in modern times, we have a vast array of foods to choose from. Your local supermarket routinely carries foods from all over the world, including fresh fruits and vegetables. This was not the case out here on the frontier when Fort Concho flourished in the 1800s.

American cowboys and frontiersmen in our area had a vastly different diet than today. In those days, families had to find ways to preserve their food. There were three main ways of doing it, drying, smoking, and salting.

Fruits and vegetables were dried by placing them out in the sun or near a heat source.  Meat products were salted or smoked.

Salting required rubbing salt into the meat.  The meat was completely covered in salt and placed somewhere cool for at least a month. During this time more and more salt had to be added.

In those days, almost everyone had access to a "smokehouse" There they would hang meat preserved through smoke cures in rooms or buildings with fire pits.

Out on the trails, Texas Ranger turned cattle rancher, Charles Goodnight, created the chuckwagon. Goodnight took an army surplus wagon made by Studebaker and added a large pantry. All the cooking utensils and other supplies were kept an arm's length away.

The Old West surely must have been gassy. Beans made up the bulk of a cowboy's protein intake. Beans were turned into a variety of meals, including chili, mashed beans, and bean soups.

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According to Wierd History, these were some of the staples of the Old West diet here in West Texas.

1) Sweet Potato Coffee: There wasn't a lot of coffee in the Old West, so pioneers grouped up chicory roots and acorns to create beverages similar to coffee. A more creative alternative was sweet potatoes, cooked, peeled, mashed, and formed into patties with rye flour then dried in an oven, powdered, and mixed with water. It wasn't the best.

2) Roast Skunk: Pioneers had to eat what was available. Skunks were certainly that. One old pioneer cookbook includes instructions for roast skunks with a critical instruction: remove the scent glands before cooking.


3) Calf Foot Jelly: It is exactly what the name suggests. It was made using cow feet, hooves removed, eggs sugar, lemon, and spices. Sounds like that would have been great on ground acorn bread.

4) Bear Head Cheese: Bears are big animals. There were a lot of bears in West Texas back in the pioneer days. A popular dish in those days was bear head cheese.  There is no cheese in it. The dish is made with the meat of a bear's head, boiled down, seasoned and placed in a mold until solidified. Then it was removed and thinly sliced.

Photo by Pete Nuij on Unsplash
Photo by Pete Nuij on Unsplash

5) S.O.B. Stew This classic cowboy dish consisted of lean beef, calf liver and heart, bone marrow, sweetbreads, and brain, all chopped into small pieces and boiled. Seasonings were added, but only salt, pepper, and hot sauce.

6) Prairie Oysters: You won't find this in the Concho River. This is not a shellfish at all, but rather the testicles of calves removed in the neutering process. Cowboys and pioneers here in West Texas would peel them, batter them, and fry them on the spot.  They were considered a delicacy and are still popular today.

Photo: Frankie's Free Range Meat
Photo: Frankie's Free Range Meat

They ate what they could find in the Old West. Fortunately, our food choices have evolved today.

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