Our first letter is a fine example of what makes texascooking.com work. It comes from Bob T. in Houston. Bob writes:

I just found the Texas Cooking web site while looking for a jerky recipe. I happened to see your comments about putting an old crusty cast iron pot in the coals of a fire to clean it and you were wondering about putting the pot in a self-cleaning oven...not in my oven unless you have an industrial size hood over the stove to remove the smoke.

Here are two methods I have used to clean them. One is to put the cast iron in a gas outdoor grill, start on low, then up to high and leave it in long enough to get it almost red hot. The other method is to preheat the pot and then put it over the flame of a propane burner like is used for a fish fryer and blast it. In either case both methods are outside. [ Dr. note: In either case, cool the pot slowly].

So do you have any favorite jerky recipes?

Dear Bob:

Thanks for the tips on cleaning cast iron. My favorite jerky recipe dates back to the 1850's. It says to bring some salted water to a simmer using one-tablespoon salt per gallon of water. The beef or venison is cut into one-half inch or smaller strips. All fat removed. You season the meat by pounding in cracked black pepper. The meat is then dipped in the simmering water until gray/white. The meat should be hung in a well-ventilated place to dry. It will take about a week. It won't work in high humidity conditions. When the jerky is black and cracks instead of bending it is ready. You can store it in a sealed jar in a cool place. When the meat is hanging you might want to protect it with some cheesecloth or the like to keep the bugs off.

I suppose you could add other seasonings to the raw meat. I'd try some garlic powder for sure and some onion powder. Whatever else suits you. Every modern dehydrator I've seen comes with a recipe and instructions for making jerky.

Thanks for writing Dr. John.

Our next question comes from North of Houston.

First of all, thank you for taking the time to respond to us novices. I am a transplant from Michigan to The Woodlands (45 miles north of Houston). I have been here for almost 2 years and I have a hard time finding authentic Texas recipes that are not so hot your ears steam. I know Texas is infamous for this, but for those of us whose stomachs can't tolerate that barn burning sensation, can you help me out? I heard of a recipe called Texas baked beans...finally found a recipe for it...made it...hubby loved it! It's the only kind he will now eat. Problem...I lost the recipe! I know it had navy beans and not any other sort in it, but can't for the life of me remember the ingredients. HELP!!!! Thank you.

Mrs. J. W., The Woodlands, TX

Dear Mrs. J.W.:

Here's the best I could do on the bakes bean recipe.

Old-Fashioned Baked Beans

Soak the beans in water overnight. Put them on a slow fire and simmer until done. In a small skillet, sauté the onion in the oil and add to the beans. Add the other ingredients and simmer until the desired thickness is reached.

You notice these beans are not actually baked. If you want to bake them, when the beans are just tender, add the rest of the ingredients and put them in your bean pot and in the oven for a couple of hours.

About the "heat" of Texas foods. Folks in the warmer climates all over the world seem to find that "hot" foods help them cope with the hot weather. You can cut down the heat of Texas recipes by using less pepper. The biggest part of the heat in chile peppers is in the seeds and pith inside the pepper. You can remove the seeds and pith to cool things down. Wear rubber gloves when handling hot peppers. Thanks for writing Dr. John.

Here's one from my old hometown of Temple:

Hi Dr. John: We just found out about this web site. How can I get a copy, or find on the net Barbecue 101? Thanks.
B. K., Temple, TX

Dear B.K.:

My previous articles can be found on www.texascooking.com. From the home page, go to "Traditional Texas Cooking" scroll down until you find it. Or you can click directly to it right here.

Thanks for writing Dr. John.

Here's one from Parts Unknown:

Happy to have you join Texas Cooking. We enjoy tent camping, and I'm learning to cook in my new 14-inch Dutch oven (although I do have a Coleman camp stove). I seem to have to use more coals than is suggested in all the references I have found? How can you tell your temperature or am I impatient? I practice at home, too, so we won't have flops at camp. Do I use the recommended number of briquettes and add more as they burn small? They don't last for the duration of cooking. I don't know anyone local that uses a Dutch oven. All our friends have their easy way of cooking in their travel trailers. PS: My meals have all turned out very good, it just seems so much work checking the coals.

K. M.

Dear K.M.:

First thing that comes to mind is that the various brands of charcoal burn at different rates and temperatures. You will want to use the same brand of charcoal each time you cook. You will need to keep some hot coals going to add as needed, there are some smokestack-type charcoal starters on the market that work very well.

We use coals from a hardwood fire for our Dutch oven cookery. It's a matter of experience as to how much to use and when. I asked one of my experts how he determines the temperature inside his Dutch oven. "Take the lid off and look" was the reply.

Dutch oven cooking is not as easy as cooking on the range in the kitchen, but when you master the technique you'll be the envy of all your friends. I guarantee. Just keep working at it.

This last question has stumped the Dr.

I would love a recipe that has canned green peas, cheese, mayo & I don't know what else. I have a son-in law who's a Texan & I'd love to surprise him with this! Thanks from Massachusetts.

Dear From Mass.:

Sounds like some sort of green pea salad to me. Can any of my readers out there H E L P?

Thanks for writing Dr. John