In the realm of country cooking, the elite are those who can take a heavy cast-iron Dutch oven, scrape out some glowing coals from a cook fire, and create masterpieces. And in this neck of the woods, the emperor of cast-iron splendor is Ed Parsons.
Ed actually has a j.o.b. to pay the bills, you know, but his passion kicks in on the weekend with about 600 pounds of pots, a lot of fire, an authentic cowboy chuck wagon and hungry folks who appreciate excellence. In fact, ol' Ed has come real close to turning an art form into a science. He does this by shunning the use of coals from a fire and relying instead on the practicality of charcoal briquets. Using charcoal, he knows to the minute when each dish is ready to eat, and he likes it that way.
A few years ago, he ventured to another state to participate in a chuck wagon contest, complete with a cowboy Dutch oven cook-off, and as usual he represented those of us here at home admirably. But what was more important was how he managed to carve his name into something of a legend in this out-of-state town.
"There were hundreds of chuck wagons and campfires out there," Ed said. "Seemed like miles of them. And this lady reporter from the local paper heard there was someone from out of state taking part, so she looked me up for an interview.
"I had just put some cobbler on in a 12-incher and had checked my watch, because with the briquets, I know it takes me exactly ... I meanexactly ... 18 minutes until it's ready. I suggested we go somewhere quiet for the interview, so we walked about a hundred yards away through dozens of chuck wagons and sat down for a visit."
Ed was his usual charming self through the interview, but kept an eye on the time, without seeming to. When 18 minutes had passed, he stuck his nose in the air and sniffed, then sniffed again. He said he'd have to be excused, because he could smell his cobbler and it was done.
"You can't possibly smell your cobbler out of all the hundreds out there," the reporter said.
Ed gave her a kind look as you would to a newcomer in any sport, then sniffed again.
"Yep," he said, "turning brown on top. In fact, by the time we get back, the brown will be clear across the top. A good cook always knows his own cobbler."
He then led the reporter back through the maze of cooks, popped the lid on the Dutch oven, and showed her the finished product. Nice and brown all the way across the top.
Ed laughs at the memory. "Eighteen minutes," he says. "I'm telling you, eighteen minutes exactly."
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Home Country is a weekly syndicated newspaper column written by outdoors journalist and humorist Slim Randles.
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