The American Cowboy lived a lifestyle that has since been watered down and romanticized through repeated retelling and reformatting. And over the years, one essential part of the cowboy lifestyle has been lost and literally left in the trail dust; their cooking.

The diet of a cowboy was a hearty one, filled with fatty high protein foods that kept well on a trail and were most importantly, cheap. In the early 1900’s, during a time when the American cowboy was very much in the saddle, imported food was too pricey for the common cowboy. A typical cowboy diet consisted of foods such as: cured pork, beef chuck, beans, biscuits, apples or apple  based foods, potatoes, greens, coffee, breads, dumplings, and eventually, canned goods. Like all things cowboy, the food had to meet the benchmarks of being portable, hearty, simple, and cheap.

Historical accounts tell of what was considered the supreme delicacy of cowboydom; mountain oysters. Now, for the more astute, you may have just raised an eyebrow. You may have thought to yourself, “There is no such thing as mountain oyster”. Well sir, you are darn right. But cowboys are not famous for their proclivity towards brilliant names and they knew all too well that their delicacy was no salt water pearl. The so called, “mountain oysters” were in fact the fried and sliced testicles of young calves who had been castrated. It should also be noted that the oysters were too tough to be cut off by knives, so the cowboys used their teeth. I will be passing, on that there delicious treat, thank you sir. Just getting my nose close to a calf testicle would be enough to deter my veterinary ambitions and any following culinary experiments.

A modern dude ranch typically offers nuggets of what we like to call, “the cowboy experience”, or the “western experience”. But few interlopers know just how miraculous dude ranch cuisine is compared to the traditional grub that cowboys were saddled with.

Farm to Table Dining at California's dude ranch

Farm to Table dining at California’s dude ranch. Produce moves from the garden to the table in one day!

At the marble mountain ranch, we have a delicious farm-to-table menu composed of fresh ingredients from our own orchards, green houses, and gardens. We also serve local and region specific fresh, locally bought produce and other goods. Your green salad will likely be made with fresh lettuce, fruits, and vegetables from the ranch. Your breads are homemade, and are never transported across the plains in saddle bags! While the Marble Mountain Ranch does not farm any livestock for meat, it does purchase meats from local stores that are high quality and fresh. Additionally, nothing is delivered by, or served from a wagon and prepared by an grumpy chuck wagon boss named “spud”!

ranch pitmasters

Heidi and Chelsea, the ranch chuckwagon pitmasters

The ranch’s executive chef, Heidi, could be compared to a magician when it comes to the culinary arts. She has been cooking professionally more than 40 years, and does an excellent job of creating meals that are fresh, healthy, hearty, and delicious. A typical dinner on the marble mountain ranch would consist of several parts. On a summer evening, the discerning cowboy could expect a dinner of fresh herbed tri tip, smoked steelhead, a selection of ravioli with homemade sauces, fresh salads and buttery homemade breads. They could also anticipate delicious hand crafted desserts, such as chocolate soufle, homemade ice cream, creme brule, or even an old American favorite; homemade apple pie. It’s a good thing there is so much dude ranching to be accomplished in the day, else you may be overwhelmed by the abundance of delicious foods that are so readily available! Looky here, there ain’t no space for spare tires in the kitchen!

dude ranch kitchen

Daughter and daughter in laws manage the kitchen under the direction of executive chef Heidi

On the ranch, we believe that a good day can only start with a great breakfast. In the fashion of traditional cowboys, we like to “load you up” before you “ride on out”.   Every day there is a new breakfast menu to be enjoyed. One day you might have fresh waffles with strawberries and cream. On another day you may be treated to a variety of homemade scones and muffins. And if you are a lucky son of a bun, you might get to try Heidi’s homemade traditional Danish Ableskeever. Which is essentially a sweet, pancake like dough, only ten times better, that is deep fried into little balls that are served with fresh homemade jam and cream. My husband, who is still being taught how to respect the old Danish ways of his wife’s family, likes to call them “pancake balls” or “pan puffs”. At least that is what he called them, until we took him for a walk up to the range!  And like many interlopers who cross a cowgirl, there may be subsequent “long walks”.

Danish Ableskeever

Family heritage cooking – Danish Ableskeever – adds to the cosmopolitan influence in our ranch kitchen

The charm of ranch cooking is really all about the creativity of the head cook. We have been blessed on the ranch to enjoy the cooking of someone who is both creative and highly skilled. And the truth is that things really do taste better when they are homemade and enjoyed in an outdoor setting. Somehow, the ambiance of the setting just adds to an already remarkable culinary extravaganza. Lucky for guests at the Marble Mountain Ranch, you don’t have to eat your chuck (or tri tip) off the back of a chuck wagon. Nor do you have to haul your food in a saddle bag, where is gets covered in bugs, dirt, and all kinds of outdoor debris. All you have to do is follow the scent of the delicious, homemade, and authentic western style food that has been specially prepared for you and giddy-up down to the dining lodge. So, chuck is up! The beans is hot! The grub is on! And the chow is out! And, it ain’t no “mountain oyster stew! Ma-am!”

Honey Bourbon Ribs at the guest ranch

Original recipes and local influence shows up in all of the ranch culinary expressions. Local fruit trees are used to smoke meats here on the ranch