Topic #41: Phrase - "Cackleberries"
||Biding Their Time
|From Bad to Good
||One Good Egg... by:
Note: Both mustard and catsup (ketchup) were around in 1860, just not in the same forms we would recognize today. The author likes her cackleberry sandwiches the way Teaspoon makes his, though she has tried it Rachel’s way.
“Teaspoon said he was making what for supper?” Lou asked from her bunk where she had been reading.
“Cackleberries and cheese sandwiches” replied Noah as he examined the cards he had been dealt.
“What’s a cackleberry? Don’t sound very good, and if Teaspoon’s cookin’ it, we may not want ta eat it anyway.” Kid scoffed as he tossed two cards on the table.
Setting down the deck of cards, Ike responded *I’m not sure I want to eat it either, I can’t even say it.* he finished signing with a good natured frown aimed at Buck.
“Don’t fret. There is no cackleberry in Indian Sign, I didn’t forget to teach it to you.” Buck reassured his friend. “I’ve never heard of a cackleberry either.” He added as he stood up to get a refill of coffee.
“I’m not sure Rachel’s cackleberries and pickle sandwiches sound much better.” Lou stated with a scowl.
Just then Cody burst into the bunkhouse bellowing “Rachel just told us that Teaspoon’s cookin’ supper tonight, ‘cause she and Teaspoon have a bet. What bet?” The us part of the statement was explained as Jimmy followed Cody in, at a more dignified pace.
“Yeah, what bet, and why is Teaspoon doin’ the cookin’?” Jimmy grumbled as he hung his gun belt on his bunk. The expression on his face revealed his opinion of Teaspoon’s lack of cooking skills.
“Well actually they are both cookin’ tonight, and we get to judge the results, and decide who’s the winner.” Lou said casually as she pretended to turn back to her book.
“Now that’s easy, Rachel’s the better cook. Why would Teaspoon think he was?” Cody asked perplexed.
Noah answered with all the confidence of a man who knows exactly what he’s saying and what the result is going to be “The bet, which is better: Teaspoon’s cackleberries and cheese sandwiches or Rachel’s cackleberries and pickle sandwiches.”
Jimmy’s “WHAT and cheese sandwiches?” competed for volume with Cody’s “WHAT and pickle sandwiches?” Both voices going up an octave.
“Cackleberries.” Lou said, then burst out laughing at the look on both of their faces. Noah, Kid, Ike and Buck’s laughter was a bit more restrained but not by much.
“What the heck is a cackleberry?” they both asked simultaneously.
*Something you can clearly make sandwiches out of.* Ike answered with a grin, then ducked as Cody threw the deck of cards at him.
The bunkhouse door opened, allowing Rachel and Teaspoon to
enter. Each carried a cloth covered plate, most likely heaped with the
sandwiches. Both placed their
“Cody, don’t touch that cloth!” Rachel warned as she began passing out the dishware to be set on the table.
“Why are the cards all over the floor?” Teaspoon asked, but no one seemed willing to answer him. Though Buck, Ike and Noah began gathering them up.
When the table was ready Teaspoon said “Gather round.” After every one had been seated he continued “Lou, boys, you may now have the honor of savorin’ our culinary delights, and pronouncin’ the triumphant verdict to your humble chefs.”
“What?” several voices asked in confusion.
Rachel translated “You can start eating the sandwiches and tell us who won.” with that said she lifted the cloth from both plates.
Seven sets of eyes took in the view, expecting something much different then what they saw.
In a lifeless tone, Jimmy finally acknowledged, what each of them were thinking: “Those are fried egg sandwiches!”
“Yep, the best way to eat them is with pickles and catsup.” boasted Rachel as she bit into her sandwich.
While Teaspoon declared “Cheese and mustard, is the only way to go, boys.” Biting into his own.
The seven riders gave each other questioning looks and confused smiles, as they watched the other two enjoying their meal.
“Well come on, dig in” Rachel and Teaspoon both encouraged. ”Try ‘em both, and let us know which you like better.”
Seven very skeptical and disillusioned riders slowly reached for two cackleberry sandwiches, one from each pile.
“Does Teaspoon seem a little odd to you today?”
Jimmy, Buck and Cody looked up at Noah with a bit of puzzlement, and just a slight amount of trepidation. It was just the five of them at the station for the moment. Kid and Lou had headed off to St. Joe to see her siblings, Ike was out on a run, and Rachel had gone off to visit a long-lost sister in Kentucky. Most of them seemed to think she’d bolted, but there were a few holdouts, namely Lou, who were certain she’d be back. Despite the fact that she’d been gone two weeks and they hadn’t heard anything from her.
Two weeks of help from around the town coming in to cook their meals and wash their clothes, two weeks of Jimmy’s oatmeal for breakfast and Teaspoon’s biscuits being used as door stops, or paperweights, or targets for Jimmy’s shooting practice. They were all a bit nervous to find out what exactly had caused Noah to say Teaspoon seemed odd today. Odd was a condition they’d been living with for the past two weeks, it had slightly intensified when Lou left thus taking away the last remaining female presence, and honestly, none of them were eager to find out what oddity Teaspoon had adopted today.
Buck, however, was a braver soul than the rest of them and cautiously asked, “Odd…how?”
“Is he running around in his long johns again?” Cody sniggered, but promptly stopped when Noah pierced him with a withering gaze.
“He’s…he’s talking about cooking.”
Jimmy, who had up to this point been trying to ignore the situation by pretending to be engrossed with polishing his guns, dropped his booted heels to the floor and looked up sharply at Noah. “Cooking? As in him doing the cooking? Maybe I can slip out of here before he notices and head into town.”
“You mean head off over towards the Perkins place,” Buck laughed. “Help out the pa, butter up the ma, and then get asked to dinner so you can sit beside pretty Miss Sally. We know what you really want to do.”
The dark-haired rider grumbled good-naturedly, but didn’t bother to deny that was his intent. “You gotta admit, it’s certainly better than anything Teaspoon could cook up around here.”
The other three paused and he could tell they were thinking of places they could run off to. Even if it meant sitting down by the creek eating a dinner of caught trout. Cody was the first to stand and reach for his hat. “You know, Jimmy, maybe you’re right. Maybe the Jensen family needs a bit of help.”
“And the fact that Amanda Jensen smiled at you yesterday, might have something to do with that,” Noah laughed, his white teeth flashing in the bunkhouse.
The blond rider just shrugged and the corner of his mouth hooked up. “Perhaps.”
“Well, whatever we’re all gonna do, we probably should do it quickly,” Buck broke into the revelry. “Before Teaspoon comes in here and we’re all stuck.”
“Good point,” Jimmy quickly agreed, putting his gun in his holster and standing to put it around his waist.
The door to the bunkhouse swung open, resonating in the suddenly quiet room as it bounced off the wall and swung back behind him. “Boys! Grab your hats.”
If he noticed the groans that greeted his order, he didn’t comment on it. But the looks behind the stationmaster’s back as he walked out of the bunkhouse showed that the riders thought their day was bound to get a whole lot worse, and that their boss was definitely acting odder than he had in the past two weeks.
“The first thing we gotta do,” Teaspoon instructed the riders as they stood just inside the barn doors, “is collect the fixins for the supper I plan to make you.”
The riders remained silent, yet cast dubious glances at each other. Teaspoon, however, was either oblivious, or unaffected, by their looks and continued on. “I’m gonna make you the fish supper my ma used to make us. So, one of ya’s needs to head down to the creek and catch the fish. Who’s the best fisherman among ya?”
Cody immediately raised his hand, a swagger touching his hips as he shifted his stance. “I’ll go, Teaspoon.”
“And promptly fall asleep on the banks instead of catchin’ our supper, no thank you,” the stationmaster shook his head. “I’ve got something else for you to do.”
The youngest rider was crestfallen, especially when his friends took no pains to hide their guffaws at his set down.
“Buck?” the old man asked and caused the Kiowa to raise his head. “You fish?”
“Uh…sure,” the rider replied.
“Good. Head on down to the creek and catch us up some fish…use your judgment how many we’ll need.”
Buck immediately nodded and scrambled out of the barn for the fishing supplies they kept in the tack room. Watching him go, the others couldn’t help but be a bit envious since he was the first to escape.
“Now, Cody,” Teaspoon said, drawing the attention back to him. “I want you to go over to Widow Jentry’s place. She’s got the best sweet corn this side of Heaven. Gotta have the best corn if I’m going to make Ma Hunter’s famous corn chowder to go with the fish.”
When Cody nodded eagerly…Teaspoon looked dubious. “Actually…maybe I should send Noah to do that. You’re liable to run off, or spend all day gabbin’ with the widda instead of coming back.”
“I’ll go,” Noah nodded, this time, doing better to conceal his glee at Cody’s crestfallen look.
“Good,” the station master agreed, and dismissed the dark-skinned rider with a flick of his hand. “Now as for you two…”
Jimmy and Cody eyed each other and then Teaspoon. “I have a list of supplies I need to get from Tompkins’ place-“
“I’ll go,” Cody volunteered immediately. No doubt he was hoping to get away from the station.
“Excellent,” Teaspoon beamed. “You can come with me and help me load ‘em up.”
Cody’s face once again fell. The silver-haired man then turned to Jimmy. “Which just leaves us with you, Jimmy. I need you to gather up some things around here that we’ll need.”
“Alright,” he said, a bit dubious, yet relieved he’d escaped being Teaspoon’s shopping companion.
“We’ll need some of the carrots from Rachel’s garden, along with some of her herbs she grows by the house.” Jimmy nodded, thinking this wouldn’t be so bad. Gather some things from the garden. Wouldn’t take that long. Teaspoon continued with the instructions, “Bring up some jars o’ them preserves from the root cellar. And since Rachel showed you how to make her drop biscuits…and you fellas seem to object to mine so much…maybe you’d like to try your hand this time, Jimmy.”
The brooding rider didn’t necessarily want to cook biscuits, but he figured he couldn’t do any worse than what Teaspoon had done. If he started now, he could throw out any ruined ones before anyone got home. So, slowly he nodded his acquiescence.
“Good,” Teaspoon beamed. “And lastly, I want you to gather all the cackleberries you can find.”
Jimmy blinked, but nodded anyways. And when Teaspoon turned to head out of the barn, Cody rolled his eyes and burst out laughing. “Cackleberries?”
“They’re eggs, you fool,” Jimmy hissed.
“I know that,” the other rider retorted. “But who goes around callin’ them cackleberries? And what is with this dinner?”
“I don’t know,” Jimmy shrugged, feeling like Teaspoon was losing his mind in the stress of Rachel being gone. “But you better get goin’ ‘fore he comes in here and tells you to hitch up the buckboard by yourself.”
That was all the encouragement Cody needed to turn and light on out of the barn
They should have known that when they all got their assigned tasks completed with ease that the other shoe was about to fall. Buck returned with a string of fish, Noah returned with more corn than was needed for the chowder ensuring meals with sweet corn on the cob, Jimmy had surprised himself and actually cooked biscuits that while maybe not as good as Rachel’s certainly wouldn’t necessitate in the riders having to go to the dentist like Teaspoon’s were threatening to make them, and Cody and Teaspoon returned from Tompkins’ store alive, in tact, and with all the supplies needed for a grand good eatin’.
However, with all things that seemed destined to go well…things went inevitably wrong.
The fish caught fire in the pan, twice, resulting in one fish that survived unscathed. It had to be split five ways to feed four hungry boys and one grumpystation master. The corn chowder received just a little too much salt, and nobody, even Cody who was starving and nigh ready to faint from hunger, could manage to choke it down. By the time the remaining corn was boiled to be eaten off the cob, they had gorged themselves on Jimmy’s biscuits and the raw carrots he’d picked from Rachel’s garden, and nobody felt like eating corn any more. Especially since the last batch of biscuits they ate hadn’t been cooked quite long enough and they were still slightly doughy in the center. And the cackleberries he’d gathered – which hadn’t been much since they’d collected eggs just that morning – had all ended up in a disastrous cake Teaspoon was certain he could make.
There wasn’t even one left over to be fried. And the hens were so disturbed by Jimmy going into their coop for a second time that day to pilfer their offerings that they went off laying for four days all together. This meant that they were stuck with Jimmy’s glue-like oatmeal for four days unless they’d been out on a run and managed to get a decent breakfast at another station.
All the while Teaspoon walked around muttering under his breath and scratching just beneath his hat that he couldn’t understand what went wrong. He was baffled for days and the riders had taken to avoiding him unless absolutely necessary so they weren’t subjected to a rehash of the event. They’d had their opinions solicited more times than they could count on how to make it better next time. None of them wanted a next time and a fight, or two, had broken out over who would get to have the next overnight run so they’d be able to eat in a town far away from the madness of Sweetwater.
A week after the ill-fated meal, a letter arrived that threw their world out of balance once again. Rachel had decided to up and fall in love with a neighbor of her sister’s and was going to stay in Kentucky and settle down. The station was once again without a station mother. The rider’s were devastated. It wasn’t that they worried about their laundry, after all, they were men – shirts without obvious stains and smells could be worn more than once – and there was a laundress in town that washed their clothes when they threatened to walk away on their own. She even mended the occasional tear for them for a nominal fee. It wasn’t even the prospect of having to clean up the bunkhouse after themselves. After all, they were men – men don’t mind a bit of dirt. And when Lou complained, Kid kindly suggested she move into the now-empty house if she was so bothered by finding Cody’s socks on her bunk.
No, the most devastating situation of this whole catastrophe was the fact that they were without a cook. And since they were hard-working riders who needed a lot of fuel to keep up with the demanding tasks, they needed three square meals a day. Three square meals a day at the diner was quite an expensive habit, even for well-paid Pony Express Riders. The situation threatened to grow even more dire when Teaspoon said that they could figure out a rotating schedule for the meals and since they seemed to have solved the dilemmas of laundry and cleaning so well, maybe they didn’t really need a station mother. After all, lots of other stations got along just fine without a station mother.
That was the day the boys rode into town and sent up the cry for help. They took their hard-earned Pony Express wages that could have been spent on other things; like a shiny new saddle, or boots to replace the ones that were beginning to crack, or lead for their guns, and placed help wanted ads in several newspapers around the area. They desperately needed a station mother, because they desperately needed a cook.
After the hens had begun laying again, Buck had figured out how to fry them after a wholly horrific attempt at scrambling them, But just because they could have bacon and eggs in the morning, and they were making due with sandwiches at lunch, didn’t mean they wanted it to go on forever. Dinners were still eaten in town at the restaurant, or sometimes at home when kind, sympathetic neighbors - like the mothers of the girls the riders were sweet on - caught wind of their situation and offered to bring them in a meal. But they knew that they couldn’t depend on the charity of their neighbors forever, and lead and boots and shiny new saddles were needed and therefore they couldn’t spend all their money at the diner.
So they hoped, a few of them even prayed, and they all diligently worked to keep Teaspoon out of the kitchen. Sooner or later someone would answer their ad. Until then…all they could do was bide their time.
“Things are never going to change. I’m too red for the white world and too white for the red world…” Buck grumbled as he dejectedly patted the neck of his horse and he dismounted. His dark mood was the result of being turned away at the only hotel in Beaver Creek. The desk clerk had taken one look at Buck’s mud encrusted clothing and the color of his skin and refused him a room. Buck had been on the trail for this run almost a week; he wanted a hot meal and a dry bed. It wasn’t to be, his bed had been the cold, hard, damp ground. His meal had been a warmed up can of beans and some jerky. His mood had gotten even darker when it started to drizzle.
He unsaddled the horse, built himself a shelter of sorts, and tried to sleep. He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep but suddenly he was wide awake and alert. He lay as still as possible listening for the sound that had awoken him. He heard his horse snort and paw at the ground but there was no fear in the horse’s actions. Whatever had woken him wasn’t causing the horse distress. Buck slowly unsheathed his knife and began identifying the noises of the night. Finally he heard it, a soft sniffle followed by a quiet sob.
Buck silently left his shelter and began making his way to whatever was making the sounds. The drizzle had stopped and the moon provided enough light for Buck to survey his surroundings. He followed the sounds to a small clearing near the brook where he had watered the horse earlier. His ears told him there was someone there but his eyes couldn’t find the source.
Buck stood perfectly still and waited for something to move. He heard the night birds calling to one another and saw two rabbits chase each other toward the bushes. The rabbits suddenly stopped and turned around running in the opposite direction, not chasing each other. Buck knew this meant they had been startled by something that didn’t belong in the bushes. He noiselessly crept over to the bushes and saw something white shaking with each sob.
Buck didn’t want to frighten the being in the bushes so he made a little noise hoping they wouldn’t shoot first and ask who it was later. A twig snapped and a small head popped up. “Papa, Papa s’that you?” the voice was small and sounded desperate.
“My name is Buck, I’m sorry I’m not your Papa but maybe I can help you. What’s your name?” Buck returned the knife to its scabbard and knelt near the bush. A small tear streaked face peered up at him.
“I waaaant my Paaaapaaaaa!” the child wailed but when Buck reached in to touch the child, the child extended its hands to Buck. The child was cold.
“If you come out of there maybe we can try to find your Papa. I won’t hurt you, its ok….” Buck spoke soothingly to the child and slowly the child crawled out and suddenly flung itself into Buck’s arms. The child was a little boy; Buck guessed he was about five or six years old. He lifted the child into his arms and walked back to his camp. The child was shivering uncontrollably so Buck gently pealed the damp clothing off the little boy and wrapped him in his coat. The child didn’t appear hurt, just very lost, cold and hungry. Buck handed him an apple from his saddle bags and the last of his jerky. “I know it’s not much but it’s all I’ve got right now. Let me get this fire going so you can warm up and your clothes can dry.” The child nodded and took a bite of the apple. “Hey you still haven’t told me your name…. I told you mine…..it’s Buck, remember, now I bet you have a really nice name can you tell me what it is?”
The child giggled and looked at Buck. “Thanks Mr. Buck, I’m Timmy, Timothy Robert McLaughlin.”
Buck had a good fire going and soon the shivering stopped and the yawing began. Buck pulled his bedroll around Timmy as the child curled up in his lap and immediately fell asleep. Buck didn’t realize he’d fallen asleep until it was suddenly dawn and the fire had died down to embers. He was still holding Timmy in his lap and he gently transferred the sleeping child to the ground. Buck arose and after answering a call of nature added more wood to the fire. He checked on the child and went to set a snare to catch a rabbit for breakfast.
Timmy woke to the smell of roasting rabbit and brewing coffee. “Hi Mr. Buck!” he chirped as if he’d known Buck his whole life.
Buck jumped at the sound of the child’s voice but recovered quickly. “Good morning, Timothy! I hope you like rabbit because that’s what we’re having for breakfast. I also got some berries for you to munch on, I’m gonna guess you’re not a big coffee drinker!”
“Crackle berries? My Mama makes those for me…You called me Timothy… did I do something wrong? My Mama only calls me Timothy if I’ve been bad, if I’ve been really bad I’m Timothy Robert and if I’m Really REALLY bad I’m Timothy Robert McLaughlin and she stamps her foot, like this.”
“No, Timmy you’ve been very good, and please call me Buck, not mister Buck it makes me feel old!”
“I’m sorry, but you are old, maybe not old as Papa but….Mama says I have to ‘spect my elders!” Timmy had his head cocked to one side and was grinning at Buck.
“OK, Timmy your Mama is right but I’m giving you my permission to call me Buck is that OK?” Timmy nodded and started talking non-stop. Buck was laughing at Timmy as he chattered on about his parents and siblings. The child had way of making every thing funny. The rabbit was soon gone and Timmy ate all the wild raspberries Buck had picked. When he finally stopped talking Buck was finally able to ask him how he got to be beside the brook in the middle of the night.
My brother Mike and I were playing hide and seek when the wagon train stopped cos someone broke a wheel and I hide real good! Mike didn’t find me but I musta fell ‘sleep cos when I came outta my hidin’ spot everyone was gone an it was gittin’ dark. They LEFT MEEEEEE!!!” Timmy started crying again and Buck gathered the child in his arms until the sobs subsided.
“I’m going to do everything I can to find your family, but you’re gonna to have to help me. OK?”
Timmy nodded and answered all Buck’s questions as best he could. He’d been on the open plains but had hid in the high grass just over a little rise. When he came out of his hiding spot he found the brook and followed it until Buck found him. Buck figured they were about a day away from his family and that they probably were missing him by now.
Buck instructed Timmy to pick more berries while he broke camp and they were soon tracking Timmy’s movements back to the spot he had last seen his family. They followed the wagon train’s trail until it became to dark to see the tracks. Buck again snared a rabbit and fixed dinner, they’d have to find the boy’s family tomorrow.
“Buck?” Timmy began as he licked his fingers.
“Yes? What’s on your mind?” Buck was putting things away for the night and fixing the bedroll.
“Can we have Crackle Berries for breakfast tomorrow?”
“Ahh, um, sure if we can find some….” Whatever they are… Buck added to himself.
The next day dawned bright and clear and after a breakfast of left over rabbit and raspberries, they broke camp and were on the trail of the wagon train. It was mid afternoon when the wagons came into sight, headed toward them. A rider rode out to meet Buck and Timmy and as soon as Timmy was recognized he fired a shot in the air. He motioned for Buck to follow him and turned his horse and was soon in a full gallop back to the group. A woman had jumped down and was running toward Buck’s horse.
“Mama!” Timmy almost jumped off the horse before Buck could stop it.
The woman was crying as she scooped Timmy down from the horse and fell to her knees sobbing. “Oh, my poor Baby, I thought I’d lost you” The rest of what she said was lost in Timmy’s hair as she hugged him close. She looked up at Buck and with tear filled eyes whispered “Thank-you, Thank-you so much for bringing my baby home….Bless you…” She sobbed and hugged Timmy even tighter.
Buck dismounted and stood off to the side as a man approached him. I’m Mike McLaughlin; I guess you’re the Indian that found my son.” Buck cringed at the man’s choice of words but noticed the man had extended his hand. “Thank-you, we didn’t realize he was missing until last night. He likes to stay over at a friend’s wagon and play with their children.”
“I’m Buck Cross, I found Timmy almost two days ago. I’m sorry I didn’t find you sooner. Timmy’s been eager to get back with his family.” Buck shook the man’s hand. “I’d best be on my way, now that he’s safe.”
”Mr. Cross, it’s almost dinner time and it’ll be dark soon. Won’t you at least stay the night? My wife’s a great cook…”
“Please……” Timmy’s little voice appeared beside Buck as Mrs. McLaughlin slid into her husband’s arms.
“Please call me Buck, and I’ve never been known to turn down a good meal” Buck smiled as Timmy took his hand and began leading him toward the wagons and the other settlers. Timmy introduced Buck to everyone and they all either shook his hand or hugged him; a few of the women even kissed his cheek; everyone thanked him.
Dinner was a wonderful beef stew with thick gravy and fresh biscuits. Buck ate more that night then he had in a week. That night he was given a feather bed in one of the wagons to sleep on, he slept soundly and woke to the wonderful smells of breakfast. Timmy had slept beside him as had Mike, Timmy’s younger brother.
Buck got up and found Mrs. McLaughlin mixing up some eggs to scramble. “How do you like your Crackle berries Buck? The boys like theirs scrambled and my husband likes them fried with the yokes cooked solid.”
Buck was laughing…”I’ve never heard of eggs called Crackle Berries! Timmy was asking for them and I had no idea what he meant! Scrambled is fine with me, Thanks! I’ll need to be heading home soon. I’m a bit late and I don’t want my family to worry.”
After a wonderful breakfast Buck found his horse saddled and his saddle bags full of food for the rest of the ride home. There was also a new pair of socks on the side near the bottom. “You didn’t have to do all of this for me. Thanks” Buck said as he mounted his horse.
“I wish we could do more…Ride safe son and don’t worry about Timmy, from now on he will stay a lot closer to camp and no more staying in other wagons. Right, Timothy?” Mr. McLaughlin looked at his oldest son and Timmy offered up a half grin, a tiny nod, and rolled his eyes. Everyone laughed.
When Buck rode into the station the other riders met him and once the horse was taken care of he brought the saddle bags in with the left over food. Cody immediately began unpacking them and sampling some of the food. He pulled out the pair of socks and looked at them a little funny…. “Buck, why do you have eggs in your socks?”
Buck almost fell on the floor he was laughing so hard, “Cody those are Crackle Berries! Let me tell you about the run, I was in Beaver Creek….”
Teaspoon pulled the reins gently to the left, carefully guiding the team of horses around a deep rut in the road. He glanced over his shoulder and lifted the tarp, quickly checking his fragile cargo, and then returned his attention to trying to find the smoothest path back to the waystation.
By the time he finally pulled into the familiar yard, his shoulders ached from holding the horses so tightly in check. But as he climbed down from the wagon and walked around to the back, his extra effort seemed to have paid off – everything still looked to be intact.
The sound of the wagon pulling up brought the others out into the yard. Jimmy, Cody, and Kid emerged from the bunkhouse. Buck, Ike, and Lou wandered out from the barn. And Emma stopped hanging laundry to join the others.
“Teaspoon, where you been?” Jimmy asked.
“Yeah, you disappeared this morning without sayin’ anything,” Cody added.
“Well, Gus Wagner asked me to come out to his place,” Teaspoon replied.
“Hope he don’t need more work done on his barn,” Kid said, absently rubbing his shoulder. The joint was still sore from working on the barn earlier in the week.
Teaspoon shook his head as he dropped the back gate on the wagon. “Nope, the barn’s lookin’ real good.”
“He got somethin’ else needs work?” Lou asked.
“Nope,” Teaspoon answered. “Matter of fact, he wanted to thank us for all our work helpin’ him out.”
“Yeah, your supervising was a big help,” Jimmy muttered.
“You boys need supervising,” Teaspoon grumbled. He reached into the wagon and pulled the tarp to one side.
“So what’s in there?” Buck asked.
“Cackleberries!” Teaspoon said, with a grand flourish.
Cody stepped a little closer. “Looks like eggs to me.”
* Same thing, Ike signed.
“Looks like a lot of eggs,” Lou said, peeking over the side.
“It certainly does,” Emma agreed. “What on earth are you going to do with all of those eggs?”
Teaspoon rubbed his chin, studying the many baskets of fresh eggs. “Well, I figured we’d eat ‘em for breakfast.”
“I can’t eat eggs that many days,” Kid said.
“Even Cody can’t eat that many eggs!” Jimmy teased.
Cody took off his hat and made a half-hearted attempt at swatting Jimmy, then turned his attention back to the eggs. “Emma, maybe you could make a cake,” He suggested hopefully.
“I can make a cake,” she replied. “But that’s still a lot of eggs.”
Teaspoon nodded. “I know,” he agreed. “But once we fixed up that old barn and Gus moved his hens inside . . . well, now he can find all the eggs.”
“So he sent them to us,” Lou said.
“Exactly.” Teaspoon studied the large quantity of eggs for a moment, then he straightened up, tugging on his suspenders. “Not to worry,” he said confidently. “I got me some lime and some salt in the barn. Mix that with some water, and that’ll keep those eggs fresh for a long time.”
“I’d think coating them with lard would preserve them better,” Emma said.
Pack them in lard, Ike signed.
Cody shook his head. “Sawdust.”
“Wet sand,” Jimmy corrected.
“Dry sand,” Kid insisted.
Lou shook her head. “Ma always just kept ’em in a closed box in a cool spot.”
Emma looked around at the others and smiled. “Mr. Spoon, I think maybe we should let the boys test these methods.”
Teaspoon grinned. “Miz Shannon, I do believe that’s a good idea.” He started to gather up a few eggs from the first basket. “Gather round, boys. Each o’ you gets six eggs. Put ‘em up how you want. Then we’ll check ‘em once a month.”
Buck watched as the Cody and Jimmy got their eggs, then he asked, “Teaspoon, do the eggs have to stay here at the station?”
“You got an idea to mind?” Teaspoon asked. When Buck just nodded, the stationmaster considered that for a moment. “Well, I guess there’s nothin’ says you can’t take the cackleberries somewhere else.”
“Wait a minute,” Cody said. “If Buck takes ‘em somewhere else, how will we know they’re the same eggs?”
“I’ve got some beet dye cooling now for fabric,” Emma suggested. “We could dye the shells of the eggs.”
“That’ll work,” Teaspoon said, handing Buck his eggs. “You see Emma before heading out.” He was really curious about what the Kiowa rider had in mind, but it was obvious Buck didn’t want to say.
“That’s fine,” Buck agreed, gathering the eggs carefully in his arms.
The others got their eggs and headed off to try their own methods of preservation.
Jimmy and Cody raced off to the barn, only to reappear a few minutes later, both of them covered in egg. After admitting they’d been fighting over the same crate, they got more eggs – and a lecture from Teaspoon. Then they went back to the barn, found two boxes, and proceeded on their way. Jimmy filled his box with sand and then poured water into the container to get the sand moist. Cody went out behind the barn to where the boys had been cutting planks for some work around the station. He scooped up sawdust to fill his box.
Lou took her eggs into the bunkhouse. She laid the eggs carefully on Buck’s cot and then opened her trunk and took out a smaller wooden box. Lifting the lid, she ran her fingers lightly over the scarf and necklace inside, the two items she had left from her mother. Then she laid the contents on top of her clothing, put the eggs in the smaller box, and placed it inside the trunk. Finally, she pushed the trunk under the bunks.
Kid went out behind the bunkhouse where the soil was very sandy. He dug a hole, placed his eggs inside, and then gently refilled the hole with sand. Then he found some scrap wood and built a small wall around the spot to keep the others from trampling his eggs.
Ike and Emma headed for the root cellar where Emma kept a bucket of lard. Ike found a smaller box and scooped lard into it, then went off to bury his eggs carefully in the gooey substance.
Emma scooped out some lard and went into the kitchen. While she started melting the lard, she and Buck used the beet dye to sponge some color onto his eggs. When they were done, Buck wrapped his eggs carefully in an old shirt, stuffed a few other supplies in his saddlebags, and then rode out.
While Emma waited for the lard to melt, and then cool again, Teaspoon rolled out a barrel and started to fill it with water. Then he mixed in lime and salt and began to fill the rest of the barrel with the extra eggs.
By the time Emma started dipping her eggs, rubbing them, and then dipping them again, had their allotment of Cackleberries settled. And over dinner that evening, they all boasted about the assured success of their chosen methods.
One month later . . .
“All right, Cody, you’re up,” Teaspoon said as the riders gathered around the table.
Cody grinned and placed his box on the table. He pushed sawdust aside until his fingers brushed one of the eggs. Still grinning, he held it up for everyone to see and then he cracked it into a bowl . . .
. . . causing everyone to gag and jump back as a rotten smell was released.
Cody’s grin disappeared. “Must just be one bad one,” he asserted gamely as he slowly stepped back up to the table. The green mess in the bowl bore little resemblance to an egg – but he wasn’t ready to admit defeat. He dumped the substance into a pail and dug for another egg . . .
Finally, with all six green, slimy eggs in the garbage pail, Cody admitted defeat. “I heard sawdust would work,” he muttered, shaking his head.
“Guess you shouldn’t listen to everything you hear,” Jimmy teased, ending with a good laugh at Cody’s expense.
“We’ll see how you do, Hickok,” Teaspoon said. “You’re next.”
Smiling with confidence, Jimmy retrieved his box, dripping muddy water across the floor as he moved it. He put the box on the table and probed gently with his fingers until he found an egg. He pushed the wet sand carefully away and extracted the first cackleberry . . .
A few minutes later, Jimmy had dumped another six green, slimy, foul-smelling eggs into the pail.
“Ha!” Cody exclaimed triumphantly, his own failure now just a distant memory. “Ain’t so smart now, are ya, Hickok?”
Jimmy just scowled, staring at the pail. “I’m sure I heard that worked,” he said.
“Guess you better check who you’re listening to, Jimmy,” Kid said.
“Let’s see how your eggs are doing, Kid,” Emma said, stepping in before a fight could ensue.
Kid turned to his bunk and brought out the egg he had dug up earlier. He took a deep breath, gave a silent plea for his egg to at least be a little better than Hickok’s, and cracked the shell.
The results were much better.
No one would have mistaken the egg in the bowl for fresh – it was a bit runny, unlike the firm fresh eggs. But it still looked like an egg – and better yet, it still smelled like an egg.
Kid let out the breath he’d been holding. “I knew that would work,” he asserted, feeling very relieved that it had.
“Not bad,” Teaspoon agreed. “All right, Lou, you’re next.”
Lou picked up the egg she’d retrieved from her trunk. She stepped up to the table, crossed the fingers of her left hand for luck, and used her right hand to crack the shell.
As with Kid’s egg, the results wouldn’t have passed for fresh – but it wasn’t bad.
Ike stepped up next, bits of lard still stuck to his egg. But when he cracked the shell, the egg looked and smelled fine. Likewise with Emma’s egg, which had been coated with lard. Teaspoon’s lime and salt-water preserved egg also seemed to be fine.
Buck stepped up last, a brightly-dyed red egg in his hand. He cracked the shell and poured out an egg that looked almost fresh.
Teaspoon looked at the results, nodding. “You wanna tell us what you’re doin’ with the eggs?”
Buck shook his head. “Not yet. I’d rather wait.”
Cody was picking at the red egg shells. “Emma, are you sure . . .”
“Yes, I’m sure that’s one of the eggs we dyed,” she said. Then she picked up the bowl holding Buck’s egg and dumped the contents in with the other good eggs. “And I think I’ll take these and make a cake!”
After two months . . .
The six remaining preservation methods were tested again the next month. Lou’s egg looked a little mushy, and the group disagreed about whether it smelled all right. Emma finally fried it up, and Teaspoon took a small bite. He proclaimed the egg edible, if not exactly tasty.
Buck still wouldn’t reveal the secret to how his eggs were stored.
And when they were finished, Emma took the other five eggs for another cake, while Teaspoon retreated to the tack house and a shot of whiskey to wash the egg taste from his mouth.
After three months . . .
Summer had hit full force by the time of the next test. The eggs in Lou’s trunk suffered in the heat. One was so runny that the white and yolk had all jumbled together. Another looked as though it had started to cook. And all of them smelled bad – though not as bad as Jimmy’s and Cody’s eggs after just one month. Lou quickly pointed that out when they laughed at her egg failure.
Kid hadn’t factored in the summer sun when he buried his eggs. The back of the bunkhouse took the brunt of the hot afternoon rays. The first egg he cracked was mushy beyond recognition. The rest were literally cooked in the shell.
The other methods were still working – and Buck’s red egg secret was still safe.
After four months . . .
By the following month, Teaspoon changed the terms of the test a bit. To protect all of them from potentially foul results, he set out a glass of water and the eggs were placed inside. Fresh eggs would settle to the bottom and lay flat, while bad eggs would float. Eggs that fell somewhere in between would sink partway, and stand on end.
Ike’s lard-packed eggs failed the test. He had stored them in a shallow dug-out area under the barn, away from the direct sun. But the summer heat had still started to melt the protective lard. He watched sadly as all three remaining eggs floated.
No one suggested opening those eggs.
Emma’s lard-dipped eggs, stored in the root cellar, fared a bit better. The test egg sank almost all the way to the bottom, and stood nearly on end. When the egg was opened it was runny but still looked all right. And after it was cooked, Teaspoon proclaimed it still edible.
The eggs stored in the lime water were about the same. Definitely not fresh, but still very edible.
And the red-shelled egg from Buck’s secret hiding place were firm and looked almost fresh. Following a taste test, the other riders pestered him for days, but he refused to relinquish his secret.
Emma made another cake – using fresh eggs bought from Tompkins.~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
And then . . .
Things had changed rapidly around the Sweetwater station. Following the offer Sam Cain had received to become Territorial Marshal, he and Emma had quickly planned a wedding, gotten married, and moved off to pursue his new career. They welcomed a new rider to the group, and Teaspoon’s duties as town marshal kept him extra busy.
Teaspoon and the riders had auditioned several housekeepers to take Emma’s place, finally settling on Rachel Dunne. But just days after she had started working with them, they found out she was on the run from a murder warrant in Blue Creek.
With the riders’ help she had finally cleared her name, and they had all returned to Sweetwater the night before. Welcomed back to the Pony Express fold, she was determined to show them they had made the right choice – starting with breakfast the next morning.
Rachel got up extra early, determined to cook a breakfast that would make the others really take notice. She cooked stirred and fried and finally headed to the bunkhouse with a heavy tray laden with food.
Buck looked out the window just then and saw her coming. “Rachel’s on the way with breakfast.”
“Really?” Cody asked, coming up to the window. “That’s great, ‘cuz I’m hungry!”
“You’re always hungry,” Buck replied, opening the door. He met Rachel before she got to the porch and reached out for the tray.
“Thank you, Buck,” Rachel said, happy to be free of the heavy load. “I’ll just get the table set,” she added as she went inside.
Lou and Kid had already grabbed plates and flatware and were setting the table in the bunkhouse. “Thought you might want a day to rest up,” Lou said.
“Nonsense, I’m fine,” Rachel answered. “Jimmy, Teaspoon said there was a fresh jug of milk in the root cellar. Could you get that? And Ike, maybe you could get Teaspoon.”
“No need,” Teaspoon said as he walked into the bunkhouse carrying the milk. “I smelled that heavenly aroma as you walked by the tack house.”
While Noah and Ike grabbed glasses for everyone, Cody plopped down at the table, right in front of the covered tray that Buck had just put down. “It sure does smell good, Rachel.”
Teaspoon took his place at the table. “That it does,” he agreed. “You have been busy this morning, Rachel.”
“Well, I wanted you all to know how much I appreciate everything you’ve done,” she said. “And I aim to show you that you were right to hire me.”
“Don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Jimmy said.
“No doubt,” Cody agreed. “Can we eat now?”
As the other riders laughed and took their places at the table, Rachel lifted the towel covering the tray. She first set out plates of bacon and sausage and biscuits. And then she pointed at another covered dish. “This is from an old family recipe – my grandmother’s special egg dish . . .”
“Eggs!” Kid said.
We forgot! Ike signed.
“We sure did forget,” Lou agreed.
“Eggs? Forget? What are you talking about?” Noah asked.
“Few months back, we had a lot of extra eggs,” Teaspoon explained. “Seems like everyone had an idea ‘bout how to keep ‘em fresh. So we decided to have a little contest. But what with one thing an’ another, we forgot to do our test.”
“Jimmy and Cody had their eggs go bad in the first month,” Kid added.
“Yeah, well, yours didn’t last that much longer!” Jimmy said.
“Teaspoon has some stored in lime and salt water,” Lou explained. “Those were still good – last time we checked. And Emma’s eggs dipped in lard are probably still in the root cellar.”
“Buck’s eggs were still good too,” Kid added. “But he won’t tell us what he did to store them.”
“Guess it is time to check up on them,” Teaspoon agreed.
“Can we eat first?” Cody asked, eying the food hungrily.
“You really don’t want the eggs to get cold,” Rachel said.
“We’ll eat,” Teaspoon decreed. “And then we’ll test the eggs.”
Everyone dug in to the fare in front of them. The sausage was browned and tender, thee bacon was crisp, and the eggs were scrambled and fluffy – and delicious. There was very little talk as all of them concentrated on eating.
Finally, after the last bacon crumb and scrap of egg had disappeared, Teaspoon leaned back in his chair. “Rachel, that was one fine meal!”
“Sure was,” Kid agreed.
“Don’t think I could eat another bite,” Cody said.
“Well you ate enough for two as it was,” Jimmy teased – knowing full well that his own belt was feeling a bit tight right then.
“So let’s see the results of the egg test,” Noah prompted.
Teaspoon nodded. “Ike, you go see if you can find the eggs Emma stored in the root cellar. Kid, you know where the barrel is in the barn. Why don’t you go get a couple of eggs from there? And Cody, you get a glass of water.” Almost two months after their last test, he wasn’t anxious to crack one open until it had been tested. “Buck?”
“I can go get the last two eggs,” Buck said.
“Or you could show us where you had them,” Lou suggested.
“You ain’t been gone that long any time when you went to get one,” Jimmy pointed out. “Can’t be far.”
“It’s not that far,” Buck replied. “I can show you.” He was willing to share the secret now, since his idea had actually worked for several months.
The table was cleared quickly, and the others were soon back with the eggs and the glass of water. Teaspoon took an egg from Kid first. “The lime and salt will keep ‘em good,” he said confidently. He placed the egg in the water – scowling as it floated to the top. He poked it a couple of times, but it still floated.
“Dang,” Teaspoon muttered, poking the egg one more time. “Must just be one bad one,” he declared, taking the other egg Kid had brought. He pulled the first egg out, dropped the second one in – and scowled even more when that one floated too.
“Guess it ain’t such a sure thing,” Lou said, reaching over to take the egg out.
Teaspoon just sat back and watched as Ike placed one of the lard-dipped eggs into the water. It started to sink – and then rose back to the top. Ike fished it out and put a second egg in, only to have it float to the top as well.
“Guess that takes care of the eggs here,” Kid noted.
“Well, Buck?” Cody said.
“We’ll need the horses,” Buck answered, heading for the door.
The riders quickly saddled their horses while Teaspoon hooked up the buckboard for himself and Rachel. And then they headed out, following Buck.
He led them to the southeast, skirting the town. They rode past Devil’s Gate, following the path of the Sweetwater River for a while. And then, as they neared Independence Rock, Buck veered off, following a tributary. He finally stopped near a rocky hill where the water flowed out from a cave. “It’s down here.”
Teaspoon walked up next to Buck and looked at where the younger man was pointing. Then he got down on his knees and looked more closely under the roof of the cave. “I’ll be damned,” he said. “An ice slough.”
Buck nodded. “I found it last spring, not long after we got here.”
“You put the eggs in the ice?” Cody asked.
“Not exactly.” Buck slid down the bank toward the water, and then he stepped into the stream and ducked under the opening of the cave. “There’s a ledge up here,” he called back, his voice muffled. He reappeared, holding a package wrapped in waxed canvas.
“That would stay nice and chilled,” Rachel said.
Buck nodded. “There was something like this near where our summer village was located when I was growing up,” he explained. “The ice stayed well into the autumn, and then it refroze in the winter. We didn’t have a lot of eggs there, but I knew it kept meat fresh longer.”
“Well, let’s see how the eggs are,” Teaspoon said.
“We didn’t bring a glass for water,” Kid pointed out.
Crack one. Ike signed.
Buck slowly unwrapped the package, revealing the two remaining red eggs. He took one of them and carefully cracked it onto a flat rock.
The others all watched as the egg formed on the rock – and they saw a firm yolk, surrounded by a white that looked nearly fresh.
“Well, guess we got a winner,” Teaspoon said.
“Looks that way,” Jimmy agreed.
Noah had climbed down by the cave, and now he looked back up at the rest of them. “You know, I’ve heard tell that out east they put ice in a deep root cellar, and it keeps things nice and cold for a long time.”
“Maybe we could try that next spring,” Rachel suggested. The weather would be turning cold any time now, so it hardly seemed worth the work right then.
“We could dig the root cellar a little deeper,” Buck agreed.
“That we could.” Teaspoon said. “Might be worth a try – ‘specially if’n Gus needs some more work done on his barn.”
The riders all groaned at the thought of doing more work there. Still, they’d enjoyed many good breakfasts with eggs – and many cakes from Emma’s oven – because of that work.
Teaspoon looked up at the sun, and then over at the riders. “Ain’t there a rider due in this morning?”
“Yeah, there is,” Kid answered. “From Willow Point.”
“Then I’m guessin’ someone should be there for the next run?” Teaspoon said.
Mine, Ike signed. He jumped onto his horse and raced off, back toward the station.
“And I’m guessin’ the rest o’ you got some chores to do,” Teaspoon continued.
Amidst a few groans, the other riders nodded, and one by one they mounted up. Teaspoon helped Rachel into the buckboard and then walked around to the other side. But before he got into the wagon, he stopped to take one more look at the mouth of the cave.
He’d never known there was an ice slough so close by – but now that he did know, he was getting an idea.
Oh, the idea of digging a deeper root cellar the flowing spring was a good one, all right. And he’d make sure to remind the boys about that in a few months.
But a more immediate idea was forming. He remembered a fair a few years back, and a delicious new-fangled treat called ice cream.
He’d never tried making it in Sweetwater. The late winter months, when there had been plenty of ice around, had been too busy with all of the work needed to set up the express station.
But now that he knew where to find ice, it might be time to try a recipe he’d read once. And he should be able to find all the ingredients necessary.
First, he’d need some eggs . . .
A/N: These were all real methods promoted at one time or another to keep eggs fresh. Thank goodness for refrigerators!!!!! (And there really is an ice slough near where the Sweetwater station would have been. During pioneer days it retained ice most years until September.)