Food for the Crew: Betty Ellingson’s Tried and True Branding Day Meal |

Food for the Crew: Betty Ellingson’s Tried and True Branding Day Meal

Ruth Weichmann
for Tri-State Livestock News

Baked Beans

Cook a half ham, serve a meal off it, remove fat and slice/chunk the rest. Save the bone.

Chop a pound of bacon in ¾” pieces, precook (soft) and drain off the fat.

Wash two quarts of navy beans and soak overnight.

Boil 15 minutes in the same water in the morning. Add ½ tsp soda (last 5 minutes.) Boil a little longer until the skins crack. Drain (save the water) and place beans in large roaster with ¾ c. chopped onion, precooked bacon, ham chunks and bone, ¼ c. white sugar, ¼ c. brown sugar, 2 c. (or up to 28 oz.) diced tomatoes, ½ c. light molasses, 1 Tbsp. salt, ½ tsp. pepper and 1 tsp. dry mustard. Add bean water to cover all. Stir well and bake in a slow oven (275 for 4-5 hrs.) When pretty well done turn down to 250.


2 lb. hamburger

¼ c. finely chopped onion

¾ c. quick oatmeal

2 eggs

¼-1/3 c. heavy cream

Salt and pepper

Mix well, form into meatballs and brown in frying pan in a little oil. Save all the drippings in the pan for gravy.


In a blender combine cream of mushroom soup, Watkins Beef Base and water. Blend and pour over a layer of meatballs. A single layer of meatballs is ideal so they don’t break up from stirring. Bake at 275 for four hours. Gravy can be thickened with a little cornstarch and water if it is too thin.

Betty usually makes 100 meatballs in three roasters using a total of twenty pounds of hamburger for their branding crew.

“I use three roasters so that I don’t have to stir them, or they tend to break up,” she said. “Anything you can put gravy on is handy for a branding meal because if you end up coming in later then expected it doesn’t get dry.”

Deviled Eggs

6 (36) hardcooked eggs

1 tsp. (2 Tbsp.) Worcestershire Sauce

½ tsp. (1 Tbsp.) salt

¾ tsp. (4 ½ Tbsp.) salad mustard

2 tsp. (4 Tbsp.) lemon juice or vinegar

1/8 tsp. (3/4 tsp.) pepper

3 Tbsp. (1 c. + 2 Tbsp.) Miracle Whip

Boil, cool and peel eggs. Slice in half lengthwise, mash yolks with other ingredients and then heap back into the centers. Keep refrigerated until served.


Mix and let stand: 1 c. buttermilk (or soured milk)

1 c. thick sour cream

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

Combine: 3 eggs; beaten until light

1 ½ c. sugar; add to eggs and beat well

Combine separately: 6 c. sifted flour

1 heaping tsp. nutmeg

3 tsp. baking powder

1 scant tsp. ginger powder

Combine all wet ingredients and stir in the dry ingredients. Put the dough in the refrigerator overnight. For larger batches, it still works best to mix in these proportions.

Pat or roll chilled dough out on a floured surface to a half inch thickness. Cut doughnuts and fry in hot fat (350), turning once, until nicely browned. Remove from fat and allow to drain for a minute in a colander, then place on paper towels to cool. After cooled, layer with fresh paper towels in freezer bags or containers. Freeze for longer term storage.

Chocolate Revel Bars

Cream: 1 c. butter

2 c. brown sugar

Add: 2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

Sift together: 2 ½ c. flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

3 c. oatmeal

Combine wet and dry ingredients.

Filling: 12 oz. package chocolate chips

15 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

2 Tbsp. butter

Melt together in a double boiler.

Spread 2/3 of the oat mixture evenly in a greased 9 x 13 pan. Cover with chocolate mixture and top with remaining oats mixture. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.

Fruit Pizza

Crust: 1 yellow cake mix

< 1/3 c. margarine

1 egg

Combine and press into greased 9 x 13 pan and bake at 350 for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Double this for 11 x 15 bar pan.

Topping: 8 oz. package cream cheese

4-5 Tbsp. powdered sugar

Pineapple juice to make a spreadable consistency

Combine and spread over crust and top with fruit of choice. Refrigerate until serving time.

The long days and late nights of checking heifers and hauling chilly calves to the warm barn are past. Robins and meadowlarks are singing again and the grass is greening up. Calves are bouncing around their mothers and summer pastures are fenced and ready for turnout; it’s branding time!

Betty Ellingson and her husband Boyd ranch north of Bison, South Dakota. They raised their three children Tyrell, Kaye and Anne there and now they’re including eight grandchildren in the work and fun on their place.

Betty spreads out the meal preparation over most of the week prior to their branding day. Not one to stay in the house and stew over the stove when there’s work outside, she has a meal plan that she can pull together one piece at a time while still keeping up with the outdoor chores.

“I usually start cooking on Tuesday for a Saturday branding,” she said. “That way I can get it all together and still get outside work done. I don’t mind cooking but I want to be out helping too.”

Traditional family recipes are her standby, from baked beans to buttermilk doughnuts. The recipe for Baked Beans came to Betty from Boyd’s mother, Vivian. The doughnut recipe from Vivian, passed down from her mother-in-law grandma Margaret Ellingson, is a family favorite and a family project; Betty gets her girls and grandkids together about two weeks prior to branding day and they make twenty-four cups of flour into doughnuts to fill the freezer.

“So long as we’re making the mess we just as well make a lot of them,” she laughed. “That’s what I take down to the corral for the coffee break. We get together and make them four or five times a year. When the grandkids are out helping they are always looking for snacks so I try to keep them in the freezer.”

Baked beans start with baking a half ham for Tuesday’s supper at the ranch. The ham remaining after their meal gets chopped into chunks and set aside (with the bone) for baked beans. Betty also precooks the bacon to go in the beans ahead of time. Wednesday she boils and peels eggs to make devilled eggs, and Thursday night she makes meatballs and fries them, putting them into the refrigerator to be ready for Saturday’s big day. Friday night potatoes are peeled and put in cold water.

Extra bars and salads for the branding meal are a community effort.

“I rely on exchanging with neighbor ladies,” Betty said. “I make a salad or bars and take it to their brandings and they make one and bring it to ours. That takes some of the last minute pressure off and it also helps with fridge space, which is always an issue when preparing this large of a meal.”

Kaye and Anne each bring a dessert for dinner and a pan of bars to take to the corral to supplement the doughnut supply.

Betty keeps her meal plan simple and flexible so that if it rains on the day they planned to brand she can adapt.

“I make a lot of things that I can freeze if I need to,” Betty said. “You never know what the weather might do, so if we end up rescheduling I can put things in the freezer and it isn’t wasted effort. When you’re dealing with livestock and weather sometimes the best plan you can make is to fly by the seat of your pants!”

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