The smell of fresh baked bread could be smelled for miles. Each competitor’s tent decorated with cowboy memorabilia. Some wearing Cowboy hats, Cowboy ranch attire and even replicating the old style of ranch cooking. That was the scene as hundreds of people gathered for the 32nd Annual Pan De Campo Cook-off held at the Edinburg Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 408. This outdoor competition is the second longest running pan de campo competition, next to The Linn - San Manuel Country Cook-off.
Manuel Cantu Jr. Post Commander of the American Legion said the cook-off began one day, 32 years ago, when veterans and friends decided to make pan de campo. The cook-off has been held in the same location ever since.
A total of 15 teams competed this past weekend for the pan de campo category, and all submitted entries in the fajita, carne guisada, charro beans and cabrito categories. Each category was judged on taste and texture.
Pan de campo, also known as camp bread or cowboy bread, is flat bread made traditionally in a Dutch oven with coals on top of the lid to cook the bread. Although not as popular as it once was, Rigo Ureste, from La Esperanza Ranch in McCook and one of the competitors in the cook-off is trying to keep the tradition of pan de campo alive.
“We have a lot of the older generation and ranch owners come to this cook-off and are often amazed that people still do pan de campo, especially using cast irons and coals,” Ureste said.
His dedication to making the pan de campo began one day during a competition a few years ago. “A gentleman came over to me and thanked me for keeping a dying tradition alive. Pan de campo is now usually only seen at cook-offs or ranches, or while moving cattle. But in the city we don’t see it very often. I hope to pass it on to my children so that they can continue the tradition,” he said.
Ureste and his team of four have been preparing for this event for a few months. Their dedication paid off as they left the competition with first place in the fajita category, second place in the pan de campo category, second place in the carne guisada category and first place in the cabrito category. Winnings totaled over $700.
First time competitor Sonia Vargas, from the Raging Bulls team, joined in the competition after running the concession stands for the past three years. “We decided to join because we have many friends and lots of time,” she joked. “But this is a great way to spend time with friends and cook.”
Her team prepared for over three months, making pan de campo weekly and trying to perfect their recipe. “We are hoping to place, but we are just having a lot of fun today making food for everyone,” she said.
The Raging Bull team placed third place in the pan de campo category, third place in the carne guisada category and third place in the charro beans. Winnings totaled $300.