Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What's to Drink in the Old West?

By Davalynn Spencer

Coffee flowed strong and hot across the American plains in the 1800s and was the drink of choice for cowboys and drovers trailing cattle from Texas to Kansas railheads, Colorado’s high parks, and the grasslands of Wyoming.

Victorian “trading cards” offered by Arbuckle’s Brothers 
The dark brew kept drovers awake, and was probably the first thing cookie set up at camp and the last thing packed into his chuck wagon. But coffee also warmed the hearts and hands of those at home gathered around the kitchen table come morning.

The antique ceramic coffee pot I use every day.
When I write a cowboy romance, coffee always plays a part in the setting. Recent research enlightened me as to how these rugged men preferred their favorite brew, and it wasn’t doctored up. In my current work-in-progress, the ranching hero tells his new mail-order bride to serve the coffee “horned and barefooted” – hot, strong, and black. No sugar, thank you, ma’am.

Today some folks take pride in grinding their own coffee beans for a fresh cup, but rarely do they consider roasting their own beans. Imagine buying green coffee beans at the general store and bringing them home to roast in a skillet on a wood stove. Those precious beans had to be watched carefully. If just one of them burned, the whole batch was ruined. 

A Price Guide to Victorian Houseware
Technology of the 1860s made it easier for people to acquire the coffee they craved. The advent of lightweight paper bags and commercial coffee bean roasters changed the coffee frontier forever.

In 1864, Jabez Burns, who believed strongly that coffee should displace liquor, invented a commercial coffee roaster that continually turned the beans, insuring an even and regular roasting process. Things really began cooking after that.

1895 Montgomery Ward & Co. catalogue
The coffee brand most often associated with cowboys and the Old West was Arbuckle’s Ariosa Coffee, developed by Easterners who saw great rewards in getting coffee out to the brave souls settling the onward marching frontier. John Arbuckle and his brother Charles worked in the family’s Pittsburg grocery business. John purchased one of the new commercial bean roasters, but wanted to preserve the rich aroma of roasted coffee and make it last over time. He worked on perfecting a glaze to cover each bean. His sugar and egg concoction did the trick, and he glazed the roasted beans, sealed them into air-tight paper packages and shipped them out a pound at a time.

No more roasting coffee beans at home or over a campfire.

The Arbuckle brothers soon branded their packages with bright yellow and red labels which led to the well-known name of Arbuckle’s Ariosa Coffee.

Victorian “trading cards” offered by Arbuckle’s Brothers 
In addition to the one-pound paper sacks shipped 100 at a time in sturdy fir crates, Ariosa also came in 150 lb. cloth bags often preferred by ranch cooks. Since very little went to waste in the West, the cloth bags ended up as aprons,
toweling, and bandages, and the crates were often repurposed into shelving, furniture, or even house siding in a pinch.

Arbuckle’s one-pound bags came with a peppermint stick inside, and many a cowboy would volunteer to grind the beans in exchange for the sweet treat. 

Ever the entrepreneur, John Arbuckle began printing coupons on the one-pound packages in the early 1890s, each with a one-cent trade-in value that made the brand even more appealing than it already was. A farm wife could save up for scissors, an apron, or several yards of fabric, and an enterprising cowpoke could get himself a razor, a pocket knife, or a wedding ring for that pretty little filly in town. 

September 1899 Arbuckle’s coupon catalogue items
However, as popular as coffee was, people often wanted a different drink on a hot summer day, especially if they were attending a picnic or a church social. When lemons could be had, they combined with sugar for the ever-popular, sweet-and-tart lemonade.

Wild or garden-grown strawberries were added for a refreshing change, and cold creek water or ice from town chilled the beverage.

Both coffee and lemonade have survived the settling of the West and are still enjoyed in homes, over round-up campfires, or at church socials today.

In my June release, “The Columbine Bride” in Barbour’s novella collection The 12 Brides of Summer, the heroine Lucy Powell makes wild-berry lemonade for the Fourth of July family picnic. Her recipe was something like the one I use for my own favorite homemade lemonade:

Wild-Berry Lemonade 
Juice from 5 lemons
1 ¼ cup white sugar (or ¾ cup sugar substitute)
1 ¼ quart water
Mashed fresh strawberries

And when it comes to coffee, for me there’s nothing better than the stove-top perked variety sweetened with canned milk and honey. Not exactly “barefooted” but a close cousin to the real taste of the Old West. 

Bio: Multi-published author Davalynn Spencer writes inspirational Western romance complete with rugged cowboys, their challenges, and their loves. She is the 2015 recipient of the Will Rogers Gold Medallion for Western Inspirational Fiction and has also finaled for the  Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award, the Holt Medallion, and the Selah Awards. As a former rodeo journalist and newspaper reporter, she has won several journalistic awards and has more than 100 freelance articles, interviews, and devotionals published in national periodicals. She teaches Creative Writing at Pueblo Community College and pens a popular slice-of-life column for a mid-size daily newspaper. Davalynn makes her home on Colorado’s Front Range with a Queensland heeler named Blue and two mouse detectors, Annie and Oakley. Connect with her online at:

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  1. Loved your post, Davalyn. I'm going to try the lemonade/wild berry drink. Sounds yummy! I'll bet it would be good with raspberries too. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for commenting, Miralee. The lemonade recipe is surprisingly delicious.

  3. Do you puree the strawberries and mix it into the lemonade? Does that make it kind of thick or just little bits of strawberries you're drinking? Oh...and how many strawberries for that amt of liquid? See how serious I am? Once I get off this diet where I can't have sugar. Sigh.

  4. I just mash the strawberries with a fork if they're ripe enough. For that amount of liquid, I use a handful. I imagine you could use frozen strawberries, but they wouldn't have the same effect.