Radio Readers Book Club: Old Dodge City Eats - And Tagine?

Sep 22, 2017

"Many of the cafes in Dodge City in the 1950s and 1960s had men's names." This painted quonset hut was the home of Fred's Tavern.
Credit Pintrest

It's Food Friday! George Laughead's recipe for a Morrocan Tajine has been modified for High Plains kitchens. See the recipe below.
Credit George Laughead / Dodge City and Lawrence, Kansas

This is George Laughead of Lawrence and Dodge City.  I grew up in Dodge, as did my father and my grandfather, who was on the first city commission.   My cookbook recommendation comes with a personal note.  I have a recipe in The New Kansas Cookbook: Rural Roots, Modern Table by Frank and Jayni Carey with beautiful illustrations by Louis Copt and published by the University of Kansas Press.  I’ll come back to that cookbook in a minute and explain why I have a Moroccan style recipe in it.

Food had always had a big effect in Dodge.  A lot of people had to be fed because of the Santa Fe Depot and all the buses that went through in the 1950s and 1960s.  There were probably 20 trains a day.  There was a lot of hotel space in downtown Dodge City.  It doesn’t have that now.  There were hundreds and hundreds of rooms.  The Harvey House set a standard and the women’s church groups were always a feature at each community holiday or event. There were thousands of travelers, so there were many restaurants, cafes, bars and grills. 

Of course, food was always an important element on the High Plains, because like anywhere else, it could be a day’s journey to find stores or more to find food.

I first started cooking on my own at the University of Kansas in 1967.  I was lucky in that my father and my mom loved restaurants. When we visited relatives in Colorado, or when shopping in Wichita or when we drove to Garden City or Hutchinson or Salina, we always enjoyed nice meals. 

Because of the buses and trains, Dodge City had some unique places to eat in the 1950s.  There was a very early pizza place for the Midwest -- Capizanos – this was years before pizza was known in the Midwest.  And there was a kosher deli. And you could get great tacos.  Now, of course, that is "normal,” but then it was Friday nights at the Coney Island.  A lot of the restaurants had men’s names – Jack’s Café with steaks downtown, the Little Chef, Boot Hill Grill, Western Café, and Toot-and-Tell-‘um, one of my favorite names. There was the Lariat Café, serving good food.  There were some other options over the years include a Cantonese place serving sweet and red. Chinese food at one of the motels.

But more than that, if you wanted exotic food, you had to learn it on your own.  In 1967, I went to KU and started learning to cook. I continued in the years after that when I lived on my own and then into marriage. In the fall of 1971, my sweet-then wife Janet read Women’s Day and there was a recipe about tajines in Morocco and that became my first taste of Moroccan food.

So, when I was contacted by Jayni and Frank Carey for a recipe for their new Kansas cookbook - since Frank and I had started cooking together back in 1971 and had been friends since freshman year - I submitted the recipe I’d developed to make it easy for Kansas cooks to make Moroccan food.

Basically, it centered around the spices of ginger and cinnamon, spices you have around for pies and for other things.  So, my recipe for The New Kansas Cookbook is beef short ribs, chicken, carrots, onions - all sorts of vegetables with which we cook and the spices you already have.  Hope you enjoy.   This is George Laughead for High Plains Public Radio.

Carey, Frank & Jayni. The New Kansas Cookbook: Rural Roots, Modern Table. University of Kansas Press, 2016.

Kansas-style Beef Short Ribs & Chicken Legs with Carrots, Lemons, Raisins & Honey

  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ginger paste (if available)
  • 4-6 pieces beef chuck short ribs
  • 6-8 chicken legs
  • four or five carrots cut in half and sliced the long way once
  • 6 pieces chopped sun dried tomatoes (or 1 teaspoon tomato paste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)

Salt for meat

  • 1/4 cup golden raisins 
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 preserved lemon cut into 5 or 6 pieces (or zest from whole lemon with juice)


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large ovenproof pot (or tagine pot if you have one) over medium-high heat. Add salted beef short ribs and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove beef ribs and hold aside.

Add 1 tablespoon more oil and salted chicken legs. Brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Remove chicken and hold on side. Add onions, garlic, and ginger paste and sauté until yellow, about 5 minutes. 

Mix the dry spices together and add one tablespoon to the onion mix. 

Add back to the pot the beef short ribs, arranging them equally around the edge of the pot. Add the chicken legs in a layer with the large ends of the legs in the center, like spooks on a wheel, on top of the beef. Add 1 tablespoon of the dry spices over the meat pieces.

Add the carrot pieces, placing them again like spooks on a wheel over the meat. In center of carrots, add the tomato pieces (or paste) to the center and the lemon pieces, placing them over all the meat and carrots. Add the raisins evenly, making sure that some get below the carrots. Put the thyme on top in the center. Drizzle the honey over all.

Seal the Dutch oven with foil and add the top. Place in 400° oven, reducing the temperature to 350 degrees. Check at about two hours. Add no other liquid. Do not open during the two hours. Let set for 15 minutes and serve over couscous or rice or in a bowl with a good bread.

Helpful hints from George:

  • Remember NO water
  • Veggies are best on top while cooking
  • The photo shown here is using a game hen in place of chicken legs