Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cooking for the 3rd (Warning! Probably Tedious)

Unless you know me, Civil War Reenacting, and our unit cooking, you are highly likely to find this post tedious. But just in case certain people are interested, and just in case I forget how it all went and need to go back and look, I am going to spell out the weekend’s worth of cooking for the 3rd US Artillery at Kearny Park Fresno Reenactment.

This was the last of my 3 major cooking episodes for this event year for the California Historical Artillery Society. My roster showed that I had about 17 for dinner on Friday, and anywhere from 25 to 30 for the remainder of the meals. It turned out that there were only about 13 on Friday and 28 to 32 for the rest of the meals.

Friday night:
We arrived around 4pm. Good Ol’ M.J., J.B., and William had just set up the cook tent and were contemplating the next step- the fly, when we drove up with the forge and my huge pile of stuff. I was HAPPY the tent was up, as that isn’t always the case. I had planned on Chili Beans, salad (a constant at the meals) apple pie (already made) and cornbread in a dutch oven.
The beans: I don’t care as much for chili powder as I do paste made from whole chilis, (pasillas) so I had made up a jar of that. I opened cans of pintos and kidney beans, added canned crushed tomatoes, lots and lots of ground beef (ground from cross rib roasts on sale. I can’t stand to use the pre-ground stuff) and cumin, garlic, oregano, lemon juice. They were good.
The cornbread: Didn’t happen. Of course no one built a fire until way too late for that. I had to use the French bread for the following night instead.
The pie: I have to admit, it was about the best I’ve made. Braeburns and Golden Delicious, about 2 to 1. A pinch of cloves, lots of cinnamon. A big splash of orange juice, mostly brown sugar, some white.
Notes to self: Never ever plan on cooking anything over the fire the first night. Start the food before you think you should. I had to hustle to get the beans done in time. It’s not nice to still be cooking after dark!

Saturday breakfast:
The horror of this was that the First Sgt called for breakfast to be a 7 am! That was actually reveille! But officer’s call was at 8 am. Food was done just after 7:30, and they still made officers call.
The bacon: Oh it was lovely! Thick and meaty. I pointed to the stack of bacon in the meat case I wanted, but when my back was turned, the clerk started pulling it from the back where it was more fatty. I noticed and politely reminded her that I wanted the other. I got 6 pounds. As I cooked it over the propane, I kept it warm in a dutch oven over the fire.
The eggs: One flat. One flat just exactly fits in the big cast iron skillet along with a huge lake of bacon grease. Yum!
The fruit: Cantaloupe and grapes. The melon was the sweetest I’d ever tasted.
The oatmeal: I cooked it an hour ahead and it stayed hot until time to eat, giving me more time for the other stuff. It amazes me how many people like oatmeal! Served with sides of raw washed sugar, raisins and pecans.
Other stuff: Although burrito sized tortillas would hold everything better, I bought the soft taco size. They are MUCH cheaper, and people don’t want that much bread anyway. I surreptitiously watched the captain try to roll up his portion in it until he finally gave up and used a fork. Cheese and salsas to dress it all.
Notes to self: When making a huge batch of oatmeal, add extra water or it is too too thick, and stop cooking it just this side of mushy, since it gets more mushy.

Saturday Noon:
The battle times were strange, so lunch wasn’t until about 2pm. So I set out apples and donated cookies and spice cake for snacks. Also, there are ALWAYS goobers available!
The lunchmeat: I had wonderful quality smoked turkey and Italian roast beef. Tillamook cheddar and swiss cheese.
The Bread: A disappointment. The little sandwich buns were a little too small and dried out quick. They only looked big in the store because of my new glasses, I realize now. But I did get two packages of whole grain little sandwich flatbreads which were very popular. If they had had more on the shelf, I would have gotten them. I also put in the leftover tortillas into the bread basket.
The salad: (yawn) iceberg mix.
More fruit: sliced peaches. apples.
The Macaroni salad: Made at home the day before. Yes, I followed directions for the portions, but made far too much. But noodles are cheap, so I didn’t mind. I had to flavor it up with lemon juice, as it always gets bland after is sets awhile.
The Cookies: Today’s cookies were the molasses crinkles. Hugely popular. What works very well is to make them (2 batches), cook them, and then freeze them in Ziploc freezer bags until the event.
The Special Beverage: I had brought a 2 liter bottle of my homemade ginger ale. While the troops were finishing their lunch, I wrapped a towel around the plastic bottle, hung a bunch of blue willow cups on my fingers, and walked it around, offering samples. I strained it through a little sieve. The best compliment was from one of the guys who said, “This ginger ale kicks @ss!”
Notes to self: Walmart has the best little sandwich buns. Food Maxx has the best produce and fruit. Winco has the best price/quality lunchmeat and cheese.

Saturday Night
The stew: Blanded up on me! Not bad, but not wonderful either. So that irritates me. I’d made it at home. I notice how many people pour off the juice to get the meat. I may quit with the homemade stew…
The cornbread: So it was cornbread instead of French bread, since I used that for the chili beans. It turned out very nice, only a little over done on some of the bottom. I made 2 big dutch ovens of it. The hard part was cooking it over wood coals instead of briquettes. Makes it more magic than science getting it right. It was very popular.
The rice: Which I forgot to cook, so we didn’t have any.
Salad: (yawn)
The dessert: Ahhh… I had made my old favorite. Lemon pound cake. It is a wonderful, rich cake. I made raspberry sauce and whipped cream to spoon over it.
Notes to self: I’m tempted to make the cornbread up ahead and just heat it up, but it is SO good, fresh out of the dutch oven.

Sunday morning:
The Ham: This is definitely the way to go. Bacon on Saturday, ham on Sunday. A real ham, not those wimpy deli things, or the dry spiral ones. Baked ahead of time, sliced, foil wrapped, and heated in a dutch oven over the fire.
Everything else: The same as Saturday. Except variations in the fruit, like honeydew melon.
The pineapple upside down cake: Didn’t happen. There was the other pound cake that didn’t get cut into, so I served that with the raspberry sauce I still had lots of.
Notes to self: The ham takes longer than you’d think to heat, so get it in early! You should know by now!

Sunday lunch:
Same as Saturday, but with the addition of potato chips
The cookies: Sugar cookies this time, the “One Half” recipe. I call it that because almost all the ingredients are one half of something.

Other stuff:
Coffee. The previous cook handed down his method, which works like a charm and you don’t end up with the over-cooked sludge in the bottom. Boil water in big coffee pot. Measure out grounds in tin dough riser. Pour boiling water over them. Wait 6 minutes. Set coffee strainer in sieve and place in pot. Pour coffee through them until the grounds start to come out. Keep warm on edge of fire.
Lemonade. I just can’t bring myself to use CountryTime. But we had to on Sunday because I ran out.

And that’s it. I’ve been asked to be provisioner for next year, and have accepted. But I want more free time, so I’ll be compromising with canned things and pre-made things more than I did this year. But I’ll make up for it with the molasses cookies!

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