Branding Day at the Northrop/Wosepka Ranch: The big meal
April 11, 2018
Branding season around the Tri-State Livestock News area brings neighbors together to help each other, and it also brings out the culinary talents of ranch women like Amy Northrop.
Amy and her husband, Destry, are the third generation to live on Amy's family's cow/calf ranch 20 miles east of Golva, N.D.
There, they raise their three children, Isabelle, Cade, and Nyxie, along with their herd of black and baldy cows with a few Herefords mixed in.
The youngest of three daughters to Alan and Carolyn Wosepka, Northrop grew up helping her mom in the kitchen and learning about the ranch through working with her dad.
“All of my food is prepped the day before or put together into roasters that morning, because of course, I get to go out to the pens to help with the branding.” Amy Northrop, Golva, N.D.
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"I started cooking for brandings by helping my mom. She is the best cook. She always had, and still does, have three good round meals everyday—I really don't know how she did it all the time," she explained.
While she has helped cook for years, the family's 2004 branding was the first one that was completely her own.
Since then, her skills in the kitchen and recipes have continued to improve.
Early prep work is important in order to make enough food to feed around 40 people at the family's branding.
"I prepare all dishes that can be put in a roaster or crockpot to cook. All of the salads I make are done the day before too, as well as my desserts," said Northrop.
Some of her go to dishes include roast beef with her mom's recipe for homemade BBQ sauce, creamed corn, loaded cauliflower, snickers salad, and apple salad with fudge striped cookies.
Since the food is left at the house to cook while the branding crew is out working, it is important to select dishes that don't need a lot of attention, like her tater tot dish.
This recipe includes tater tots, sour cream, cream of chicken soup, cheese, and stuffing mix sprinkled on top. The best part is that it doesn't need to be stirred.
For desserts, Northrop has an arsenal of mouthwatering recipes including three-layer desserts, creamy rhubarb cake, apple crisp, and turtle cake. At the branding site she likes to keep a few pans of bars on hand for breaks and snacks while working.
She also takes out banana bread, fresh fruit, salami and cheese, and "containers of animal crackers for the little ones," along with water bottles and pop for the crew after round-up is finished.
"All of my food is prepped the day before or put together into roasters that morning, because of course, I get to go out to the pens to help with the branding," she explained.
Northrop feels blessed to be able to leave the food at the house and also work out in the branding corrals which are usually set up quite a few miles from their house.
"I am super lucky to have a great mom who will look after my food and stir if needed—I secretly think she likes it, as it is her way to still get to help cook for the branding," she said.
Northrop has fond memories of her mother, Carolyn Wosepka, cooking for their brandings and explained that things were different in those days.
"When I was younger…the women would come in the morning, help peel potatoes, get meat cooking, and help with salads. Mom always had desserts and food for out at the pens done ahead of time, but most other food was made that day," she described.
Things are different today.
Northrop went on to say that "Only a few women come, and all of them that do are helping out at the branding, which I love, because that is what I would want to do too."
She also explained that when everyone comes back to the ranch for dinner her neighbors are great about pitching in to get things ready to serve.
Brandings are full of fond memories for Northrop. When she was younger her mother would make pancakes and sausage for breakfast for the riders that came early.
She said, "I always remember when I got old enough to ride, [my mother] saying, 'You can't go ride until you've ate your pancakes.' And me being so excited and nervous to ride that that was the last thing on my mind."
Another tradition from years ago was a traveling silverware box.
In their community, there was a box of silverware that would get washed up and sent from branding to branding. This tradition was especially sentimental to Northrop because her grandpa, Nistler, built the box.
A few years ago, she asked the neighbors who kept the box of silverware during the winter if she could have it and they gave it to her.
She explained, "Everyone uses plastic [silverware] now, including myself, but I have the silverware in my grandpa's box just in case!"
Northrop explained that her family likes to travel around and get to take part in all of their neighbor's special branding traditions as well as their own.
"A few things that I love about our branding is all the kids that are there to help and work—we couldn't do it without them and they never complain. They love it!" She said.
The Northrop's three children are active members of the ranch operation and "can't wait for branding season."
Growing up Northrop's father taught her to do most of the jobs at branding, and that is something that she and her husband are now teaching their children as well.
"All of my kids have learned to do all of the jobs except cutting. Isabelle is the only kid that drags calves, but hopefully this year Cade will be able to drag a few too," she explained.
Throughout the years cooking for brandings Northrop has had a few adventures.
The family sets up portable corrals several miles from their house to brand. One year they set up next to a well with electricity to it, so Northrop decided to cook and serve her food at the branding site.
While she was able to plug everything in, the overload from the roasters kept tripping the breakers which made cooking difficult.
"I think sometimes I might get a little carried away with my food, but I've run out of meat one time, and I tell you it will never happen again!" She stated.
To stay organized when cooking for such a big crew, Northrop uses a little notebook to make sure that she has everything for the meal planned out and ready to go.
She also likes thinking about new recipes and planning her meals during calving season.
"I love to cook for our brandings. You ask my husband and he might have a different opinion—he thinks it stresses me out—but I do love it," she explained.
Her love of cooking, family, and ranch life is what makes Northrop, and other ranch wives, such an important part of branding season.