When I hear self-styled gourmets arguing about the respective merits of French cooking, Italian cooking, German cooking. Chinese cooking, Japanese cooking, Mexican cooking. Hungarian cooking and all the other kinds of cooking much talked about these days, I feel sorry for the poor fellows. Obviously, they arc all fond of food. It is, therefore, a pity that they have missed the greatest gastronomic adventure of all—western ranch cooking.
My mind goes back to a day in the early autumn of 1954 when, in company with an associate, I had occasion to visit the “Q” Ranch in the Sage Creek area of Alberta. On the morning of our drive into the Sage Creek basin a radiant sun was shining out of a clear sky; with only a breath of wind to stir the sage-scented prairie air. it was warm and altogether delightful.
Arriving at the ranch we were greeted by the resident manager, Lloyd Tytlandsvik, and his charming young wife Juanita.
I explained our mission in detail. “That will take you all day. so you will have lunch and dinner with us,” he said. “We are in the throes of a roundup but you are always welcome to what we have,” his wife added, smiling.
Come lunch time we sat down with twenty-odd wolf-hungry cattle wranglers at a long table stacked with food. These ranch women never took a lesson in cooking in their lives. They cooked food by instinct rather than by a prescribed formula — food which for wholesome deliciousness has seldom been matched and never excelled since cooking became an art.
For the noon meal there were big thick tender juicy steaks, grilled over an open wood fire, with the tang of the sap-wood seared right into them—a gourmet’s dream.
The evening meal was indeed a feast. There were big roasts of beef and lamb, cooked in their own juices — the ranch women know that no concoction ever invented can improve upon the natural flavor of good meat. With the meat course there were heaped-up bowls-
ful of hot mashed creamed potatoes. These were potatoes with that rich mealy flavor that only the glacial clays of the high prairies can impart, and each bowlful was crowned with a big chunk of butter that melted slowly away, imparting a creamy unbelievable goodness to the whole. There was a great variety of vegetables— green peas, string beans, young beets and carrots—fresh out of the garden, with the fragrance of the warm earth still upon them.
There were bowls brimming with hot thick brown gravy, to smother everything in.
Large platters stacked with sweet corn-on-the-cob — nature’s packaged sunshine—were put upon the table boiling hot.
The secret was the freshness of everything. Once that pristine freshness is lost, no chef who ever lived can put it back.
There were fruit and vegetable salads to attract the eye and tickle the palate. There was delicious homemade bread — bread baked from the flour of the Hard Spring wheats grown on the open prairies, compared to which there is no other. And there were biscuits, browned to a turn, with that nutty appetizing flavor, hot out of the oven.
Butter there was, not in miserable little patties, but in half-pound prints invitingly spaced.
For dessert there were huge wedges of crusty pie. Then, for good measure, the women placed upon the table big crystal bowls heaped up with red succulent strawberries fresh from the vines, with the scent of the honey-bee’s kiss still upon them. There was thick jersey cream, which could be spread with a knife, to pour over the berries, and soup plates to eat them out of.
Then to crown all, permeating the whole atmosphere with a heavenly aroma, came steaming mugs of Mocha, the like of which the Olympian gods never tasted!
All this was served in the best ranch tradition—you simply reached out and helped yourself.
MR. SPENCE IS A MEMBER OF INTERNATIONAL JOINT COMMISSION
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