Pat and Barb Clark and their family ranch near Athboy, South Dakota. If you can’t find it on the map, don’t worry; it’s an old ghost town in the middle of nowhere in western Corson County. Both Pat and Barb grew up in the area, and they raised their four children close to their ranching roots.
Barb was involved with her family’s brandings from a young age, helping with both the calf rassling and the meal preparation.
“We were raised to do both,” she said. “I have many memories out in the branding pen but I always helped Mom with the meal as well, especially with the preparation work the day before. I continued to do both when Pat and I got married.”
Branding brings extended family, friends and neighbors together to share in the cowboy tradition of gathering, roping and branding the calves. Work and food are shared and enjoyed as everyone, old and young, does their part.
“When our moms were younger, they would both help to babysit the meal for me,” Barb said. “They would turn the meat up or down as needed, depending on how the work went. Life is about seasons; now that they are both aging and I have daughters-in-law and grandbabies I see myself spending a little more time in the kitchen and a little less time outside on branding days. But I like to do both.”
Barb gleaned from helping her mother in the kitchen and also learned a lot from her mother-in-law’s example.
“Pat’s mom often made Sour Cream Raisin Pie for branding, but more than the cooking I have learned from her how to plan ahead, stay organized, and keep things going when plans change,” she said. “On branding day, you never know if the guys are going to be ready three hours late or an hour earlier than expected! When I was growing up we ‘farmer flopped’ the calves and everything was done right in the home corrals, so we would always break right at noon for our meal. Up here, Clarks roped and dragged the calves, generally several miles from the place and never in the same place two years in a row. Mavis was always very organized, and she never forgot anything. I’m getting there, but still have a ways to go!”
Barb doesn’t have a standard menu for their branding meal, although a few selections have become a running tradition over the years.
“The men get a lot of roast beef and macaroni salad this time of year,” she said. “I try to mix it up a little and switch off with different salads and main dishes; some years I do roast, sometimes we grill hamburgers. I like to cook and I enjoy doing different things from year to year.”
Barb’s sister Becky usually brings homemade donuts, and Barb makes handy Sausage-Egg Squares so the guys don’t start the day off hungry, but from there out the rest of the day may be a surprise.
“My sister often makes and brings donuts, using mom’s recipe,” she said. “On occasion mom would make them for our branding when we were growing up, and they are something our crew looks forward to. The Sausage-Egg Squares are something unique that we serve every year. A lot of the crew doesn’t eat breakfast beforehand, or they’re coming from ninety miles away, so it’s something that’s not sugary and also gluten free for those with health concerns. It’s not your typical egg bake, it’s thinner. I cut it into small pieces and it’s a handy finger-food.”
Clarks don’t quit for their main meal until the branding is done, so for the first break of the morning Barb serves the Sausage-Egg Squares along with meat and cheese slices. For the second break she serves the ‘Best Ham Sandwiches’ so that the crew has some protein to go along with the bars and donuts.
Even though it takes some juggling, Barb enjoys both helping out at the branding corrals and preparing the meal. Even if things don’t turn out perfectly, a hungry crew is not likely to be fussy.
“There have been a few times that I told them, ‘this was a pretty good meal around noon,’” she chuckled. “But we’re pretty far from McDonalds—and nobody complains if it’s not perfect.”
Barb said that her favorite part of branding day is the fellowship with extended family and good neighbors.
“I enjoy seeing everyone gather together for branding, watching everyone work together and socialize after a long spring,” Barb said. “We have such good neighbors, and I enjoy the camaraderie with our neighbors. These are good lessons for the younger generation to learn too. Branding is really a good time to reflect, both on the work of the season and also on God’s goodness. None of us would be here without God’s provision. We have lots to be thankful for, and branding is a good time to express that!”