Recipes are about more than food. They are a cherished part of ranching heritage.
And while biscuits, beans and coffee were a constant on the range, chuck wagon meals and dishes prepared at ranch houses throughout Santa Cruz Couty would have included another mainstay: meat. Or, more correctly, beef.
So wrote Bonnie and Ed Peplow, who, along with the Arizona Cowbelles, authored the 1951 “Roundup Recipes.” A copy of this book can be found at The Bowman-Straddling History Center located at Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Sonoita.
“Meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” wrote the Peplows. “Fried meat, barbecued meat, roast meat; meat in stews and soups. Meat bolstered by biscuits and gravy and dumplings, flapjacks and potatoes and beans. But meat.”
The Cowbelles, originally organized as a social club in 1939 by 16 Douglas ranch wives, have a long history of supporting the beef Industry through food. In addition to “Roundup Recipes,” the Arizona Cowbelles produced recipe compilations in 1983, 1999 and 2003. The 1951 edition includes 24 recipes from local cooks Helen R. Kolbe, Patagonia; Dorothy Sprung, Sonoita; and Fay M. Hill, Elgin.
Lou Apperson, a first generation Cowbelle, said many of the recipes from the 1951 edition would have been made at a camp. But also, ranch wives would have prepared these dishes, in addition to managing many other tasks around the homestead.
“Many family recipes have been handed down through the generations,” she said. “Each generation would have adapted the recipes to suit the situation and availability of ingredients.”
It would be a mistake to say that ranchers, their wives and the cowboys that worked the herds had less sophisticated palates than their contemporary counterparts. The difference today is access to greater food variety.
“Early ranchers, their employees and many who furnished supplies (to ranches) came from a variety of backgrounds and cultures,” Apperson said. “They would have brought with them aspects of their culture,” in addition to the recipes.
In Santa Cruz County, there are two groups of Cowbelles that promote all things beef—one includes residents of Elgin, Patagonia and Sonoita and a second involves those living in Amado, Nogales and Tubac. Unlike the days of old, members do not have to own a ranch or cattle to be a Cowbelle. Rather, a willingness to participate in Cowbelle activities which, among other things, includes raising scholarship monies for youth pursuing a college education related to agriculture. For more information on joining Cowbelles, contact Barbara Noon Harris at (602) 826-4026.
Mrs. C. Blake Carrington of the Crown C Ranch, Sonoita, contributed this recipe for Party Stew in the 1951 cookbook. The Crown C Ranch, formerly the site of Cavalry post Camp Crittenden, grazed about 560 cattle annually on deeded and forest allotted land.
2 lbs. diced round steak
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 small can sliced mushrooms
1 cup sour cream
1 can tomato sauce
½ cup sherry, claret or port wine
Brown steak, onion and garlic in bacon fat. Add mushrooms and juice, sour cream, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper, to taste.
Cook slowly for 1 ½ hours or until meat is tender. Add wine just before serving. Serves 6.
The Bowman-Straddling History Center is located at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, 3142 S. Highway 83, Sonoita. The center is open Mondays through Fridays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For access, visit the fairgrounds’ office. For more information on the center contact SonoitaHistoryCenter@gmail.com.