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Quinn on Nutrition: Beef, bacon, and beans, hearty cowboy fare

November 14, 2016

Call me a crazy cowgirl, but I jump at the chance to saddle up my horse whenever my son-in-law asks for help on his ranch. This day, we gently herded a group of pregnant cows to another pasture. My pay for the day? Lunch at a favorite Mexican food restaurant. 

Some things haven’t changed. In a book uniquely titled, "Sowbelly and Sourdough: Original Recipes from the Trail Drives and Cow Camps of the 1800’s," author Scott Gregory writes that the cowboys of old demanded two things for their hard work — fair wages and good food. "If the chuck — as they called it — was no good, then the outfit was not worth riding for," says Gregory.

Incidentally, the nickname "chuck" apparently originated in England; it was the term meat merchants used for their lower priced products. It was later used to denote good hearty food, according to a chuck wagon history blog by R. Edison. Today, chuck denotes shoulder cuts of meat that tend to be flavorful but less tender … best cooked slowly with liquid such as in a stew. 

Besides beef that was plentiful for obvious reasons, many authentic cowboy recipes feature beans. They were economical, easy to cook and practically indestructible. High in protein as well as carbs, hearty beans packed cowboys with muscle and fuel for long trail rides. And if you remember that famous scene from the movie "Blazing Saddles," you’ll understand why cowboys often referred to beans as "whistle-berries."

But I digress. Nutritionally, I was surprised to discover that — although their fare was limited and probably boring — basic cowboy foods did a pretty good job of keeping those boys alive and well out on the range. According to my nutrition analysis program, a diet of eggs, cheese and sourdough bread, beans and meat stews with whatever vegetables were on hand along with fruit when available provided adequate amounts of protein, dietary fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals. Healthful omega-3 fats would also have been in short supply unless any of the wranglers were also adept at catching fish.

And thanks to the deep nutritional profile of good ‘ol beans, even vegetarian cowboys would have fared very well, thank you. 

And what in the heck is "sowbelly"? Think bacon. Chuck wagon cooks used it to flavor beans and other range life delicacies. Nutrition profile? You don’t want to know.

And speaking of cowboys, come join us November 18-20 at the Monterey County Fairgrounds for the Monterey Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival, www.montereycowboy.org. Besides the entertainment, there will be plenty of good and hearty cowboy food. 

 

 





 



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