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From the Kitchen Table

Our kitchen table is the bosom of our home. It gathers everyone and everything to it.

Lacking a formal dining room, my kitchen and dining table are in one large room. We never use the front door. We traipse in through the mud room, deposit part of the load and continue into the dining and kitchen area.

The table becomes a repository for mail, groceries, four-wheeler parts, anything and everything.   

Our table is a beautiful workhorse made by our daughter Kate in high school shop.  It is tongue and groove maple from the old gym floor in Kaycee. It is four feet wide and 6.5 feet long.  It holds eight comfortably and swells to many at holidays with the addition of a card table or two. It hosts the neighborly poker games in the winter and becomes the craft table for my last-minute Do-It-Yourself Christmas gifts.

It has a permanent black dot from making calf tags during calving.

I believe most ranch homes have the same sort of kitchen table. My husband has an office, but however many times I stack the bills and put them in there, invariably, most of it comes back out to be worked on.

The busy season of shipping and fall work is winding down, and I have even had the table clean once and put out the “horseshoe” pumpkin, welded from horseshoes by the Kaycee FFA chapter. In a month or so, that will be replaced by my Christmas holiday decoration, no doubt surrounded by the piles of seasonal catalogs.

I am writing from my kitchen table, looking out at the grand view of the Middle Fork of the Powder River, the meadows, the bare cottonwoods and the pine ridge behind them.  I am fortunate.

The holiday season is arriving. That means cooking and preparing festive meals, shopping for gifts and doing the last of the spring cleaning. There are also duties like getting the bucks out into the sheep, breaking the ice, feeding a little here and there and hoping for not too much winter – yet.

One of my favorite things about this time of year is cornbread dressing.

My parents migrated to Casper in the 50s from Oklahoma. Cornbread dressing is what I grew up with.

I love all stuffing. I think it’s the only reason to cook turkey. This is my cornbread dressing ritual.

Cook the cornbread the night before, in a cast iron skillet. Cut up and let dry overnight, after testing with plenty of butter and honey. Early on Turkey Day, put the neck bone in a pot of water and simmer for an hour, or as much as time allows.

Break up your white bread that you’ve been saving scraps of in the freezer or just use the packaged stuffing. Dice up a little onion and celery, making sure to get some chopped up celery leaves.  This is to your taste.

Douse with plenty of ground sage and poultry seasoning. Mix up well. Add a cube of butter to the turkey neck broth, and when it melts, pour over the dry dressing mix. I don’t like it too wet, so stir and get the liquid well dispersed. Salt the cavity of the turkey and spoon the dressing in. Be careful not to pack the dressing too much. Leftover dressing can be spooned into a buttered, oven-ready pan, dotted with butter, covered with foil and baked about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Fill up the turkey neck pan again with water and simmer all the rest of the day.  This will be the broth for your gravy.

Baste the turkey often during the last hour, and be sure to squirt some on top of the dressing. This is very important. It browns the dressing, and this is the choice spoon of testing that the person in charge gets to eat.

SOUTHERN CORN BREAD

1 ½ cups corn meal. I like to substitute ½ c. of Bob’s Red Mill coarse grind corn meal.

½ c. flour

2 Tbsp. sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon soda

3 Tbsp. baking powder

1 cup buttermilk

2/3 stick butter

3 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Mix dry ingredients. Add buttermilk and eggs. Melt butter in a 10½ inch cast iron skillet in the stove. When melted, pour into ingredients and blend. 

Pour back into skillet and bake for about 18 minutes.

Serves 6-8.

Lynn Harlan is the Wyoming Livestock Roundup’s newest columnist, and this is the debut of her column, “From the Kitchen Table.” Harlan lives on a ranch outside Kaycee.

 

Years ago, the ranch maintained a fleet of 1979 Ford F250 three-quarter ton flatbed pickups. They were workhorses and fairly easy to work on, as compared to modern day pickups that involve a trip to the computer in town. Some are still going.

One was bought at a local farm sale. It was light blue and had a big, rusted, white metal grille on the front. It became “Toothless.”

In winter, a corn feeder was bolted to the flatbed. A load of corn and 27 or 28 small square bales were tied on. Often, it was my feed run. Most of the pickups were equipped with two way radios, and I could check in as to how I was faring with the icy or muddy road, finding the ewes or any trouble.

One bright, crisp, winter day, I came upon a dead ewe after feeding the bunch. I looked her over and saw through her wool that she had been bitten on the neck. I radioed my husband Bob, and he told me to load her up and bring her in.

Yep, it looked like a lion kill. Bob sent me back out to look around some more, and he would call the game warden. In Wyoming, mountain lions are designated big game animals, and ranchers are compensated for kills. The game warden needs to verify the kill.

I drove back up to the feed ground and, over a small rise, saw 27 more dead ewes. They had bed down for the night in an old bentonite pit that was reclaimed, but the fence was mostly gone. It was the perfect killing field for the lion.

Bob sent the game warden out, and he and I loaded up the dead ewes on the flatbed of Toothless. Bob went to town looking for the trapper and his dogs, got our young son out of school and bought a lion license.

It was getting close to two o’clock by the time we all assembled back out in the hills, and the lion wasn’t found that day. His track was spotted a few days later, and we had a better chance as we soon had the trapper, his dogs, the son and his license all rounded up. My son shot the lion after the trapper’s dogs treed it.

Bob put in his lion damage claim – a petition for compensation – to the Wyoming Game and Fish. At regular meetings of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, claimants state their case, and the commissioners award damages or not. Early that summer, Bob was summoned to the hearing dealing with his claim.

It was after lunch. The first presenter had prepared a long and lengthy discourse, with video, on hay damage from an elk herd. The room was warm, and folks were having trouble staying alert. Bob was next and began his banter on why he should be awarded full damages from the mountain lion kills. He passed around a picture taken of the dead ewes loaded on the pickup.

“Here’s a picture of the dead sheep and ol’ Toothless,” he said.

Someone at the front table asked, “You call your wife toothless?”

Bob replied, “No, I call my wife Hon. Toothless is the pickup.”

The room erupted into laughter.

The Commissioners went into session and gave Bob full damages to our claim. The next speaker asked if Bob would present her claim.

Toothless is still going strong, and the corn feeder stays bolted on all year now.

Lynn Harlan is a Wyoming Livestock Roundup columnist and lives on a ranch outside Kaycee.