Q&A with Hugh Beebower about Legends of a Range Cook

Hugh Beebower delivers Cowboy Cooking at its finest in his new book, Legends of a Range Cook, a Journey into “Old West” Cooking.  Hugh conceived, designed and self published the book.  His friend, Red Wolverton, narrates with his real cowboy and chuckwagon experiences.  Hugh’s full color old West photos range from panoramic landscapes to mouthwatering chuckwagon entrees.

While traveling in Arizona, Hugh took time out to answer a few questions about the book.

Q:  Why did you want to do a book on chuckwagon cooking?

A:  When you go to those old Western movies like I did when I was a kid and you watch TV programs like Rawhide, there was always a chuckwagon and some cowboy cooking in it.  I’d think, “Wow.  That’s kind of cool.”  Those shows let you see a lot of Old West things.  Cooking over a fire in a Dutch oven was pretty nifty.  That’s how it all got started.  It was seeing that stuff when I was younger and then trying to duplicate it.

You know I didn’t have the money in the beginning to do a lot of those photos.  Once we became professional photographers, my brother and me, we had the ability to do just about anything.  We also did a lot of food shots for commercial clients.   That made it even easier to do the cookbook.

I had to acquire the Dutch ovens and all the paraphernalia that you’d see in a chuckwagon.  Once I started getting that, I’d make peach cobbler and pies and sourdough biscuits.  That was the beginning of the chuckwagon cookbook.

Q:  How did you come up with the name Legends of a Range Cook?

A:  That actually came from my good friend Red Wolverton.  He knew his cowboy cooking and had written some stories where the word “legend” came up referring to an old codger who had been around so long he must have been a legend.  Red is a legend in his own right too.

Q:   How do you know that the book correctly portrays ranch life and chuckwagon cooking?

A:  The accuracy came from Red who was a real cook at the ZX Ranch over in Oregon.  The ranch was something like 2.5 million acres.  They had just a gazillion mother cows over there and they had tremendous chuckwagon cook-offs with some of the most fantastic cowboy cooking around.  

A lot of the stuff you see in this book came from Red.  Besides the stories, he was an editor too.  Red told us when things were right and when they weren’t.

Q:   What were the challenges in doing the book?

A:  The book itself, you know the writing and all that, was pretty tough.  Most of it was out of my hands.  I could tell you when the stories sound right but for me to write it was a little bit out of my element.  But a good editor with good stories pulled it off.

I was always the one who came up with the Old West photos for illustrations.  I would say 99% of the time I was also the guy who designed the layout.

Another challenge was getting the printing registration lined up from the first to last page.  Eventually we got it all worked out and everything lined up.  But that was a bit of a headache.

Q:  How did you develop the recipes in the book?

A:  Most of the recipes are authentic.  I’d say 90% of them are dead on authentic.  You know a chuckwagon cook had a little book, a little secret book, and it was always tied together with a hunk of string and some kind of leather cover on it, but mostly it was in his head.  He just knew how to do biscuits and he knew how to do cobbler and what it would take to get it so that it would turn out good.  Yeah they had stuff written down but cowboy cooking was mostly in their head.  Every night they were in a different place.  They just did the best they could.  

So our trail recipes come from Red’s experiences.  The headquarters section of the book is a mix of ranch wives’ recipes, heirloom family recipes and old cookbooks recipes. 

Q:  Where did you find all of the props you used in the book?

A:  We got a little bit here and there.  We bought stuff at Cabelas and then we had to make it look old.  We went to Lodge and got Dutch ovens.  And we made a lot of stuff too because it’s hard to come by.   If you have anything that looks new it’s just not going to cut it.  So the handmade stuff, I pretty much did all of that.  We did use other people too.  If something needed to have a blacksmith look, I knew some guys that were into blacksmithing.  They’d make iron forks and other things for us.

Red Wolverton had a lot of the old shotguns, tack, saddles and lanterns.  He was pretty much a source on that sort of thing.  Not only was he a good storyteller, he pretty much made stuff happen.  Whenever I needed something he’d say we’ll look around and we’ll find it.  He always came through.

Q:  How long did it take to put the book together?

A:  It took about two years from start to finish.  We’d work on a shot for the book and then have to stop and work for our commercial photo clients.  Sometimes we’d re-do a shot because it just didn’t look right, so it was a long process.  The editing took a while too.  

Q:  What was your favorite part of doing the book?

A:  I really enjoyed the process of bringing the Old West to life.  I knew what it should look like and it was cool to piece the stories, photos and layouts together to tell that story in an authentic way.  And who doesn’t like to eat cowboy cooking?

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