When the work is done, it’s time to eat
May 6, 2013
Branding day, a time for lots of work and a little play, often accompanied by a rib-sticking home cooked meal, is considered a rite of spring by many. Cooking for the branding crew is a time honored tradition among western cattle ranchers and families.
Some cattle outfits choose to hire the job done with local caterers or cooks, some take the crew to a close town, but most families prepare and serve a wonderful meal for cowboys, kids and neighbors while doing the many jobs necessary for establishing herd health, ownership marks and sorting cattle for summer grazing.
On the Gilbert Angus Ranch near Buffalo, SD, we start branding the 1000-plus calves during the middle of May. We set up pens in the pasture and brand at a different spot each time. It usually takes three or four branding days to finish the different bunches so it takes lots of food and drinks to keep the crews working. We are lucky to have wonderful neighbors that we exchange work with so everyone knows their jobs. The best thing about "neighboring" is that we try to return the favor by helping on their branding day, and this means I get to eat my friend Claudia's great cooking, and try the delicious meals prepared by other neighbor ladies!
Our son Lloyd and his wife, Patty and children, Sawyer and Grey, are our ranch crew these days. Patty helps me with vaccinating; Sawyer, 11, is getting good at filling vaccine guns, roping and wrestling. Grey, 8, is a great calf wrestler and roper! Ray and Lloyd share the branding and castrating jobs. Sometimes our daughter, Andrea, comes home from Buffalo, WY, to help, too. It is a blessing to watch the next generation learn to rope, ride and do all the tasks needed to achieve the high standard we strive to maintain in our commercial Angus herd.
I have been cooking for the branding crews on our ranch for 42 years now, since I married my husband, Ray. It is much easier now because I don't have to help gather the herd. I take the "chuck wagon" to the portable corrals where we are branding. Hauling the food and drinks can be a challenge but it is always fun to see the branding season start. There is a poetry and rhythm to a good branding crew. The ropes sing, the cowboys laugh, the kids giggle and scream, the cattle bellow, the horses nicker and over it all, the smell of the branding fire and the beef cooking. Life is good and we are lucky to be here. We continue to look forward to bright days ahead in the cattle business.
I always start with a big cut of beef for my menu.
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Linda's Branding Brisket
One of our favorite cuts is beef brisket. It can be cooking in an electric roaster or you can cook it the day before and warm it up over the branding fire. I find it needs some moisture to cook so I make a barbeque sauce to pour over it. I prefer to cook it low and slow and usually put it in the roaster or dutch oven while still frozen.
Cook a 5 to 6 pound brisket for at least 7 hours at 200 degrees. (Our crew size is about 20 people so I cook at least 10 to 15 pounds of brisket.) Put ½ cup of water in the bottom of the pan, place the brisket on top, pour one or two cups of your favorite barbeque sauce over the brisket, place a lid or aluminum foil over the pan and place in oven. Brisket can also be cooked in cooking bags, crock-pots, dutch ovens, electric roasters, grills or even smokers if you have the time. Remember, low and slow!
Slice on the diagonal and serve on steak rolls or buns. I always figure at least ½ pound of beef per person. Brisket is easy to find in the store or have cut by your butcher. It can also be marinated overnight and then cooked. Keep the barbeque sauce handy to pour over it.
Most cowboys like a side of cowboy beans with the brisket so I use this recipe. It can cook in a crock pot or cook over the branding stove.
Brown 2 pounds of ground beef.
Next dice and brown 1 pound of bacon and add to hamburger.
Remove from pan and sauté 1 cup of diced onion in pan.
Drain the grease and put 2 cans of pork and beans, 2 cans kidney beans, and 1 can of pinto beans in crockpot with the meat and onions.
Add 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. garlic salt, 2 tsp. vinegar, 1 cup catsup, 1 cup brown sugar, and 1 tsp. dry mustard.
This can cook on low for 3 hours in a crock pot or in an oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
Variations I have used are: add some green peppers, red pepper flakes, barbeque sauce or liquid smoke. Beans are adaptable to any flavor combination but they really fill up a hungry cowboy! You can also cook up dried pinto beans according to directions and make cowboy beans with the above ingredients.
Cut up watermelon or taco salad are easy to eat when sitting on the ground by the corrals. Add these to the meal and add apple crisp. Cowboys and cowgirls will come on the run!
I make apple crisp in honor of my mother-in-law, Helga Gilbert, who always treated the crew to this sweet favorite when she ran the ranch.
4 cups sliced, peeled apples (Granny Smith)
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
I always add ½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup water
Mix together and put in 10 x 6 baking dish. Place 3 or 4 tablespoons of butter on top of apples.
Mix ¾ cup sifted flour and 1 cup sugar. Cut in 1/3 cup butter until crumbles.
Drop over apple mixture. Bake at 350 degrees until apple mixture bubbles.
A triple recipe fits in a lasagna size pan.
Serve out of pan and add whipped cream or regular cream.
I always serve cinnamon rolls or cinnamon twists for coffee breaks. Cookies, brownies and muffins also transport well for the trip to the pasture.