Step 1: Kill pig (or purchase already dead).
Step 2: Dig pit.
A large appetite and the ability to dig a pit—those were things you could count on an archaeologist for. In the late 1970s, young archaeologists from across the country descended on Montezuma County to work for the Dolores Archaeological Program, a comprehensive study of the area to be flooded by McPhee Dam and Reservoir. Recipes from the Dolores Archaeological Project, a cookbook privately printed in 1983, commemorated their hearty appetites.
In the DAP cookbook’s cover illustration by Sam Tubiolo, smoke curls from a pithouse tucked cozily into a southwestern Colorado landscape. Turn the page, and a second title page bursts forth in early ’80s glory. Eating Archaeology: The Official Gag Me with a Trowel Cookbook. Recipes include jalapeno cornbread, chili pumpkin soup, and the aforementioned roast pig.
It’s a museum piece. No, really. A copy of the cookbook is housed at the Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores, along with more than 1.5 million potsherds, stone tools, and other ancestral Pueblo artifacts collected during the project.
It’s also still being used. “Marcia Gross’s no-fail pie crust really is no fail,” says Mary Etzkorn, one of many archaeologists who came to work on the DAP and stayed in the area after the project ended. “And Rich’s king cobra kahlua is world famous.” That’s Rich Fleming, Mary’s husband, and this is his recipe:
Rich’s King Cobra Kahlua
Boil for 1/2 hour:
4 cups water
6 cups sugar
4 inch piece vanilla bean
1 or 2 cinnamon sticks
10 tablespoons instant coffee
1 cup water
7 tablespoons Nestle’s Quik chocolate drink powder
Mix the above liquids together and add:
1/2 gallon vodka
1/2 to 1 cup brandy
The kahlua is drinkable in a few days but is better after a few months, good after six months, and very good if aged a year.
Rich Fleming Etzkorn (mushroom casserole) and Louise Schmidlap (kahlua pie) were DAP coworkers who became lifelong friends and colleagues in Montezuma County’s close-knit archaeological community. Both still use the DAP cookbook in their homes.
Schmidlap began working in the DAP lab in 1979. “I originally came for a three-month job,” she says. The archaeologists were there to study ancient communities. During the project, they formed a vibrant community of their own.
“The pig roasts, potlucks, and parties have all had quantities of delicious dishes,” wrote Tim (Iron-belly) Gross in his introduction to the DAP cookbook. (Then a managing editor of all DAP reports, Gross now teaches anthropology at San Diego State University.) “As we all begin to scatter from the Four Corners to the four winds, it is particularly fitting that some of the favorite dishes of the folks who are the DAP should be preserved for us all in this book. Perhaps when we eat the products of these recipes in the future we will be reminded of the washroom tables piled high with wonderful plates and casseroles…” Beth Griffitts had the idea for the cookbook; lab staff, including Schmidlap, gathered the recipes and typed them up.
“The potlucks would take over the wash lab,” Etzkorn recalls. “The crockpots would be going all morning. The aromas coming out of the lab were fantastic.” The lab—where artifacts were analyzed and prepared for curation at the not-yet-built Anasazi Heritage Center—was on Road 26 outside Dolores. There, archaeology met orchards: the lab was in the “apple shed,” an enormous barn big enough for a project that would eventually survey 1,626 archaeological sites and excavate 125 sites. “We used apple crates for shelving—and sitting on,” Schmidlap recalls, laughing.
Archaeological humor colors the book. There’s the erudite: a table of contents headed “Subsistence Strategies for the Typical Southwestern Household Cluster.” There’s the anarchic: a recipe with a stove in the list of ingredients. And there’s “accept the things you cannot change” resignation:
Deep Fried Gnats
Don’t cuss at them—eat them! Go out in the field dressed like an archaeologist (don’t forget your trowel and shovel). Put a pot of hot oil on and wait for gnats to land on exposed skin—won’t take long! Pick them off and throw them in oil till crispy brown. Yum! Great with beer.
Personalities leap off the cookbook’s pages in recipes such as hop-skip-and-go-nakeds (a boozy punch) and the “goodie time” treats served by prolific baker Linda Hart. But “eating archaeology” didn’t always mean a feast. Mark Varien, who also joined the DAP in 1979, recalls that crew members were paid around $3.00 an hour (minimum wage was $2.90 then). The cookbook recipes reflect tight budgets.
As the DAP added staff—about 150 at its peak—there was a noticeable effect on Montezuma County life. High schoolers were hired for summer jobs. There was an influx of heavy equipment operators who came to build the dam. The DAP would become the largest archaeological project in the country, a distinction it still holds. And the project’s impact continues to be felt, with the Anasazi Heritage Center museum the most prominent legacy. Many DAP alumni settled in the Cortez area. Those who contributed recipes to the cookbook include Ricky Lightfoot (hush puppies, chile rellenos especiales), who later served as president of the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, and Rich Wilshusen (shrimp casserole, pescado veracrusano), director of research at Crow Canyon in the 1990s, who later became the Colorado state archaeologist. Varien, who has gone on to a long career at Crow Canyon, emphasizes the value of the research: “The reports that came out of the Dolores project provide the foundation for the ongoing study of collections and documentation, which continues to this day.”
Scholar Anne Bower writes in Recipes for Reading: Community Cookbooks, Stories, Histories: “a recipe…can make us laugh, give us a sense of the world from which it originates, incorporate some history or an inkling of the personality of its writer.” The DAP cookbook does all that, telling the story of a community of archaeologists and the meals they shared as they documented the prehistory of southwestern Colorado.