One Cowboy’s Culinary Treat May Be Another Person’s “Eww!”
Old timers will tell you that some years branding calves in Independence Valley may extend from April 15 to 4th of July. It depends on the weather and the size of the herd. If it goes until July, the cowboys are darn ready to head to Elko for the Silver State Stampede and to whoop it up for a few days.
An educated guess from a longtime Independence Valley rancher is that during late spring into early summer between ten and fifteen thousand calves are branded on the ranches — from the IL and Petan ranches on the northernmost edge of the valley to the Wrights, the Rhoads, and the VanNorman ranches on the southern end.
On most ranches, branding requires the help of friends and neighbors. Help is repaid with the hospitality of the branding lunch, always a bounteous affair.
For the health of the herd, branding includes ear tags, vaccination, and castration of the bull calves. The calf testicles are considered a delicacy by many, and each ranch cook has her own way of preparation.
This recipe for calf fries from Barbara Wolf of Rancho Grande, North Fork, Nevada is found in The Real Ranch Cookbook: The heritage of Northeastern Nevada’s working ranches, their recipes, histories and photographs, produced by the Elko County CattleWomen. The cookbook is a gem of photos, anecdotes, and good country cooking.
Calf Fries (also known as Rocky Mountain Oysters)
crushed saltine crackers
Clean calf fries — remove outer sack; with a sharp knife slice the nut almost in half and scrape out meat. If you are using large nuts, you may want to slice in half depth-wise so that the meat cooks up firm, not mushy. Crush crackers and add seasoned salt and garlic powder. Combine egg and milk. Dip nuts in egg and milk wash, then roll in cracker crumbs. Fry in hot oil ‘til golden brown.
— Nancy Harris McLelland