She Taught Us How To Feed Ourselves
Memories of North Park Cowbelles Beef Cook Off
It has been suggested that I write about some of my memories of the Colorado Beef Cook Off sponsored by the North Park Cattle Women (called Cowbelles back at the time we were competing, I believe). I was the Home Economics teacher back then (Family and Consumer Science teacher nowadays) . I have always believed that many kids love to be competitive in class and a cooking contest is way too fun to pass up. The food competitions on TV weren’t around back then but this was still a highlight of my foods classes (both Junior High and High School) each year. Many of you who are reading this will remember joining in this activity and may even still make your competition recipes.
Here is how it worked. Representatives of the Cattlewomen would come into my classes and do a presentation on beef and how to prepare and cook different cuts of the meat. They would then present the rules for the state cook off and give some suggestions. They (NP Cowbelles) provided all the ground beef for the kids to prepare a practice dish as well as their final school wide competition entry. They also provided the judges and several of the ladies would come in on competition day to help run the contest. It was up to me to help the students to find recipes, make changes to reflect new creative dishes (my rules) and teach them presentation and table setting which was also part of the competition.
I keep trying to remember some huge or funny disasters but it is really pretty hard to ruin ground beef cooked into any kind of dish. (Spoken by a cattle rancher as well as a Home Ec teacher!) I am sure some of you do remember some disasters but I guess I choose to remember some of the big successes. The competition was fierce and I always admired the judges who had to pick the top 3 of probably12-15 ground beef dishes each year! Remember, I insisted the students could not make recipe book or dishes they had used the year before. They had to be original. The judges had to judge the presentation of the dish, how the kids prepared it, their knowledge of beef cookery and a table setting for their dish as well as flavor, texture, appearance and more of the actual beef dish. The students really got into it and they always made me feel proud of their efforts in front of community members. The first place winners were given the opportunity to go to the state competition which was held in different cities in Colorado each year. Many years the students were not able to go but all the kids who competed each year did receive gift bags from the Cattle Women.
Two competitions do stand out for me. The first one, I believe was also the first year we had the competition. That year I think I just suggested that individuals who wanted to, could compete but everyone had to learn how to do it. There weren’t too many who chose to compete that first year but the Cattlewomen chose a winner and offered to send her to state. The winner was Wendy Shaw, a freshman at that time, I think. I’m not sure when the competition was, but maybe during spring break because I know I wasn’t going to be there. Wendy still wanted to go and either her mother or someone from the Cattlewomen took her to the competition. She had made a type of Spaghetti Pie and her presentation was very creative. She won at state that year, I think it was in Greeley.
The other competition I remember was the year Eric Murinko and Ronnie Simpson were freshmen and won the school competition. These two were determined to have the best tasting and best looking dish and table possible. They chose an Asian sweet and sour type of meatball recipe and it was delicious but the crowning glory of their presentation and what they were proudest of was the Samurai sword they had as part of their table setting! They worked very hard on every aspect of the competition and won first place at the school competition. By this time our school competition was very stiff and at least 5 kitchens in 3 different classes were competing. This year I was able to go with the boys to the state competition in Denver. I was floored when they showed up wearing matching shirts, pants, and ties (these were freshmen boys!). They had practiced making the dish and the presentation at school and at home and were totally prepared even down to bringing a tape measure to be sure their table setting was 1 inch from the edge of the table! The state competition was very hard fought! Many people were observers and were totally impressed with that Samurai sword as a table decoration including the judges. They finally narrowed down the finalists to two dishes. Our boys’ and a senior girl from the Denver area. The judges went back and forth quizzing the students and tasting again and again. It was totally nerve wracking for the boys as well as their teacher who had to observe from a distance. Finally the announcement was made, Ronnie and Eric were the winners! Their attention to details and knowledge of beef cookery won the day! It was a great memory. I do have to mention that these two boys are great competitors. Three years later as seniors on the school basketball team they went to state and took first place for the first time in many years for North Park.
One of my greatest memories of school at NPHS was taking Home Ec/Consumer Ed with Mrs. Manville. I still have our recipes we learned including Orange Julius! We were quite fortunate to grow up in an era when these life skills were taught IN school. Luckily, a Food Science class was reintroduced this year and Mrs. Afton Sheil teaches it.
Another great tradition that continues is the Beef Cookoff Scholarship program hosted by the North Park Cattlewomen.