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Cooking in the West

It is branding season, which is the season when it is fun to go to another ranch's brandings but not nearly as fun to host your own branding. As a veteran of many years of branding, I offer the following tips--especially for aging ranchers:

#1. As you age, so do your friends, and older people are not the most desirable branding helpers. Cultivate friendships with young people who are good ropers or will make good wrestlers. You can still invite friends your age, but they will expect an easier job like vaccinating or more likely leaning against the fence or watching the gate or sampling the cookies.

#2. On a typical year, whatever day you choose to brand will coincide with a rainstorm or snow storm, so be sure to choose a minimum of two alternative dates.

#3. In order to get young wrestlers, most ranchers brand on weekends to avoid tempting students to be truant, so you must coordinate your weekends with your circle of branding neighbors. This task is complicated by Step #2 above, because your alternative dates will likely overlap with someone else's weekend branding.

#4. There are two schools of thought on planning food for a branding. Some believe that many of the people you invite will not show up. Others believe that everyone you invite will invite a couple other people. Since both of these scenarios are likely to happen--probably simultaneously, the cook should plan for a huge crew and make sure to serve a menu that your family will not mind eating as leftovers for a week in case you overestimate the amount of food needed. Never underestimate how much hungry young branders will eat. As a general rule, plan for several more people than you invited.

#5. The only pay that most of your branding help receives is the food and beverages you provide. So if you are the branding cook, there is a lot of pressure to put on an amazing spread so the crew is more likely to show up again next year.

#6. Planning just one meal is not necessarily enough. If you are branding enough calves that it takes several hours, you should definitely provide heavy snacks or perhaps at least doughnuts. Breakfast burritos or breakfast sandwiches are usually welcomed by hungry branding crews who have to get up early, do their chores, catch their horses, and get to your house. Usually they appreciate coffee, juice, and something to grab for breakfast before the gathering begins--especially if the day is going to be long.

#7. Even though it is sometimes uncomfortable, the rancher occasionally has to have a chat with one of the branding "guests" about expectations. If someone is being reckless with his/her horse or your cattle, you must tell him/her that you don't want that behavior even if it is uncomfortable and they don't take it well. Many people who make mistakes at branding do not know any better, and it is the ranch owners' responsibility to help them understand that their behavior is putting other people or horses or cattle at risk. Safety is a huge concern when there are a lot of people, horses, ropes, cows, and calves going every direction.

#8. As a general rule, don't bring your dog to someone's branding unless that dog is a highly trained stock dog and you have asked the owner if you can bring your dog. If you want to get your dog out of the house, keep it tied or locked up in the trailer to avoid any incidents during gathering and branding.

#9. There are a lot of branding etiquette rules that I have covered before in this column. In fact, I searched Youtube and found a 34 minute video where a guy named Pat Puckett discusses all of the points he had found in my column in the Western Ag Reporter on branding etiquette. He somehow thought I was 81 years old, so he must have Googled my photograph? Nevertheless, there are several good Youtube videos that you can show novice wrestlers of the "phone age" to help them stay safe and actually be a help rather than a hazard.

#10. Branding is a fun time of hard work and camaraderie. Ranchers have to make sure everyone feels welcome and appreciated but that everyone also stays safe and respectful of people, animals, and property. Ranchers depend on each other and their branding and shipping crews, and that "free labor" can never be taken for granted!

I would like to share some of my favorite branding recipes this week.

Cowboy Beans:

1 lb. ground beef

1 med. onion

1 lb. bacon, diced

5 cans assorted beans of your choice

1/4 C. bbq sauce

Alpine Touch to taste

dry mustard to taste

garlic to taste

Brown ground beef with medium onion. Fry diced bacon and drain fat. Stir the meat together with 5 cans of beans undrained. Add BBQ sauce and seasonings to taste. Hold in a crockpot on low setting until ready to serve. You may need to pour off a bit of the bean liquid if the beans are too runny before serving.

Frito Salad:

1 can black beans, drained

1 can corn, drained

1/2 C. mayonnaise

1 bag Chili Cheese Frito chips

shredded Cheddar cheese

sliced black olives and green onions to garnish

Drain beans and corn and mix together with mayonnaise. Just before serving, stir in chips so they do not get soggy. Garnish the top of the salad with shredded cheese, olives, and green onions if desired.

Branding Cake:

Betty Crocker chocolate cake mix

Ingredients to make the cake by package directions

1/2 jar caramel ice cream topping

1 can sweetened condensed milk

8 oz. Cool Whip

4 Heath bars or other favorite candy bar, chopped

Bake the cake according to the package directions. As soon as it comes out of the oven, poke holes all over the top of the cake with the end of a wooden spoon. Mix the caramel and sweetened condensed milk together and pour over the warm cake letting it soak down into all of the holes. When the cake cools, frost it with the Cool Whip. Top with candy pieces and chill before serving.

 

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