A few years ago I put up one of those little Facebook “how well do you know me?” quizzes. One of the questions was “What is my ideal job?” The possible answers were safety consultant, federal law enforcement agent, college professor, or trail cook. Pretty much everyone who took the quiz picked one of the first three. These are all reasonable assumptions as I have either worked in or been trained in each of these professions in my brief three and a half decades on this planet, but were all wrong. A few astute observers of old Slap got it right and picked number four- trail cook.
I love cooking. Absolutely love it. I can’t do plumbing, am vaguely competent in carpentry, would be a disaster as an electrician, and don’t understand how cars work other than the whole “put key in ignition and push pedals” thing. When it comes to cooking, though, I can be an outright genius. Point me to a supposedly empty refrigerator and bare pantry and I’ll whip you up a quiche faster than you can whistle Dixie. More likely a nice pasta salad, but you get the point. Where it all really comes together, though, is making something in a pot. Soup, stew, chili, any chance that I get to throw a bunch of ingredients into a pot has a good chance of coming out tasting like manna from heaven.
So why aren’t I a cook? Terrible hours, mediocre pay, and you have to be inside a hot, windowless kitchen for most of the day. As a trail cook, though, the world is your kitchen. You cook outdoors, plucking fresh ingredients from the ground as you wander the earth. You ride ahead of the herd, away from the dust. You have hours of blissful solitude, but can still share in the brotherhood of humanity when you ring the dinner bell and bring the hands home for supper.
It really wasn’t like that, I’m sure, and you faced danger and the elements for crap pay. What really attracted me to this idea in the first place was reading Lonesome Dove. The sheer joy felt by Bolivar when he smashed the dinner bell with the crowbar is something that I hope to have some day. When Po Camp came along, the sage mystic with a knack for experimental cooking, I knew that was the job for me.
In my mind the trail cook became the consigliore, the maester, the wise adviser to the trail boss, serving up equal parts cool advice and hot chili. Am I right? Probably not, but it is fun to dream.
Tune in next time for recipes from Hurricane Irene!