Four years ago I began an internship with the National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration in Lubbock, Texas. At the time I knew it was a great internship opportunity, but never really anticipated that it would become such a big part of my life.
Each year, the weekend after Labor Day, hundreds of chuckwagon cooks, musicians, artists and vendors venture to Lubbock for the only western heritage festival of its kind. Many may compare, but no event is quite like the cowboy symposium in Lubbock.
One of my favorite parts of the event is the National Championship Chuckwagon Cookoff. These cooks travel from across the country to compete for cash, prizes and the national title. Before you start snickering at the fact that there is actually a competition for chuckwagon cooks, keep in mind how different this type of cooking is from anything else.
Cooking over an open fire is not an uncommon feat, especially in West Texas, but this requires a level of understanding that few possess. Temperatures are hard to control and you can burn everything very quickly. Believe me, I know. Cooks are given materials to prepare for five categories: meat, potatoes, beans, bread and dessert. Typically, meat is chicken fried steak and everyone has their own secret recipe. Now let me tell you, I am a huge fan of chicken fried steak and have pretty high standards for a good one. (Let’s go ahead and face the fact that there isn’t a much better food than a breaded and fried piece of meat.) Most won’t measure up to my favorite from Henry’s in San Angelo, but these chicken fried steaks impress me every year.
This year my randomly selected ticket came from the C4B Chuckwagon crew from Amarillo. The chicken fry which included home-made cream gravy was, as usual, awesome. I also had green chile potatoes au gratin. Lord help me! Those were all low cal and fat-free, right?
The Western Trade Show is another one of my favorite parts of the event. Are you surprised? The trade show has some really great items from western decor to candles and food to clothing. Of course I couldn’t get away from the trade show with out a few treasures, so I picked up a few candles from Cowboy Candle Company located in Clovis, N.M., dip mixes from Pepper Springs Out West and a great crochet top from the Rusty Rose in Plainview. Check out some their websites, both have wonderful merchandise!
The people involved with the NCSC are unmatched in talent and character. Some of our dearest friends are volunteers and board members. They have become like another family and we couldn’t ask for a better one!
The cowboy symposium weekend comes to a close with a cowboy church service and chuckwagon breakfast. Besides the fact that it starts at 6:00 a.m., this is yet another one of my favorite parts of the event. A few performers stick around to sing the good old gospel hymns I grew up with and know by heart. A talented cowboy poet recites various cowboy poems, which always remind me of driving to church on Sundays with my Dad, listening to Red Steagall’s Cowboy Corner radio show.
At the end of the weekend, yes, my ankles are sore, I have shin splints, my back is in knots, and I am in DESPERATE need of a pedicure, but it was all worth the blood, sweat and tears. Oh, and I will smell like a mesquite smoke for two weeks no matter how many showers I take. The weekend came off without too many hitches and we had a great time. I’m thankful to be involved with such a fantastic group of people and an event so rich in culture and history!
Visit www.cowboy.org for 2012 dates and information!