For preserving the food culture of the Wild West, we're forever indebted to Sam Arnold, a mid-century adventurer, Yale man, and amateur historian. Arnold's obsession with food history took root in 1961, when he and his wife built a replica of Bent's Fort, an 1833 trading depot, near Denver. To pay the mortgage on the project—now a national historic site—the Arnolds opened an on-site restaurant called the Fort, studying pioneer diaries to develop a historically accurate menu that featured elk chops and bourbon cocktails. The place was a hit, and for the next 43 years, until his death in 2006, Arnold continued to mine the culinary history of the West, sharing what he learned through his PBS TV show Frying Pans West (which introduced television audiences to frontier staples like “prairie butter,” roasted buffalo bone marrow) and in history books and cookbooks. Today his legacy lives on at the Fort restaurant (now run by his daughter, Holly Arnold Kinney) and in these deeply researched tomes, which capture the melting-pot history of the West through thousands of recipes. Whether it's Bent's Fort's version of rice pilaf (rice was a frontier staple, Arnold notes, brought to the new world by the Spanish) mixed with native black quinoa or 1800s frontiersman Kit Carson's wife Josefa's chipotle-laced chicken and chickpea soup, every time we prepare one of these dishes we're grateful for the pioneering preservationist who introduced them to our kitchens.
See the recipe for Fort Rice Pilaf »