With limited supplies, chuck-wagon cooks had to be creative to provide satisfying desserts for the cowboys. Cowboys craved sweets; this may be related to the fact that in most outfits, alcohol was not allowed on trail drives. A cook who could whip up a tasty cobbler or pudding won high marks with the crew, even if he was ornery and cantankerous. Chuck-wagon staples usually included flour, molasses, dried fruit, salt, and saleratus (baking soda). A well-stocked wagon might also carry some sugar, a few eggs stored between layers of salt, canned evaporated milk, and a closely hoarded stock of seasonings and luxuries such as vanilla and lemon extracts, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and nuts.
The pudding known as Son-of-a-Gun-in-a-Sack was a very special treat. Despite its colorful name, this dessert is really just the cowboy version of English and colonial suet puddings. On the trail, the pudding was mixed and placed in an empty cotton flour or sugar sack. The top of the sack was twisted and tied and the pudding was lowered into a big kettle of boiling water to cook. We couldn't wait to try this traditional recipe but didn't expect to enjoy eating it. We were wrong-it is delicious and fun to make. It is wonderful topped with Howard Rogers' Whiskey Sauce and a dollop of whipped cream.
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, bread crumbs, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Fold in the raisins, suet, and nuts. Stir in the milk and molasses; mix well.
Arrange 6 to 8 layers of cheesecloth to form a 16-inch square. Set in a 1-quart mixing bowl and fill with the pudding mixture. Bring up the sides of the cheesecloth and, leaving room for the pudding to expand, tie tightly with string.
Place the "sack" in a colander. Place the colander in a kettle and add enough boiling water to cover the sack. Cover and boil gently for 2hours. Carefully lift the colander out of the pan and immediately remove the cheesecloth from around the pudding. Place the pudding, rounded side up, on a plate. Let stand 30 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature topped with Howard Rogers' Whiskey Sauce and whipped cream.
Melt the butter in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the sugar and cook, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Gradually stir in the cream and half-and-half and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring for 10-12 minutes, until the mixture becomes a smooth, medium-thick sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in the whiskey. Serve the warmed sauce spooned over Son-of-a-Gun-in-a-Sack. Makes about 2 cups.
Spririt of the West: Cooking from Ranch House and Range
By Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs
$35.00/224 pages/125 recipes/35 full-color photographs
Recipe reprinted by permission.
This page modified February 2007
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