The Bar CR Ranch is a place where you can see the most fascinating things in life. Recently I went up to Washington to visit my grandfather’s cattle ranch. I used to work at the ranch every summer from middle school through high school, and I hadn’t been there since. The visit was past due. Bar CR Ranch is the best area I know to escape city life and to literally watch grass grow. There is a massive garden, a herd of nearly 200 cattle, three horses, chickens both young and old, a black Labrador named Maggie, a grey cat my grandfather calls Lenny the Assassin, a creek, hundreds of singing birds, and a thousand acres of land to explore.
Rugged hills surround the property, and when you are there you get to witness the wildlife roam the land. Bar CR Ranch is tucked in the Crab Creek valley in the middle of Washington farmland. The house is at the center, facing the creek, looking towards a wall of trees, three pastures, and a breathtaking view of the Basalt cliffs on the other side of the creek. Behind the house resides additional pastures that the cattle graze on for part of the year, along with the haystack, where all of the bales from the harvests are stored.
When I arrived it felt similar to how I left it, but I could identify every new aspect of the ranch that has changed in my absence. Being there on this trip was a new experience because all I had to do was explore and witness cycles of life. Pulling into the driveway we saw the rows and rows of cut grass and alfalfa in the pastures on our right-hand side. They were the first cuttings of the season, and over the course of the time we were on the ranch, we got to witness the first harvest get baled and stored in the haystack.
The ranch is named after my grandfather Ron, and his wife Claudia. This trip made me curious why ‘Bar’ was in the name, so I asked my grandfather what it stood for and why they used it in their brand. My grandfather worked on a ranch in Othello Washington when he was young before he became a welder and went on to start his own business in Spokane. So I figured he was the one to ask. My grandfather told me that Bar was used in homage to the historical name for a ranch, Bar, as well as to represent the part of the cattle brand that holds all the components together.
My mother and sister stayed with me on the ranch for six days before departing to the East Coast. While we were together on the ranch I spent most of my time with my sister. We wandered to see the horses and the adult chickens, and for the entire adventure were guided by Maggie. We observed the teenage chickens discover the great outdoors by sticking their head through chicken wire to get the greener grass. When I wasn’t exploring with my sister I was helping my grandfather with his garden. My mother, having driven us to Washington, took to exploring every crevice of the property with the farm dog Maggie, no leash needed. My sister is a young chef, funny, and probably a genius. As soon as she was in their kitchen she was in love, helping our grandmother prepare dinner as often as she could. We ate fresh eggs almost every morning and grass-fed beef for the majority of evenings we were there; my tastebuds were in heaven.
Everyone has that one thing that brings them happiness, and often more than one. Gardening is one of those things for my grandfather; it always has been ever since I was smaller. My grandparents cook some of the best food I have ever had, and when they can, they use meat and produce from the ranch: fresh chicken eggs, homegrown beef and occasionally homegrown pork as well! The produce from the garden turns into salsa, pickles, squash soup, and applesauce amongst other things. My grandfather loves his salsa, and the family recipe makes some of the best I’ve tasted. I don’t know how long the recipe has been in my family, but I do know that my grandfather got the recipe from his brother Bill.
2 ½ Cups Jalapeño peppers - Chopped
5 Cups Anaheim or Hungarian Yellow Wax - Chopped
5 Cups Sweet White Onion - Chopped
10 Cups Tomatoes, about 21 medium tomatoes - Peeled & Chopped**
2 Cups Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tbsp Pickling Salt
1 tsp Oregano
5 Cloves Garlic - Chopped
** Helpful Hint from Grandpa:
Scald the tomatoes to make them easier to peel.
- Place tomatoes into a pot of boiling water until the pot has about 5 tomatoes.
- Take out the tomatoes in the order you placed them, and place them into a bowl of cold water.
- The tomato peels split and make it easier to peel.
- Combine all the ingredients in a pot and gently boil off excess liquid.
- Fill 8-9 pint jars with ½ inch of clearance from the rim to pressurize.
- Wipe off the mouths of each jar before putting lids on each one.
- Process in a water bath for 20 minutes.**
** Water Bath Instructions According to Grandma:
- Boil water in a canner.
- Place jars into a jar rack and lower into the canner.
- Put water into the canner so the jars are covered about 1 inch so it just covers the lid.
- Bring to a boil and cook for 20 minutes.
- Take out of the water bath and let cool on a towel for 20 minutes.
I asked my grandfather about his salsa and the other things they make while we were planting onion starters and Swiss chard in his garden. I rarely see him as excited as he became when he started talking about cooking and some of his favorite things to cook with his wife. He gave me a list of all the things they like to make from the garden and what he changes out based on observed growing patterns and what they both enjoy eating.
The day before my mother and sister left the ranch we drove to Ellensburg, the halfway point between the ranch and Seattle, to meet my first niece Lily - a small but fantastic family reunion at the Daily Bread Mercantile. Lily the tiny bean is fearless, social, and very curious. We were lucky and got to meet her at prime time, in between naps. I had forgotten how small babies are. Lily mainly observed the room unless she was telling stories in the famous baby gurgle language. After we all finished lunch we continued our visit outside. Lily turned into a pilot, using her dad's arm as the plane. She put her head down and her arms close to her body so she could fly faster. Lily is six months old, and already likes to go fast. After a few hours, she fell asleep and we took that as our cue to head back towards the ranch. We played games and ate great food that night. The next morning my mother and sister started their trip towards the East Coast.
With mom and sis on the road and no ranch obligations to tend to, I was able to explore the property. I learned that with Maggie on the ranch, no adventure goes on without her accompanying you, except if you linger by the cows for too long. I walked to the creek and Maggie went swimming, scooting, and rolling in the grass as soon as she was on land again. Only to run and play with the large bales of hay that scattered the grass pasture. We wandered to the Haystack at the top of the hill and all of the cattle thought I was there to feed them; my camera looked delicious. All eyes were on me. For the first time in my life I was famous. At least until they realized I was not there to feed them. I wandered down the long driveway to the entrance where there was a new sign for the ranch and a hawk in the lone tree at the edge of the pasture, saying hi to Jessie, my grandfather's palomino horse and attempting to greet the chickens. The chickens played a mean game of hide and seek, running around the chicken coop in a herd as fast and as clumsily as you can imagine.
Though I knew all of these locations from my previous time on the ranch, I was able to enjoy it and take my time observing the land and animals grow around me. I had forgotten how lovely the view was. The Bar CR Ranch is surrounded by rugged hills on three sides and a long intricate Basalt Cliff face by the side of the creek on the fourth. The pattern of the rocks looks as if the fans of giants were left there, splashes of movement all repeating down the face of the cliff. Time escapes you, and I hadn’t realized how much I missed being surrounded by land with nothing but time to enjoy. The day before I left I wandered into the garden again to see if the seeds we had planted had started to sprout. Lo and behold, both crops had small green sprouts poking out of the soil. Nothing is more beautiful and exciting than seeing life grow, and that is what life on a ranch is all about.