Welsh Rarebit is one of my favorites, especially on cold winter days. The recipe is below, after a bit of a (gentle and affectionate) rant about the West.
Here’s one thing about the West that’s disappointed me, from all my travels through it: It’s not funny.
Certain aspects of the South, the Midwest, and especially the Northeast can be very funny. Missouri can be hearty chuckle, and Florida is downright jovial. But out west, things aren’t funny at all. I’ve seen a great deal of New Mexico, southeast Colorado, the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, and southwest Kansas – many times – and it’s just not funny there. In the spring, the wind howls unabated for weeks on end blowing dust into your teeth, followed in late spring by supercells that threaten catastrophe and then there’s the onslaught of summer drought and relentless heat. People work very hard, their sun-worn skin starts to look like peanut brittle, and they don’t make much money. None of this is very amusing.
And what’s not the least bit funny out there is politics.
The U.S. Army owns some quarter million acres in southeast Colorado called the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, a huge training ground that now includes testing of drones. Starting in 2006, the Army has declared its goal to grab an additional six million acres – essentially the entire southeast quadrant of the state – and, trust me, no one’s laughing. I’ve spoken several times with organized groups* opposing the Army (so far, the opposition has the upper hand, but it’s an ongoing saga), and there’s no question they’re pissed. One of the group’s leaders told me, “The Army doesn’t understand the word ‘no.’” Of all things that aren’t even remotely funny, the U.S. Army is the leader of the pack.
There is a very famous and very rich man in this country – let’s call him Famous Richman – who is the second-largest landowner in the U.S., with a number of enormous ranches in New Mexico and elsewhere, totaling two million acres or so, and he may be a great guy who’s very funny but he succeeded in angering many of the cattlemen and cattlewomen in and around Cimarron**, New Mexico, on the eastern slope of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. My wife and I were refreshing ourselves one afternoon at a tavern in the center of Cimarron and asked a rancher sitting near us at the bar about [Famous Richman]‘s buffalo ranches, which spread out for miles east of town.
“How do you like [Famous Richman's] buffalo ranch?” I asked.
He kind of snorted and scowled. “He hasn’t made many friends here.”
“[Famous Richman] was in here last week with a bunch of us, and he said to us, ‘You know what? You guys are stupid to be raising cattle, when you could be raising buffalo.”
“[Famous Richman] said that? Really?”
The rancher nodded. “You don’t make friends by calling them stupid. I don’t care if he is [Famous Richman].”***
After that, nobody was laughing, or even smiling. We were grimacing and nodding. One thing that almost everyone can agree on: the arrogance of money and power isn’t entertaining, and it doesn’t sit well with anyone.
The mountains, the prairie, the high plains, the hills and mesas are unbelievably beautiful in the West, but they’re not amusing. The wild animals – jackrabbits, snakes, pronghorn antelope – are fascinating, but not noticeably mirthful. There’s only one thing left in the West that’s funny.
Cows out west seem to be always on the verge of being in a Gary Larson cartoon. Unless you’re way up high in the mountains, you’re never far from cows, so there are plenty of chances to observe them and see how their “minds” work. We stopped somewhere on one of our jaunts where the road traveled through open range. (If you’re not familiar with it, open range is where there are no fences between the grazing land and the road, so cows do amble across the pavement from time to time and don’t have much regard for cars. They’re contained on their grazing land only by cattle guards in the road, at the boundaries of the property.)
We stopped and observed two cows looking at each other from either side of a cattle guard, one of them mooing longingly at the other and staring sadly at the cattle guard between them. Clearly, the cows wanted to be together.
And now the funny part. There were no fences on either side of the cattle guard. All the cows had to do was step around the cattle guard to be together. But they just couldn’t figure it, because, “Hey, there’s a cattle guard here, I know I can’t step on that, so I can’t be with you. Sorry!”
Prairie dogs can also be funny, but not as reliably as cows.
*Check out not1moreacre.net, grasslandtrust.org, or pinoncanyon.com to learn how complex and daunting the issues are. But it’s ultimately quite simple: the Army wants to take (or buy) as much land as they can, and nearly everyone who lives in southeast Colorado is against it. And as you can probably guess, so am I. This part of the U.S. is unusual for its bare hardscrabble beauty, the people (mostly ranchers) are inspiring for how they work and live… I can’t say enough. If you can support their effort to keep their land free (and their own), please do. It affects all of us, wherever we live.
**In 1996, a tornado ripped through Cimarron injuring six and demolishing several buildings – the kind of weather that’s the opposite of funny.
*** Regular readers of this blog know that I occasionally present dialogue that isn’t perfectly verbatim, and the conversation with the rancher in the tavern is no exception. But the line “You guys are stupid to be raising cattle, when you could be raising buffalo” is spot on. Also, I should add the caveat that the rancher could have been lying to us, but I doubt that very much.
And now to one of my favorite dishes with a moderately funny name. My research indicates that this has been called interchangeably Welsh Rarebit and Welsh Rabbit for centuries, though of course it doesn’t involve rabbits of any kind. I use “rarebit” because that seems to be more in favor now.
This sauce is made in a double boiler with beer or ale as the liquid base – giving the sauce a zesty, tangy flavor, perfect over ham or bacon, eggs, grilled tomatoes and toast. But it’s also excellent over steamed broccoli or cauliflower, or other vegetables. The recipe below serves 4, so it’s a great family dish.
There you have it. Next week, a simple recipe for shirred eggs, and Margaret returns to tell the story of Huff Coombs’ hot air engine at the county fair.