Secret Ingredient is in the Pan

by Toni Hopper

Carlann Miller didn’t inherit her mother’s cooking skills. “My mother was a terrible cook.”

When Miller was seven-years-old, her father had stroke and being a little girl, she wanted to bake and cook. “My mother said if you can read it, you can cook it.” It was an important teaching tool and has stayed with her throughout her life. Miller has taught school for 52 years and is a high school counselor at Comanche High School.

Most people who know Carlann will tell you she makes the best peach cobbler and sourdough biscuits they’ve ever tasted. It’s true. Over the last ten years, she’s perfected her secret ingredient recipes. While you might find a cookbook on her chuck wagon board, forget about the measurements. Everything she does is by experience – from weighing out flour in her hand and more. With about 300 events and competitions over the last nine years, she even has a few awards. But how did she get from being a 7-year-old girl who baked in her mom’s kitchen to this stage in her life?

Traveling back in her memory of time, it was the early 1950s and her mother didn’t work, and though she was the cook of the home, she encouraged her daughter to spend time doing what she loved.

“Everybody had the big (heavy) Betty Crocker cookbooks. I liked to bake cakes even before cake mixes came out,” Miller said. No matter what she cooked, the family would eat it. “We didn’t have a choice.” She spent her childhood in Houston, Texas, and then Glen Rose, TX, southwest of Fort Worth.

In 1989, Carlann and her husband, Jack, moved to south of Marlow. Oil had bottomed out and land was “pretty cheap.” There was a guy who had just walked away from his property and the Millers were able to get it at a good price.

“After my husband retired, well, he cowboyed his whole life. The kids were out of school and we had a daughter living in Kansas. We were headed to see her and saw this chuck wagon in Shamrock (TX). We stopped to look at it and then went to Kansas. On the way back, we bought it.”

The Millers enjoyed taking different routes when traveling, which is how they found the chuck wagon in Texas on their way to Kansas. That was about eight years ago. She had always wanted to own one and participate in some of the cook-offs. They started small, taking the authentic chuck wagon to church events and a few small schools.

“Most people don’t understand the Western way of life.” The Millers know that having visual items helps people learn about it more – even if it is raw pinto beans and cast-iron pans. The Millers started participating in the annual Western Spirit Celebration events at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center and ranch rodeo chuck wagon competitions.

“It just grew from there. It’s such a good part of history. We’ve won several awards.” When her grandson, Cameron Ferguson, 15, made a cobbler two years ago, and she made hers, they won an award together.

“It makes me feel so good just to enter, and then when people say, “this is so good,” it’s a wonderful feeling. It’s been through trial and error. I’ve made thousands of peach cobblers, but I’ve never made one without my husband tasking it first. If he dies, I guess we’ll never have peach cobbler again,” she said with a laugh that is as warm as the cobbler and sourdough biscuits people line up for at the Miller chuckwagon. Jack and Carlann have been married 52 years. She does admit to measuring certain ingredients for the cobbler crust just to be sure. As for her sourdough biscuits, she’s had the recipes for many years. The tools are as important as the finished product. “You have to use a wooden spoon and a glass crock.”

One thing this mom of three children and six grandkids will share, “I like to cook them on an open fire. I’ve never put a cobbler in the oven.” And, from this writer’s personal experience, she’s also right about the secret ingredient. “It’s in the pan.”

Happy National Peach Cobbler Day!

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