A favorite salad dressing and spice cake — straight from a 1980 ‘Ranch & Rodeo’ cookbook

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Clé Symons confesses she is not much of a cook. And she’s more of a city mouse than a country mouse. 

Yet in 1980, the Denver journalist compiled some rather rustic dishes in her cookbook “Ranch & Rodeo Recipes” thanks to ideas passed along by friends and family who had connections to the countryside. 

“I have a brother who is in the ranching and rodeo businesses. My grandfather, my great-grandfather, and great-uncle homesteaded a ranch in northeastern Colorado,” near Stoneham, she explained. “So the heritage is certainly there.” 

As was her ability to write — crafting an introduction about ranch life and devising names for many of the recipes. But those culinary talents indeed may have been lacking.

“I don’t know whether I was a good cook or not,” the 87-year-old said. “You have to ask all the people who suffered through.” Like her two daughters, she added. “My husband died 20 years ago, so he’s not around to vouch for it.”

Ryan Warner/CPR News
Clé Symons, author of Ranch & Rodeo Recipes, poses for a photo on April 16, 2022.

What she can vouch for are the recipes, like her “Mother’s Favorite Salad Dressing.” The key to this sweet condiment is onion juice. “I just ordinarily buy a yellow onion and slice it in half. And I actually squeeze it on an orange juice squeezer,” Symons said. The dressing is the only recipe from the book she makes to this day. But her memories of the Montana Spice Cake are vivid… perhaps for its simplicity.

“It’s very easy to make,” she said. “You frost it, you cut it into squares and it’s not overly sweet.” Cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg mingle with chopped pecans. But Symons had to correct a typo in the recipe,” which originally said to bake the cake for 10 minutes. It’s 40. “Fortunately, I don’t think this cookbook was widely circulated. Otherwise I’d probably have been sued a long time ago,” she joked.

Mother’s Favorite Salad Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons onion juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika (or more)
  • ⅞ cup sugar
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • 2 cups salad oil

Combine all ingredients except salad oil in mixer. Mix well. Gradually add salad oil in stream, beating constantly. Mix until thickened. Store in refrigerator. 

The secret to this dressing is the onion juice. Cut a large onion in half and juice as one would an orange. Do not use too much pulp.

Range Rider’s Ham Loaf

  • 1 lb. ground smoked ham
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 cup fine cracker crumbs
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • ¾ cup milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix ham and beef thoroughly. Add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Cook in top of greased 2 quart double boiler. Steam for 3 hours. 

Serve with sauce made of:

  • 5 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 4 teaspoons horseradish
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of prepared mustard
  • Dash of paprika
  • Good for six servings.

Montana Spice Cake

  • 1 cup sour cream (sweet cream which has soured is ideal)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • 1 teaspoon [baking] soda
  • ¼ cup hot water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Blend sour cream and sugar thoroughly. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat well after each addition. Sift together flour, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Add gradually to cake mixture, blend after each addition. Stir in nuts. Dissolve soda in hot water and stir into mixture. Bake in greased and floured square pan (8”x8”x2”) for 40 minutes. Frost with powdered sugar frosting. [Mix 1 cup powdered sugar with ¼ stick melted butter. Stir in milk in small quantities to desired consistency.]

For our series "The Kitchen Shelf," CPR News wants to know about other local Colorado cookbooks and we want your help. Whether your cookbook is collecting dust on a shelf or is a butter-stained countertop workhorse, take a picture of the cover and tweet @cprwarner or email it to [email protected]. We’d love to share more of these family recipes and the stories behind them.