Cowboy comfort food
A trip down a mountain trail revealed a tasty dish.
Horseshoe prints dented the dusty surface of the Granite Mountain Trail near Prescott, Ariz. My husband, Ralph, and I had followed them for 30 minutes, so we weren't too surprised when a horse, on its return trip, walked slowly toward us. The man on the horse was a little surprising, however. He was dressed in a vest, chaps, cowboy boots, and a red bandanna. It looked as if he'd cantered out of an old Western movie. A rifle slung across his saddle completed the image.Skip to next paragraph
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We nodded and stepped aside, following Western trail etiquette, to give horses and mules the right of way. The old cowboy tipped his hat and reined his horse to a stop to chat with us.
"Beautiful horse," I said.
"Do you know what kind it is?" he asked.
The horse was dappled brown and white, so I took my best guess. "An Appaloosa?"
"That's right," he said.
We all talked about the glorious spring day, the water running in normally dry stream beds, and the beauty of the pinyon-juniper forest. While the Appaloosa waited patiently, I noticed something hanging down under its belly – an odd contraption made of wire with a horsehair tassel. I asked what it was.
"I made it myself," the cowboy said. "It bobs around and keeps flies off the horse. Do you know what it's called?"
For the second time I took a guess. "A shoo-fly?"
"Right again!" His weathered face cracked into a grin, and I felt proud. We were buddies now and our conversation turned to other subjects. He offered up a bit of personal history and told me that he used to work on the railroad.
Now it was my turn to ask him a question. "Whatever happened to cabooses? I haven't seen one in years."
I inadvertently hit on a favorite topic. "Oh, they haven't been used since the '70s," he said.
But he had fond memories of cabooses from earlier decades.
"In those days, a train's crew had five members instead of two. There was an engineer, conductor, brakeman, flagman, and fireman. I was a flagman. The caboose was our living room, dining room, and bedroom," he said. "It had an icebox, a writing table or desk, and a couple of benches covered with hide and stuffed with horsehair. Then there were kerosene lanterns and a coal stove. No matter how hot it was outside you had to have a fire in the stove for coffee."
"What did the crew eat?" I asked.
"There was always beef stew simmering on the stove," he said. "Either that or a big pot of Johnny Marzetti."
His eyes glazed over. Perhaps all this reminiscing was making him hungry. He touched the brim of his hat, wished us a good hike, and moseyed on down the trail.
Ralph and I stood watching the cowboy and his horse disappear behind a screen of manzanita and alligator juniper. Then we turned, looked at each other, and said in unison, "Johnny Marzetti?"