Cowgirl cooking: Prepping, hauling tasty meal to the corral is second nature for this ranch wife |

Cowgirl cooking: Prepping, hauling tasty meal to the corral is second nature for this ranch wife

A break during the branding so everyone can get a drink and rest for a few minutes. Kate and Polly Dickinson. "Kate has learned a lot from her grandmother. One thing about Kate, she can cube potatoes for frying just as well as she can rope and ride." - Gerda Dickinson

Chocolate “Go To Heck Cake” with raspberry filling and Pioneer Woman Best Frosting

This cake recipe comes from Jane Mickelson, my cute mom, who got it from the Z-U Guest Ranch near Cora, Wy. many, many years ago. It was originally called “Go To Hell Cake”

Cream together ½ cup butter and 1 ½ cup granulated sugar.

Mix in 2 eggs, and add ½ cup of milk.

Add 1 tsp. vanilla

When wet ingredients are mixed, add:

2 cups all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

2 tsp. baking soda

Combine 4 Tbl spoons dry cocoa with enough water to dissolve, add to above ingredients and mix well.

Pour batter evenly into 2 round cake pans that have been greased and floured. I like to coat my pans with a mixture of flour and sugar. You can also pour into a 9x13 pan if you don’t want to deal with layers. (I do this when we are branding away from the ranch.)

Bake in a moderate (350) oven for about 20-25 minutes. 20 for round pans and 25 for rectangular. Check middle with toothpick for doneness.

Allow cake to cool almost completely and then put a layer of Raspberry seedless jam/jelly (Smuckers or homemade are the two we like the best). You’ll want to refrigerate the cake or even put it in the freezer to set the jam up before frosting it (about 30 minutes). I do a layer on top of the 9x13. When making the rounds, I put a layer of jam in between the layers of the rounds as well as on the top layer. It should be just enough jam to make a nice, thin, glossy coat.

When the frosting is ready, (be sure you have whipped it until it smooth) take the cake out of the cold and apply the frosting. You can put a thin layer in between the layers of the round cake but make sure that you have enough to frost the entire thing. Dust with cocoa powder and top with fresh raspberries.

This cake can be made the day before and refrigerated. If you do refrigerate overnight, it may be best to wait to garnish with the raspberries just before serving.

“That’s the Best Frosting I’ve Ever Had” Frosting

5 Tablespoons Flour

1 cup Milk

1 teaspoon Vanilla

1 cup Butter

1 cup Granulated Sugar (not Powdered Sugar!)


In a small saucepan, whisk flour into milk and heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens. You want it to be very thick, thicker than cake mix, more like a brownie mix is. Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature. (If I’m in a hurry, I place the saucepan over ice in the sink for about 10 minutes or so until the mixture cools.) It must be completely cool before you use it in the next step. Stir in vanilla.

While the mixture is cooling, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. You don’t want any sugar graininess left. Then add the completely cooled milk/flour/vanilla mixture and beat the living daylights out of it. If it looks separated, you haven’t beaten it enough! Beat it until it all combines and resembles whipped cream.

4 Granny Smith apples

4 Red Delicious apples

2-3 king sized Snicker bars

1 large container whipped topping

1 small container whipped topping

Core and cube apples. Sprinkle a bit of fruit fresh over them and gently stir them so all are covered. Cut candy bars into bite-size pieces. When you are ready for the salad, combine and stir the ingredients and serve. You can use any variety of Apple. Add Cool Whip to suit your own personal taste.

Roast for the crew

When feeding a large crew, select a large roast. I prefer more tender cuts like a rib roast. Pat the roast so it’s dry, then season it with your favorite seasonings. I like to use Lowery’s Season Salt, garlic powder, a dash of Montreal steak seasoning and cracked pepper. Rub the roast generously with the seasoning, being sure to coat the entire thing.

In your roasting pan, cook 2 fatty pieces of bacon. Once the bacon is cooked and the grease is hot in the pan, remove the bacon and put roast into hot pan. I use a large Magna Light roaster. Brown roast on all sides until appropriately seared to to hold in the juices. Roast meat at 325° uncovered for the first 15 minutes then cover and cook for 15 minutes per pound to desired doneness. Be sure to add about a half a cup to a cup of liquid when you begin the roasting process. Turn roast every 20 to 30 minutes and add liquid as required. I like to use just plain water or a combination of wine and water or beer and water. Once the roast is finished, let it rest at least 20 minutes before slicing it.

The roast can be prepared the day before and then re-warmed and transported to the branding in a roaster covered in foil, then the lid, then wrapped in towels and placed inside a cooler to keep it hot. Gerda has heated terra cotta tiles and placed them inside the cooler to keep the roast warm.

Branding has been an annual event for Gerda Dickinson from the time she was old enough to see and smell the branding smoke and, to this day, branding season is a favorite time for the Wyoming rancher.

“Growing up my favorite thing was when we branded and everybody had a job,” Dickinson says. “I had a great uncle who, when I was probably five or six and not big enough to wrestle, would take me by the hand and I would get to pack the nut bucket while he was castrating. That’s one of those things you don’t forget when somebody takes you in as a kid and says, ‘Here, you can help,’ and we’ve done that with our own kids and I think it basically holds our family unit together, us teaching our children from the get go about agriculture, tradition, family, about that unity.”

Dickinson was raised during a time when some people thought girls weren’t really supposed to be around “that kind of stuff,” she says. But she considers herself fortunate enough that her dad saw her interest and insisted that she was involved with cattle work, as well as the traditional ranch women’s work.

“It wasn’t that I wanted to be away from the traditional side of that as I was growing up,” she says. “But from a young age, I was taught diversity, to be a woman who knew how to do the traditional things but could meld it with someone who could go and ride.”

While growing up near Big Piney, Wyoming, Dickinson saw her grandmother exemplify what that type of diversity meant on the ranch and today, while living south of Rock Springs on her husband’s family ranch, Dickinson, her in-laws and her daughter continue to prove just how diverse ranch women can be.

“Here, we brand for probably about a month or more,” Dickinson says. “It’s a desert outfit so there is a lot of gathering and bigger country and stuff, so we do a lot of smaller bunches for longer periods of time versus bigger bunches and shorter periods. It takes a while to get it all done, so we have lots of opportunities for lots of different kinds of food to prepare.”

For Dickinson and her in-laws, living 50 miles from town means that preparation is key when it comes to cooking for a crew for such a long time, usually between 12 to 15 people, sometimes more.

“The whole shopping thing, planning out your menu, what you are going to have and where you are going to be, asking yourself what is conducive to the place that you’re branding is key,” she says. “Ask yourself if you can do a hot meal or do you need to do a cold meal. Generally, we have a hot meal because it’s so easy to transport food and keep it warm now.”

To make life easier, Dickinson also suggests making sure the meal is conducive to where people are going to be fed. If the crew can’t wash up, maybe corn on the cob isn’t the best idea, and, because most of their brandings are far enough from ranch headquarters that food must travel to the branding pen, Dickinson swears that cakes transport much easier than pies.

Usually Dickinson prepares as much as she can the night before so that when it comes time to load food in coolers and go, its as simple as possible.

“If I have something I need to cook, a hot dish or a casserole, to get up early and put in the oven, why not go ahead if you can, and prep it and put it together the night before so all you have to do is put it in the oven,” she says.

Although simple hacks like that usually make it easier, Dickinson did run into a problem one time by adding potatoes to her hamburger stew the night before. The next morning when she went to start the stew warming, it was bubbling, and not because it was hot.

“Because of the starch in the potatoes, by morning that stew had fermented,” she says. “I had a great big roaster full of this stew, so the dogs were thrilled but I was not.”

Thankfully, she was able to recover the meal that day with a stroganoff dish.

Dickinson and her mother-in-law work closely to plan branding menus and have many recipes that have stood the test of time, but they often take it back to the basics.

“We really make sure that its well-rounded and we are covering nutritional bases,” she says. “My mom was super at that. She made sure we had a protein in some great meat dish, then your vegetables and fresh breads and fruits and we always had a number of different salads for variety.”

Although most of their recipes come from a large variety of older ranch and community cookbooks, Dickinson says that when she finds herself in a recipe rut, she likes to jump on the internet to find something new, but is careful to look for dishes that travel well and can stack in a cooler easily, often accompanied by the cold packs that come with shipments of vaccine.

“When it comes down to cooking, I think we set this standard of perfection for ourselves and we want people to walk away satisfied, but you know what, it’s as much about being together, enjoying one another’s company and working together as it is that culminating thing with a meal that tastes good,” Dickinson says. “People will probably remember a wreck in the corral with a horse before they remember what they ate that day.”