Rising to a Challenge

by KT

Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be

Author's Note: Thanks as ever to Helen for proof reading this. Just a bit of food fun.

It started out innocently enough, just a discussion about family and food. The seven were at the ranch; those who weren't driving were all a little the worst for drink, even Nathan. Josiah had started it; he had just taken a fresh batch of garlic bread out of the oven.

"I remember my mom baking bread," he announced as he sat down. "That smell of fresh baked bread, you just can't beat it. When I go into a bakery now and smell it - well brothers, I'm in heaven."

"Ah, but can you bake bread?" Chris asked.

"Sadly no, I can make chilli…"

"We know that," Chris pointed out; they had after all just eaten it.

"I can make lots of stuff, I've been living alone for a long time you know."

"Lot's of stuff?" JD's interest was peaked; food always peaked JD's interest.

"Sure, apart from Chilli my speciality is Gazpachio"

"Mmm. I've always liked that, perhaps you could make that instead of chilli sometime?" Ezra suggested.

"Yeah, maybe I will, my mom taught me to cook that too, she used to let me chop the tomatoes."

He had gone on to describe in affectionate detail his cooking lessons with his mom.

"Just wish I could bake fresh bread, I really miss that," he finished.

"I can." All eyes turned to Chris; jaws could be seen dropping all around the room. "What? Your mom wasn't the only one to teach you to cook you know?"

He went on to tell them about his mom teaching him to make bread and how Sarah got so annoyed because he could make bread and she couldn't. From then on the conversation descended in to a nostalgia-fest, as five of the seven retold stories of childhood cooking experiences. Not everyone was joining in the discussion. Chris wasn't so drunk he didn't notice that even though they were discussing Vin's favourite topic - food - he hadn't said anything. They all knew Vin's mother had died when he was very young and after that he hadn't had much of a family life.

"Vin?" he asked quietly.


"Look I can stop 'um if you want, I know this kind thing, can be…well…uncomfortable."

"Na' it's alright, I can't remember mom cooking much, but I picked up a lot in Nettie's kitchen." A smile spread across his face. "She makes the best apple pie in the whole world."

"Did she by any chance teach you how to cook it?" he asked hopefully.

"No, but I can make refrigerator cake, goes great with ice cream." Somehow it was inevitable Vin would think of something made of chocolate.

Nathan confessed that his culinary speciality was fried chicken, real home-made southern fried chicken. This they all found amusing since Nathan lectured them constantly about the evils of greasy fast food. As he described how it was made to his mother's recipe, Ezra was practically drooling. He hated to admit it, even to himself, but he really was a southerner through and through, and he hadn't had home-made fried chicken since he was a boy. And he formed a plan. He proposed a meal – no, a banquet - in two days time (Sunday) to which everyone would contribute their culinary speciality. Josiah would bring Gazpachio instead of chilli; Nathan would bring fried chicken and Chris the bread for the Gazpachio.

Since Maude didn't cook, Ezra had no special memories about cooking, but he did have fond memories of dinners he had helped him mother to plan. His contribution would be the venue, the wine, and vegetables, including Potatoes Lyonnaise. Vin frowned; he wanted fries with his fried chicken.

"Have no fear, Mr Tanner, you will enjoy them I assure you." Ezra explained what the dish was and Vin had to admit it sounded delicious.

"Well JD, what are you going to bring?" Vin asked brightly.

"If this is gonna be a proper banquet there should be a fish course, right?"

"Indeed there should, Mr Dunne. Do you have something in mind?"

"Well me and mom lived near the fish wharf for a while, we used to get fish cheap, even free, if it wasn't sold. There is almost no fish I can't cook - but - my speciality is poached salmon, I poach a mean salmon!" he boasted.

"It seems we are set, hors d'oeuvres, fish, main course and dessert." Ezra looked around the room and suddenly his eyes rested on Buck, who had remind silent the whole time.

"Buck?" Chris realised something was wrong, he also knew Buck's cooking, what he could cook he cooked well, but his repertoire was limited, his specials being barbecued ribs and pasta.

Buck's face just broke out in to a grin. "Well hell, guys, if you want barbecue ribs I'm your man, otherwise I guess I'll bring a second dessert." With that he stood up. "Come on JD, if you're gonna buy a fresh salmon in the morning, we'll need to be up early."

With that he was up and headed for the door.

"Damn," Chris commented, as he watched Buck leave, a confused JD trailing in his wake.

"What's up?" Vin asked.

"Not sure." Chris commented.

JD sat in silence as Buck drove home. He couldn't remember Buck ever making a dessert; they always had ice cream or some other bought confectionery. He could make a few; he'd done almost all the cooking at home after his mother became ill when he was fifteen.

"Um Buck, I could make something, if you want?" he offered eventually. "No one will mind if you buy something."

Buck smiled; the kid was trying to make him feel okay, like he would if the positions were reversed.

"Don't worry about it JD, I'll come up with something. I don't want them thinking I can't do what the rest of you all can."

They drove on in silence for a while.

"She was a great cook you know?"

"What?" JD had been taken by surprise by Buck's sudden statement.

"My mom, she was a great cook, she just never got much chance to do any real cooking. If we had two working burners we were lucky."

JD knew Buck had mostly lived in hotels and motels growing up.

"She could cook a whole meal on one burner. Her most prized possession was this big triple saucepan. One pan on top of another and a steamer on top of that. You could put pasta in the bottom, a can of spaghetti sauce or meat balls in the pan above that and vegetables in the steamer, and there you were with a meal on one burner." There was immense pride in his voice. "Once we had to leave in a hurry, and left it behind, so she had to cook with just one pan, but I never went hungry, had a hot meal every day."

His personal favourite was from that time, something that only needed two cans and one pan, something he only ever cooked for himself, real comfort food. JD had even asked why he had a can of chicken supreme in the back of the cupboard and never used it. What JD didn't know was that he did use it and then replaced it. The cheap kind of chicken supreme was called 'Chunky Chicken' and added to a can of baked beans and heated, it was delicious, it looked disgusting, but it was just heavenly as far as Buck was concerned.

"Trouble is none of it's fancy enough for this meal we're gonna have."

"Buck, no one will mind, whatever you bring will be fine," JD assured.

"JD I can cook you know, I can read a recipe, I'm not an idiot!"

"Sorry, I know, sorry," JD apologised.

"No I'm sorry kid, not your fault, I can get a bit touchy sometimes, sorry."

They drove on in silence until they were home.

+ + + + + + +

"JD! Come on boy you're wastin' daylight!" Buck pulled JD's covers off, as he rousted the younger man out of bed.

"What?" JD asked, some what confused and sleep warn.

"Fish, JD! You need fresh fish, remember, and I need stuff too, come on!" There was a degree of enthusiasm in his voice that was rare even for Buck and that was saying something.

JD dressed as fast as he could and wolfed down a couple of Pop Tarts for breakfast, fearful Buck would go out without him, he was so keen. And he had no intention of carrying a full size salmon home on his motorbike.

They drove to the commercial markets district, only when they were on the way, did JD realise it was not yet 6am.

"Jeez Buck, it's the middle of the night and it's Saturday!" he whined as they drove on.

"We need fresh ingredients," Buck stated, going back to singing along to the tape in the stereo.

"What are you planning on making?" JD asked with some trepidation.

"I remembered something last night, something mom used to make. Needs no cooking, well not much. Tastes great. She used to make it in the little pots that her yogurt came in, but I'm gonna make one big one. I'll have to stop on the way home and buy a dish; we don't have one that's right. And I need some other stuff. Guess you do too?"

JD just stared at his friend as he rattled on.

+ + + + + + +

If JD was bemused by Buck's antics and fascinated by his cooking on Saturday; it was as nothing to Buck's amusement come Sunday morning. He woke up early, and in search of coffee wondered into the kitchen, to find JD; stark naked, standing at the sink. He was skinning the salmon he had poached the night before and left to cool and rest in it's own juices over night. Buck had been amazed just how easy it was to poach a whole salmon - once you had something to poach it in. Only when the two men had the fish in their hands, did it occur to them they had nothing big enough to cook it in.

The fishmonger suggested buying or renting a fish kettle, but then they would have to find a plate long enough to take the cooked fish. JD's mom had poached salmon in her preserving pan, so it came out curved, then it fitted on almost any big plate. Needless to say the CDC didn't boast a preserving pan. They finally decided to play the 'little boy' card. Their neighbour Mrs Lorenzo was a widow in her seventies, who they occasionally did odd jobs for, and was always called them her 'boys'. Mrs Lorenzo continually asked if they were eating right and plying them with preserves and pickles. She, they reasoned, would have a preserving pan and might be persuaded to lend it, especially if Buck flattered her a bit - even though JD was her favourite, she liked it when Buck flirted with her.

"JD?" he asked softly.

"Oh shit!" JD froze where he was, his back to Buck. "Buck could…um…could you go back to bed for…er…say another half hour? Please?"

Buck tried not to laugh, as very slowly the younger man's whole body turned a shade of pink Buck normally associated with roses.

"Why, why are you…I mean…why are you…?" He didn't finish the question because he was laughing to hard.

"It's a very messy process, I didn't want to get fish scales all over my clothes, I …I just though this would be easier this way."

Buck forced himself not to laugh out loud. "Right, I'll just…just go and… I'll go back to bed now."


+ + + + + + +

Sunday morning had hardly begun when Chris came banging on Ezra's door demanding to be let in. It took sometime for the day's host to make it to the door in his dark green silk pyjamas.

"Gentlemen?" He looked from Vin to Chris and back with some confusion, and than took a second glance at the watch in his hand but not on his wrist. "It would appear to be the middle of the night."

"It's eight a’ clock Ezra, come on, I got bread to bake." With that Chris brushed past Ezra and headed for the kitchen, carrying a large box. Tanner followed with a smaller grocery bag in hand.

Two hours later Ezra got out of bed for the second time, and answered the door to Nathan and Josiah.

"Good morning gentlemen." He eyed the boxes of what he hoped contained food. "Is there by chance anything comestible in there?"

"Of course, we're gonna cook right?" Nathan queried.

"I meant, anything I could eat now?"

"It's only ten Ezra, when did you have breakfast?" Sanchez asked.

"I have yet to break my fast, that is why I am in search of food."

"Well why don't you go get some breakfast." It seemed to Nathan; the whole conversation was turning into some surreal version of the song 'There's a Hole in My Bucket'.

"You have heard of the 'Two Fat Ladies'?"

"Yes," Nathan and Josiah said in unison with equal caution.

"Well they are as nothing in the kitchen when compared to the 'Two Scrawny Lawmen'!"

Just then the culinary partnership in question exited the kitchen and wandered into the living room, where they greeted the new arrivals.

"You two might…" Ezra began, but he couldn't finish.

"We might what Ez? What is so damn funny?" Chris demanded.

"What Ezra is trying to say brothers is you may wish…" But laughter over came Sanchez too.

"Nate?" Vin demanded.

"Um…mirror." Was all he could manage, pointing in the direction of the bathroom.

The two men looked at their friends and than at each other.

"Cowboy ya got a hell of a lot of flour on yer shirt, an' yer face, an' yer hair, an' er…yup even on yer ass…"

"Me! You looked at yourself lately, you mangy Texan, you got more chocolate on you than in the tin!"

+ + + + + + +

By the time Buck's truck drew up outside, the table was laid, the bread was cooling, filling the house with the wonderful smell both Chris and Josiah remembered form childhood, the potatoes were crisping, the chicken was breaded and waiting to be fried, the Gazpachio was chilled to perfection and Vin's cake was in the fridge. It had taken him so long to make, almost as long as Chris took to make the bread, because it had to be just so, and it had to be eaten when it was almost but not quite set - according to Vin. The secret to Vin's refrigerator cake was adding crushed honeycomb candy. You came upon them suddenly and unexpectedly, little pockets of almost exploding sweetness. And adding real honey to the melted chocolate and crushed cookies, so it stayed moist and the honey flavour mixed with the chocolate.

Nathan saw the two friends draw up and head for the house, cool box in hand.

"Buck and JD are here," he announced to the others. "What do you think Buck brought?"

"Guys." There was a clear warning in Chris voice. "Whatever it is, it's great, we all love it and no one teases him about it - right?"

"Indeed Mr Larabee."

"Sure thing Cowboy."

"Naturally brother."

"Of course."

Chris wasn't sure if the discussion and the planned meal had upset Buck, he was impossible to read, but if it had, he didn't want to make matters worse. They all tended to forget Buck's childhood was almost as lacking in normal family life as Vin's.

+ + + + + + +

Neither Buck or Vin were every keen on what they saw as cold, mushed-up tomatoes as an appetiser, but gave the Gazpachio a try for Josiah's sake. Both were pleasantly surprised. Buck already knew about Chris' bread and had secretly breathed a sigh of relief when he offered to make it for the team; it was the first time he had baked bread - something he used to do regularly - since he lost his family. All of them had to agree there was no comparison between store-bought bread and home baked, fresh from the oven.

The others were very impressed with the salmon, it lay on a large circular platter, and its now silver head and tail intact. A line of sliced cucumber ran along its elegantly curving pink length, more cucumber, along with lemon wedges and water cress made a bed on the plate for it to lie on. It was served with a good quality mayonnaise, the lemon wedges and more of Chris' bread, sliced wafer thin and buttered.

As well as Lyonnaise Potatoes, Ezra had also roasted fresh corn on the cob, and provided garden peas. All this was a fitting a compliment to Nathan's fresh fried chicken, made to his mother's secret recipe. The meat was succulent without being greasy, the coating spicy without overwhelming the chicken.

"Damn Nathan! Your mamma could 'a taught ol' Colonel Sanders a thing or two!" Vin stated after his fourth helping.

Then it was time for the desserts. The refrigerator cake, served with a good quality vanilla ice cream, was just right. When cut it was still moist in the centre, the honey flavouring and little pockets of crunchiness was a wonderful addition. They had all waited with curiosity and in anticipation as Buck retrieved his contribution from the kitchen.

"Wow!" Josiah breathed.

"That looks fantastic." Nathan commented.

"What is it?" Vin asked.

"Summer Pudding," Ezra informed him, eyeing the succulent creation with anticipation.

Chris just smiled. Why did I ever doubt him? This is Buck after all, he always rises to a challenge.

The End

Comments to: katyhmason@hotmail.com

Individual Summer Pudding - just like Buck's mom used to make.