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Branding Crew Pea Salad

It’s that time of year…

Time to round up the new crop of Angus calves for branding and vaccines.  Cowboys and cowgirls are on their horses at sunrise, and the work is done by noon, way before the thermometer will reach its peak. The branding crews are quick and efficient, and the calves are returned to their momma’s side as soon as possible. No breaks until the work is done. When the Ranch Foreman says it’s time for lunch, breakfast is a distant memory, consumed before the sun had even peaked over the corral.  Everyone is well past starved.

Photo by N. Bright, Sanford Ranch, Carson County, Texas


“Grub pile; come a runnin’!”

We are so fortunate at the Sanford Ranch to have capable working crews in the branding pen as well as in the cookhouse. Tavia Vinson and her sister-in-law, Belinda Sursa, have been cooking together for family get-togethers and cowboy gatherings for many years. They’re no strangers to dust-covered, day workin’ crews having been involved in the ranching industry their whole lives. We are also grateful for the neighbors who eagerly volunteer to wash a dish or two during the week.

A soul-satisfying meal takes time and attention. The cooks start early, way before the others are even thinking about yanking on their boots. After bellies are full and plates are clean, it’s time to start on the next meal. Feeding this many requires planning, and then the week consists of long days with much chopping, stirring and dish washing. Frying an endless pile of chicken fried steaks for 40 starts almost immediately after the last drop of morning coffee is drained and the plates are rinsed.


Branding crew. Sanford Ranch. Photo by N. Bright


If you follow this blog then you know I post often about the ranching industry and the laid-back Texas lifestyle, however I have been remiss about one very important part: the food! I am not a huge fan of the kitchen. You’ll most likely find me outside snapping photos or yakking somebody’s ear off. This year though, I promise to pay more attention and to share a few recipes with you. Tavia and Belinda have created dishes that are timeless family favorites, taste-tested by generations of hungry cowboys and cowgirls.

Below is the pea salad recipe from last year. My mother made this alot when I was growing up, but Tavia’s twist is a hefty amount of boiled eggs and bacon. It’s a little different and I really loved it. As Tavia stood on one side of a huge bowl tossing in ingredients, Belinda stood on the other side chopping. I watched the collaboration and snapped a picture. There is not much measuring involved in these recipes, folks, which is why you’re not going to see precise quantities. Their style of cooking is all done to taste, based on experience and requests for seconds. The results are pure bliss. As Tavia tells me, if you’re ever in doubt, add more bacon.

Tavia’s Pea Salad. Photo by N. Bright.


4 cans of sweet English Peas (drained)

Cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes

1 cup real mayonnaise (more or less to taste)

Bacon, fried and chopped (it was a big pile, believe me)

1/2 Onion, diced small (or more, you decide)

1/2 cup Dill pickle relish (more to taste)

3 boiled eggs (or more), chopped

Pepper to taste

Stir, cover with plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator until time to serve. If stored overnight, omit onions and add just before serving.

Natalie blogs every Friday here, at PRAIRIE PURVIEW, and on Mondays about story craft at She is the author of a fun, historical western TROUBLE IN TEXAS series for middle grades, the RESCUE ANIMAL eBook series, and is currently working on the TEXAS FRONTIER novels, action-adventure series for young adults. Read about Natalie’s grandmother and her cherry salad recipe, recently selected for “THE WESTERN WRITERS OF AMERICA COOKBOOK: Favorite Recipes, Cooking Tips, and Writing Wisdom” (TwoDot Publishing, June 2017.) Find out more about Natalie’s books here: Amazon Author Page.