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All About Whistle-Berries

The Graham lad that did the cooking was a fair-to-middling cooky. He could boil, bake and burn beans, but no matter how he dished out the stuff we lined our flue with the whistle-berries. Beef and beans were the main flue liners. We would have beans and beef for breakfast, then beef and beans for dinner, and at supper time we would get some more beef and beans.”

LEE D. LEVERETT, Trail Driver

Chapter 7 in my upcoming book, KEEP ‘EM FULL AND KEEP ‘EM ROLLIN’, is all about beans. A cattle trailing staple. They were cheap and could withstand the harsh environment of the trail. A cast iron bean pot could always be found simmering by the fire.

Cowboy Slang for Beans: frijoles, Mexican strawberries, whistle berries, prairie strawberries, or deceitful beans, because they talk behind your back.

Cookies from south Texas served the pinto, meaning “spotted” bean on the trail. The versatile pinto originated in South America. A cocinero, a cook of Mexican heritage, might season his with canned tomatoes, garlic and onions. The earliest recipes from chuck wagon days do not specify which kind—they call for simply “beans” which can mean pinto, navy, northern, or red.

Here’s a unique cooking method used at cow camp, in the words of a Trail Driver who was there:

“We had our own cooky. ‘Dog Face’ is the one name I recall we had for him. He was a good cook and made dandy sour-dough bread, was a good bean cook, too. Lots of times he fixed us bean-hole beans, that is, beans cooked in a hole. Dog Face would dig a hole in the ground, line the hole with stone, then build a fire in the hole and keep it burning for several hours. Those stones would get piping hot, then the hole was ready for the beans. He put the beans into an iron kettle, with a tight cover, set it in the hole and covered it with sand. There they would be left for several hours. He seasoned the whistle-berries with bacon and molasses. I am tell you, those beans were fitting to eat. Beef, beans, a few canned vegetables and dried fruit was the chief chuck on which we lived. Half of the time we ate the chuck sitting on our haunches behind the chuck wagon.”

HENRY YOUNG, Trail Driver

Available for pre-order, you can find KEEP ‘EM FULL AND KEEP ‘EM ROLLIN’: The All-American Chuck Wagon Cookbook online and at bookstores everywhere, from TwoDot Books (Globe Pequot Press). Erin Turner, Editor.

The 2020 pandemic has impacted book publishers in a big way as they struggle to keep their employees safe and adjust production schedules. The release date of KEEP ‘EM FULL has been pushed to spring 2021. If you have already pre-ordered my book, thank you for your support and understanding.

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Reference: Quotes from Library of Congress online at www.loc.gov