“The range’s filled up with farmers and there’s fences ev’rywhere
A painted house ‘most ev’ry quarter mile
They’re raisin’ blooded cattle and plantin’ sorted seed
And puttin’ on a painful lot o’ style
There hain’t no grass to speak of and the water holes are gone
The wire of the farmer holds ’em tight
There’s little use to law ’em and little use to kick
And mighty sight less use there is to fight
There’s them coughin’ separaters and their dirty, dusty crews
And wagons runnin’ over with the grain
With smoke a-driftin’ upward and writin’ on the air
A story that to me is mighty plain
The wolves have left the country and the long-horns are no more
And all the game worth shootin’ at is gone
And it’s time for me to foller, ’cause I’m only in the way
And I’ve got to be a-movin’—movin’ on.”
— Robert V. Carr, “The Old Cowboy’s Lament”, 1908
105 years after the poem above was published, its words ring true. Gone are the days of wagon trains and cattle drives; the 405 Interstate and the trucking industry run that territory nowadays. The era of the cowboy is no more. Still, images of rope and saddles, horses and open country, resonate in the American imagination. There is something about the old idea of freedom, of space enough for everyone to live without rubbing up against their neighbors, that quietly awakens a longing for the “Wild West”.
For those who yearn for a simpler time, for outdoorsmen and women seeking good “campfire food”, and for home cooks who want to serve a hearty, robust meal in the manner of our Western forebears, I present the following recipe. It can be cooked in a single 12-inch cast-iron skillet if desired, or baked in a 13” x 9” casserole dish. The largest cast-iron skillet I own is 10 inches, so the “city folk” baking dish method is reflected in the directions.
The newspaper clipping shows that the original recipe comes from the Pioneer Brand. However, the newspaper chose to do its own rewrite of this recipe, which, while descriptive, was not particularly easy to follow. For this blog post, I rewrote the newspaper’s version for legibility and clarity. I also chose to slow-cook the recipe using dry beans instead of canned beans, using the conversion for dry beans to canned beans from Be It Ever So Humble.
Cowboy Beef and Beans:
- 1/2 cup dry red kidney beans
- 1/2 cup dry navy beans
- 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 (15-ounce) can pork and beans
- 1 package brown gravy mix
- 1 1/4 cups brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon red habañero sauce
Roundup Bacon Biscuits:
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup milk
- 3 cups Bisquick
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
- 6 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
- 1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
For the Cowboy Beef and Beans:
Place the dry red kidney beans and dry navy beans in a large pot, and cover with several inches of water.
Boil the beans until tender, approximately 2 hours, adding water as needed to cover.
Remove from heat, and set aside without draining.
In a large skillet, combine the beef and onions over medium heat.
Cook the beef and onions until the meat is brown and the onions are clear.
Add the beans and their liquid to the meat mixture.
Add all remaining ingredients (can of pork and beans, brown gravy mix, coffee, ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, and red habañero sauce) to the skillet, and stir well.
Reduce the heat to low, and simmer this mixture for 2-3 hours, until it has a thick, chili-like texture. This takes time, but the flavor bonus is worth it.
Remove the meat mixture from the heat, and pour into a greased 13” x 9” casserole dish.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and make the Roundup Bacon Biscuits.
For the Roundup Bacon Biscuits:
In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream and milk. (City folk can use a whisk here, if they so desire.)
In a large bowl, mix the Bisquick together with the milk mixture, stirring until it forms a ball.
Roll this dough out on a floured surface to a thickness of 1/4 inch. The dough should form a rectangle.
Brush the top of the dough with the melted butter, and sprinkle with the bacon and cheese. This is an excellent time to call your cardiologist and frighten the daylights out of him or her, by the way.
Roll up the dough, beginning at one long side.
Slice the dough into 1-inch slices.
Place the slices on top of the beef and bean mixture in the casserole dish.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown.
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