Chef on the Prairie

Culinary Ingenuity on a Wood Stove
The Clune family at breakfast:
clockwise from Adrienne in
white on the left, Aine,
Gordon, Tracy, and Justin.

Adrienne Clune, a regular stay-at-home mother of three, signed on for the experience of a lifetime when she and her family were chosen from among 5,000 applicants to participate in an unusual public television production. Taken to a remote location in the mountains of Montana with two other families, the Clunes were required to live like 1883 pioneers, carving a homestead using only a few simple tools and a ton of elbow grease.

After cobbling together a simple log cabin, the Clunes invested their modest 1880s bank account in a sturdy wood stove that provided heat and cooking facilities. Adrienne, a classically trained chef with a degree in home economics from Trinity College in Dublin, was unfazed by the crude equipment and their supplies of bland, basic ingredients, such as wheat flour and corn meal. The addition of a milk cow and chickens provided just about everything they would need. Although livestock doesn't exactly equate to a well-stocked grocery store, there was plenty of potential in those furry and feathery friends. In the talented hands of someone like Adrienne, basic ingredients were all that was needed to produce healthy, interesting foods to sustain her hardworking, calorie-starved pioneer family.

"A lot of success in creating food depends on having fresh ingredients, especially for baking," says Adrienne. "Since we had our own milk cow and some chickens, I had a constant supply of fresh cream, eggs, and buttermilk." With her daughter, Aine, and her niece, Tracy, Adrienne, was able to churn, by hand, fresh butter every week. Wild gathered foods, such as dandelion leaves, mint, wild onions, and sage, grew abundantly in the frontier valley and provided dashes of flavor. Wild fruit, such as gooseberries, currants, and chokecherries, added sweetness and colors. "We gathered berries whenever we could," says Adrienne, "Whenever the bears weren't around."