The Great Ranch Cookbook

by Gwen Ashley Walters

Published by Guest Ranch Link

253 pages, 1999

ISBN 0966348605

 


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Home on the Ranch

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards

 

Both the cover and the title of The Great Ranch Cookbook conjure up cliché images of the American west. Cliché flavors as well: think hardtack and bannock; buffalo steaks and overcooked chili. After all, ranches are traditionally known for many things, but if one thinks of the food at all it's in terms of quantity not quality.

A glance through The Great Ranch Cookbook brings home the new reality. The best guest ranches still may have to heap their hungry visitor's plates high with food, but the quality of that food is more cordon bleu than chuckwagon, as even a quick glance at some of the recipe titles with prove: Pineapple Gazpacho; Three Peppercorn and Garlic Prime Rib; Baby Romaine with Maple Vinaigrette; Apple Smoked Bacon with Wild Mushrooms and Grilled Ramp Compote: hardly the stuff that one imagines John Wayne munching on the trail.

Author Gwen Ashley Walters has combined her own areas of expertise into a highly readable and usable book. Walters is a noted chef who previously managed a well known Montana guest lodge. The fact that she's also an avid fly fisher probably made all the resort travel that was necessary to research this book all the less onerous. In all, Walters traveled to 30 guest ranches and sampled the food that she then cut down to home kitchen-sized recipes. The book is organized by state: one ranch from Alaska, four from Arizona, one from California, 12 from Colorado, one each from Idaho and Texas and four from Wyoming. Certainly not a complete list, but a good start.

In her introduction, Walters sums up her quest:

One of the great adventures in life is visiting a guest ranch, whether the ranch is close to home or far away. There is just something "American" about saddling up for a day's ride, hiking in majestic mountains, angling grass-lined, crystal clear streams, or just cozying up in front of a roaring fire in the lodge.

In setup, the book resembles a bed and breakfast guide: each ranch's section is prefaced with the ranch's own logo, as well as basic information like address, URL, available seasons, capacity, available accommodations, activities and rates. If the couple of pages of ranch-related copy feels a little too much like PR material, this too adds to the B&B guidebook feel. For example, this from the section on the Latigo Guest Ranch in Kremmling, Colorado:

Seconds after you enter the Latigo gates you are gazing out at a 200-mile panoramic view of the spectacular Rocky Mountains. You're dazzled that you just moments ago turned off a civilized paved road onto a dusty trail called Red Dirt Road. Climbing up and out of the sagebrush and into alpine evergreens, the path to the Latigo is a mercurial scene, winding its way toward quite possibly the most tranquil environment you've ever experienced.

All of the ranch descriptions have echoes of this one: a little too adjective-filled to be entirely credible. (Mercurial?) But when the whole collection of ranches is viewed -- via the book -- from the comfort of your armchair the result is enticing. It makes you want to pack! And if packing isn't an option, the recipes are there so you can at least taste what you'll be missing. | May 1999

 

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her latest novel, Calculated Loss, is set in Vancouver, where Madeline Carter sets out to investigate the suspicious death of a professional chef.