Every November, a few days before the deer season opened, the hunters in town (all six of them) would gather at Uncle Monty's one-chair barbershop in Warner, Okla. to plan their annual "big hunt." Monty always went along as the camp cook.
From the winter that I was 12, I was allowed to take part. I peeled potatoes, washed dishes, gathered firewood, and generally ran and fetched—and found time to hunt a few squirrels, too. To me it was the greatest event of the year. We would all pile into four pickup trucks and head for the Kiamichi Mountains in the southeast corner of the state, setting up camp in the area we called Jason's Pass, after my grandfather.
During our 1940 hunt we had been camped there two or three days when it started sleeting and snowing. The temperature dropped below freezing, so the men decided we had better get out of the pass quick. Monty grumbled that we would all starve because soon it would be darker than axle grease and far into the night before a campfire could be started to do any cooking.
Monty's old truck, bringing up the rear, had been slipping and sliding along the icy road when the engine finally coughed twice and died. While we were splicing a broken coil wire, I accidentally barbecued my thumb on the exhaust manifold, which was hotter than a two-dollar pistol. My misfortune gave Monty a brilliant idea. He removed our venison roast from a Dutch oven, sliced off some thick chunks and put them, along with a few vegetables, into a small enameled-steel roaster. Then, grinning like a possum, he tied the lid down with baling wire, and secured the roaster to the sizzling manifold with more baling wire. Then we drove on.
It was nearly 10 p.m. when our caravan came out of the pass, and the roast came off the manifold. It was tender, juicy and piping hot. Monty went on from there to perfect manifold cooking, making soups and stews, and even bouillabaisse, which caused every cat in the county to follow his truck through town.
With all the geegaws that take up so much space underneath the hoods of most vehicles today, it would be hard to warm up a Big Mac on the manifold, much less do any cooking on it. Pollution-conscious folk would probably balk at cooking Monty's way anyhow, but I'll never forget how delicious his venison roast was that snowy night in the Kiamichi Mountains 38 years ago.