And what isn't there to like about cowboys?
Open country, horses, saddle leather, boots, hats...but what makes a real cowboy?
Here's how my heroine, Sarah MacFarland, describes a cowboy she's just met:
"Mr. Cooper’s voice was gentle, his manner courtly. He smiled as he spoke, his eyes sharp and surrounded by fine lines, as if he spent his days gazing across the prairie in the bright sunlight."
There's just something about a real cowboy. Something that makes him look natural wearing a Stetson at Sam's Club. It's the soft wear on his boots. The slim, slightly bowed legs. The lean lines of a body that can only come from hours spent in the saddle.
A sense that he sprang out of the prairie grass fully formed and ready to face a blizzard to save a fall calf.
The epitome of the American West.
But as much as we love cowboy lore and the romance of the western life, what makes it even better is that I know people who are really like that.
My cowboy characters are based on real people just as much as my Amish ones are. After all, reality is so much more interesting than mythology, isn't it?
But enough waxing eloquently on one of my favorite subjects, let's get to the food!
I thought I'd share a quintessential western food - beef jerky. This has been made as long as people have been eating meat. Before freezers and refrigerators, the only way to preserve meat was to smoke it or dry it. Jerking the meat is a way to dry it with seasoning.
We love this beef jerky so much that we never buy the commercial stuff anymore...
There really isn't a recipe for this. You need meat. I use a cut called "London Broil" in some places, but you can use any lean cut of beef or chicken.
I also use this commercial seasoning kit. It comes with both the cure and the spices, so you're all set. Why mess with perfection?
And you need a bowl to mix it in (glass or stainless steel), and a glass casserole dish for the middle step.
One of these is also handy:
If you don't have a dehydrator, your oven will work well. Just set it at the lowest temperature it will go - somewhere around 170°.
First, slice the meat into 1/4" slices.
Don't worry about uneven edges or scraps, Wynter and Thatcher will take care of those for you!
Put the sliced meat in a bowl.
Four pounds of meat is all I have room for in my dehydrator, so I just keep slicing until I think it's about there. In the picture above, I'm about half-way done.
But be sure to weigh the meat after slicing it. You want to use the right amount of cure and seasoning.
I mix the cure and seasoning together in a small bowl, then sprinkle it over the meat about 1/3 at a time.
This is a dry rub process. Some people use a wet cure - basically the spices and cure are mixed with water and the meat is soaked in the marinade for 24 hours.
With the dry rub, just mix until all the slices are coated with the spice/cure mixture, Then place the slices in a glass dish.
This part is important! You want the spice/cure mixture to touch every piece of meat, so lay them out in the dish, one layer at a time, until they're all out flat. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 24 hours.
Be sure to wear your cowboy boots while you're waiting!
The next day, take all those spicy pieces of meat and lay them out on your dehydrator trays or baking sheets, if you're using your oven.
Go ahead and crowd them together, but not overlapping. The meat will shrink some during the drying process.
It takes about six hours in our semi-arid climate to dry the meat. You want it to be slightly pliable and chewy. If you let it dry too long, it turns crispy. Still tasty, but not as satisfying.
Once the jerky is dried and cooled, go ahead and enjoy it! We keep ours in the freezer for two reasons: First, just in case I misjudged something, the freezer keeps the jerky from spoiling. Second (and most important) it keeps the tasty treat out of sight.
It is so easy to take "just one more piece" when you're feeling munchy!
I'll leave you with one last look at cowboy country, this time near the Big Horn Mountains. Ah, that view makes me homesick for Wyoming!
So here's the question for today: What is your favorite part of the Cowboy culture? Don't be shy - tell us what you really think!