By William Thompson: Quay County Sun
It looked like the cast of Lonesome Dove had set up camp Saturday at Ute Lake. Five groups with five old-fashioned chuck wagons were on hand as part of the Logan/Ute Lake Chamber of Commerce’s Chuck Wagon Cook Off.
The smell of apple cobbler baking in Dutch ovens, biscuits browning in iron pans over coal fires, and bacon and beans boiling in huge stock pots had those attending the event buying ten-dollar tickets to sample the culinary delights.
Members of the American Chuck Wagon Association take their old west ways seriously. Sam Howell and his friend Paul Geesling, dressed in cowboy garb, brought their wagon from Odessa to relive the old days alongside shimmering Ute Lake.
“This wagon is about 105 years old,” Howell said as he stirred a big pot of beans and hard, cured bacon. “The secret to the beans is the herbs and spices, but I’m not saying which ones.”
Each wagon was judged on the quality of food, the wagon and the campsite. The cooking competition is what gets mouths to watering and creative juices flowing. Paige Dennison of Amarillo, boasted of her family’s apple cobbler.
“We’ve won with every fruit cobbler we’ve made,” said Dennison. “When you’re baking a double crust apple cobbler in a Dutch oven over coals you have to check it often.
You have to rotate the bottom of the Dutch oven a quarter turn while you rotate the lid a quarter turn in the opposite direction. That’s so you don’t get hot spots.”
Lindsay Ward and her family brought their wagon from Hereford. The Ward family won the best overall competition at the event.
“You’ve got to really pay attention when you’re cooking over coals,” Ward said. “You have to pay attention to the direction of the wind so you’ll know where to dig the holes for the fires.”
Logan businessman Sam Morrow stopped by with his wife and a couple of friends.
“I like the authenticity of this event,” Morrow said. “My grand dad owned a ranch and he ate like this. “We’ve got four tickets so we’re going to sample food from four different wagons.”
Logan/Ute Lake Chamber of Commerce Secretary Sharon Reid said the chuck wagon event is destined to be a perennial event at Ute Lake.
“Our sponsors continue to donate money and food each year,” Reid said. “This year we are giving away $5,350 in prize money to the contestants. We had about 250 people eat today.”
Sam Bass said the chuck wagon he brought was used on a ranch in Swisher County, Texas around the turn of the century. It won first prize Saturday for best wagon at the event.
“The chuck wagon was the center of operations on a cattle drive,” Bass said. “The cook was in charge around the wagon. Even the foreman acknowledged the cook’s authority. The chuck wagon stored all the food and all the personal effects and valuables of the cowboys.”