I hope you like my featured photo. I took it on my way home from Nebraska in 2017. We had traveled there to witness the total solar eclipse. Of course it was incredible, and luckily, the sun set that day with a spectacular view in Western Kansas.
I have a list of topics on which to write in my series of blog posts. One thing I thought of was the joy of camping. My Father used to take us camping when we were young. Of the seven children, all of us continue to enjoy nature and all it has to offer us. My best memories of camping with my father and siblings were the nature lessons on edible plants, astronomy, mushroom hunting, and fishing. Cooking what we caught and gathered was the best part, and eating all of the food we prepared was the bonus. My father used to sing to us while he cooked our camp meals. Today, our camp sites are a place for gathering (Pre-Corona Virus times), conversing, and enjoying each detail of the natural world around us.
My Father’s favorite and best meal was, “Sheepherder’s Delight.” Basically, it is a one-pan meal, and was cooked over an open fire. It was a favorite of Dad’s for camping trips since it was a staple meal for sheep herders who lived in the mountains of Colorado with during the summers, as was my Father’s life as a young boy. Today, when my family goes camping, we prepare the meal the way Dad did, but when we make it at home, we change it a bit. Here’s my Father’s recipe for Sheepherder’s Delight prepared in one large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven:
1 pound (0.45 kg) of bacon. Cook until crisp. Remove cooked bacon, and set aside. Cube two to four potatoes, depending on the number people that you will feed. Figure about one small potato per person or two people for a large potato. Place the potatoes in the hot bacon grease, and fry until soft with crisp edges.
Next, open a can of prepared baked beans, pork and beans, or beans in tomato sauce. Pour the beans over the potatoes, and add the cooked bacon. I don’t have a picture of it, but it’s best served after a hard day of hiking, fishing, mushroom hunting, or what ever you do to enjoy nature. We have a slightly different take on Sheepherder’s Delight when we’re at home. We change up the ingredients:
1 pound of ground beef (453.592g) I’m sorry if my metric measurements are not quite right. I look them up on the web for the conversions. Cook the ground beef with some diced onions, salt, and pepper.
Prepare the potatoes for oven baking. I cut mine into strips, and toss them with salt, pepper, some oil, and some malt vinegar. Bake the potatoes in an oven set at ~365 degrees Farenheit (185C). Bake until brown and crispy at the edges.
While the potatoes are baking, finish cooking the ground beef. Drain of any extra fat. Then you’re ready to add the canned baked beans, pork and beans, or with what you’re familiar. It should look like this.
Now, to assemble this wonderful comfort food, bring the potatoes out of the oven. Arrange some of the potatoes on your plate. Then serve the bean-meat mixture over the potatoes. We make this for camping trips. We use one pan by cooking the potatoes first. Set them aside while you cook the meat. Add the beans, and serve over the potatoes. I forgot to take a picture of the finished product until I had but one bit remaining.
Another thing we do to enjoy nature is hike up to my Father’s fire circle. It’s in the same mountains of his childhood and that of his children, grandchildren, and the “Old Ones,” our ancestors. The Fire Circle is a place to drum and sing our songs, and honor our beloved ancestors. The hike to our sacred fire circle is about two miles from the main forest service road. We pass stands of quaking aspen trees, scrub oak, pinon pine, and Ponderosa pine trees. The fire circle overlooks a canyon where my people hid when the U.S. government was removing them from their ancestral lands to reservations in the 1800s. It is a very sad time in American history, that is not taught in the schools today. Here’s a glimpse of those lands. Our grandson enjoys his time there.
Speaking of “Indian Removal,” there is the reality that the people were moved away from their hunting and gathering grounds, so there was no way to raise their food. So the government provided commodities, food surpluses, which included white flour, powdered milk, lard, and a variety of canned meats and vegetables. The food was highly processed, and we can trace obesity and diabetes back to this down turn in our physical health and food sovereignty. Having only white flour, dry milk powder, and lard, fry-bread was born, out of necessity. Though it is a symbol of a bad time for my ancestors, we use it today to symbolize that we are resourceful, and we are still here! Here I am frying bread at my Father’s fire circle. My grand nephew was learning how to roll out the dough. It’s never too early to teach the “younguns” as my brother would say. He was the one hauling the cast iron Dutch oven up to the circle. The elevation is ~8,000-plus feet above sea level. The beauty contributes to the meditative state in which we find ourselves when we visit this place.
It was a good day to be alive and a good day to honor our ancestors while celebrating the children.
Thank you for reading.