has ever been able to fill us all up at the same time.” Well, I like a bunch that can eat, so they were in for a treat at noon. Thick and crispy chicken fried steak, garlic mashed taters, gravy, red whistle berries with a bite and buttermilk biscuits. I’ll get these fellars full!
It was really no surprise when they came in for lunch and acted like they had never seen food before. Once again, they licked those ovens clean enough to put right back on the shelf. I had a bunch of growing boys on my hands. And don’t let the tall skinny ones fool you- they’ve got hollow legs that can hold a lot of biscuits. I was going to have to pull out the big guns for that night’s supper. This was war and my weapon of choice was a 1- ¼ inch thick, juicy, mesquite-grilled Ribeye. And I wasn’t stopping there! Loaded baked potato, hominy and green chili casserole, sourdough biscuits and to seal the deal, a double decker red velvet cake for dessert.
It was suppertime and I looked up to see the crew walking toward me sort of slow motion, like in an old gunfighter Western movie. I guess my draw was a little quicker than theirs, because by the end of supper I had 15 cowboys swelled up like a blue tick sucking on a hound dog. There was even half a cake left. Even though they were clenching their bellies like they had been gut shot, they all agreed not to throw out the cake ‘cause they’d eat for breakfast.
Dishes washed and the kitchen clean, I covered the cake with a bean pot and put a rock on it to keep out the night creatures. I headed to my hacienda and I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. At about 1 a.m. a loud noise startled me out of my coma. I have heard a lot of things at night in a cow camp, but this was different. I heard dishes banging and hissing. I slipped on my boots and grabbed a flashlight. As I crept closer to the wagon, I knew whatever was going on was intense. There was growling, screaming, and fur flying. I pointed my light on two raccoons and one had the other in a chokehold. I thought I had stumbled upon a massacre! There was blood everywhere. But after rubbing my eyes I realized someone had murdered the red velvet cake!
I thought I had spotted all the culprits when I heard something rustling near the wagon. I swung my light over to the chuck wagon and found another hoodlum. An opossum froze there on the chuck box lid. He was covered with cake and icing and was missing a little fur. With a little gentle persuasion and a shovel, and I had all my uninvited guests cleared out of camp. I cleaned up what I could, shut the chuck box lid, and tried to get some sleep with what was left of the night.
When the boys came in for breakfast that next morning, they were all searching for the cake. I didn’t have the heart to tell them the truth. “Sorry boys,” I said, “Ol’ Cookie just got a sweet tooth last night.” Seemed like everyone had a little trouble getting full out there on the ranch that spring. But, be it man or critter, invited or not, I ain’t never sent anyone away on an empty stomach.