Monday, March 21, 2011

Cowboy Coffee

Cowboy Coffee-

Have you ever written or read about the cowboy hero of your novel sitting around the campfire drinking coffee? In my mind I always pictured a small campfire outlined with rocks where my handsome hero sat pouring coffee from a blue speckled coffee pot. How the coffee got into the pot never crossed my mind.

Well, if your story takes place before the end of the Civil War, your hero’s coffee beans would have been green. They were sold by the scoopful from barrels in mercantile stores. Once the coffee was purchased the beans then had to be roasted on the stove or over a fire before they could be run through a coffee grinder. It was easy to burn beans this way and one or two burned beans could ruin the flavor of the coffee. Exposure to the air also caused the roasted beans to become stale and rancid.

Then in 1868, two brothers, John and Charles Arbuckle, who owned a grocery store in Pittsburg, PA patented a process for roasting coffee beans and coating them with an egg and sugar glaze to seal in the flavor.

Their coffee was packaged in one pound, airtight bags. The packages had a yellow label with the name ARBUCKLES’ in large red letters across the front. Beneath that was the trademark Flying Angel, over the words ARIOSA COFFEE® in black letters. The coffee was shipped all over the country in wooden crates with one hundred packages to a crate.

The coffee was an instant success, especially with cowboys out on the open range. On the bottom of each bag were printed coupons which could be redeemed for things like silverware, curtains, handkerchiefs, scissors, razors and even wedding rings. Inside each package of coffee was a peppermint stick and chuck wagon cooks would call out, “Who wants the candy?” to tempt a volunteer into grinding the beans for the next batch of coffee.

Depending on the size of crew, the coffee pots used by chuck wagon cooks were usually 20-36 cups, and made of copper, cast iron, steel or enamelware. Pots were washed daily and once a week cleaned with inside with vinegar. On a trail drive the cook would rise around three in the morning. He would take the coffee pots off the spits and either poured out what was left from the night before or added it to stew for flavor. He would add fresh water to the pots and bring it to a boil. The grounds were placed directly into the water to cook (about 2 ½ cups of grounds for 20 cups of coffee). After about five minutes the coffee was done. He would add a cup of cold water to settle the grounds and serve it black. Any man who added sugar or evaporated milk invited teasing from other cowboys who labeled him a greenhorn. If you were refilling your coffee cup and someone yelled, “Man at the pot,” you were obligated to serve refills.

However, most men riding alone in the old west didn’t carry a coffee pot. Instead, they brewed their coffee in a small pot the same way the chuck wagon cook did. Cold water was brought to a boil then the coffee grounds were thrown in (one rounded tablespoon for each two cups of coffee). The coffee was brought to a boil again then removed from the heat. A splash of cold water was added to help the grounds settle then being careful to keep the grounds inside the pot, the coffee was poured into a tin cup for drinking.

Add some wood smoke and maybe a bit of ash and you can make cowboy coffee at home. 


Tina Donahue said...

Fascinating stuff, Kathy.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Tina,
Sometimes the more I research the more fascinating little bits of information I find. It's a bit like a treasure hunt.

Delaney Diamond said...

How interesting! This is why I can't write historical romance, although I enjoy reading them. I'm worried I wouldn't get the details right.

Kathy, I'll leave the research to people like you, and I'll enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Margaret West said...

Wow, I never realised how complex coffee was lol Now it beggers the question, how did those cowboys wash?? Mmmmm

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Delaney,
I worry about the details too. I'm always finding things I wish I knew when I wrote... It's like writing craft, the more you do it the better you get, hopefully. I just hope none of the research mistakes I made in the past didn't make my readers throw the books against the wall.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Margaret,
Thanks for stopping. And back then cowboys didn't wash--much. Kind of a turn off for the heroine, but then she didn't jump in the shower once or twice a day either.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Well dang, Kathy, what a bunch of information and on just coffee. I am fortunate not to have written anything before 1910 or I would have definitely screwed up. I always wondered how they settled those grounds. I heard eggshells but cold water certainly makes more sense.
I always look forward to your blogs. You are such a pleasure to have with us.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Sarah,
Yes they did use egg shells too, but that may have been more at home where they likely had the egg shells. I thought of including that, but as I was sticking to pretty much open range, I left it out.

Michael said...

I agree with Delaney.

I'll leave the historical to the experts. *grins*

Thanks for the entertaining and educational post

Sharita L aka Michael Mandrake

Anonymous said...

Wow, very interesting post, Kathy.

Liz @ Coffee & Romance, a book blog

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Sharita and Liz,
I'm glad you enjoyed that bit of history. Thanks for stopping. I appreciate your comments. :)

Judith Leger said...

Wow, Kathy, I'd never knew that about the coffee. I know my parents would use an old drip pot for their coffee. This was so interesting. Thanks for sharing!!

Judith Leger

Mike O'Hare said...

Amazing facts. It just goes to show how we take most things for granted. Society has conditioned us to take things for granted these days. Everything is on 'tap'. This reminds me of the old western series "Rawhide." Anyone remember this? The cook was called Wishbone and he always had the coffee on the boil lol. And if you insulted his coffee which the boss, Gil Favor always did, you insulted the cook.

Roxy Jacobs said...

I'd heard somewhere that the process of keeping the coffee warmed led to pretty bitter brew. I imagine it's the same with the office pot being kept on the burner all day. Thanks for the research!

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Kathy,
This is a very interesting post! I really enjoyed this--learned some things I didn't know. Oh, Mike, I loved Rawhide. What a great western.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Judith,
I remember being a kid and watching the coffee spurt into the glass bubble at the top of my mom's old perculator.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Mike,
I remember Rawhide. But you have a better memory than me, cause I didn't remember the name of the cook. Like you said the cook was law on the trail drive. Not only was he cook, but doctor, banker, barber or mediator. No one could touch any food or utensil without permission and even the trail boss yeilded his authority in camp to the cook.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Roxy,
I'm not sure how long coffee was kept warm, I imagine pots of coffee emptied pretty fast, and the only time they were really able to drink coffee on a trail drive were during the only two meals served, supper and breakfast. The cook was up at three am so coffee only had that breif overnight to sit.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Cheryl,
Thanks for stopping by. I guess lots of us grew up on the old TV westerns. I loved them when I was a kid and I suppose that's why I gravitated toward writing them.

Redameter said...

You'll find this same info in my historical western, Jodi's Journey. Very interesting article about it on line. It changed history.

You know the one thing about our early country history is the time it took to do things. Can you imagine having to do all that to make coffee in the fist place. So many things they did from scratch, how was there ever time for it? Laundry had to take them all day or maybe two days to finish. cooking for a big family every day, three times a day. The poor woman was worked to the ground.

So when we gripe because we have to make a cup of coffe, we need to think twice about it.

Love and blessings

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Rita,
Isn't it fun, all the research that goes into our books. I did find some of this info on line, the rest I found in books that I have. I saw an early washing machine at a state farm show. Made out of wood and kind of oval shaped, it hung from a frame and sloshed the clothes back and forth like a cradle. Not sure when that came out but it had to be better than kettles of hot water, lye soap and a scrub board.
I can almost feel the dry cracked skin on my hands.
Thanks for stopping by and all the best for your book, Jodi's Journey.

Fiona McGier said...

We are avid campers and also coffee addicts. We have a pot that has a plastic percolator top on it, but they keep melting from the heat of the boiling water. We put grounds into the top part, and the stick part holds it in place. Some of it usually boils out before we realize it has begun to bubble. It takes a while, but tastes so good, especially when it's cold weather! And it's always somewhat "chewy".

Remembering that back-in-the-day folks thought having a bath once a year was a luxury they didn't need, reminds me how happy I am that I was born when I was...and why I write contemporary romance. Can't beat clean bodies and birth control!

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Fiona,
My brothers and I used to go camping years ago. Sitting around that campfire was wonderful, but it was just as wonderful to jump in the shower later and wash off all the sweat and smoke.