Traditional Texas Food
Articles about Texas' most famous foods
by John Raven, Ph.B.
Texas Christmas Fare
The way lots of Texans celebrate Christmas has evolved from European traditions, mainly the Germans. The largest influx of German immigrants to Texas started about 1850.
Perhaps the most well known German Christmas item is the Christmas tree. Trees were used in Europe as a symbol of life and promise. In old country Germany, Christmas is known as Weihnachten. This translates roughly to "good night or evening." The European Christmas was celebrated on what is now Christmas Eve. After a day of preparations, the family would go to church and when they returned, the living room was closed and no one admitted until a bell rang which signaled the departure of the Christ Child. Before St. Nicholas and Santa Claus, the Christ Child delivered the presents. When the bell sounded, the family entered the room, and there were presents for everyone.
Texas Christmas celebrations in the old days included the whole family -- mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and all the kids. The Christmas abendessen (Christmas dinner) was much like the regular Sunday dinner, but with more and better food. As with all pioneer societies, the German Texans ate what was available. More than likely the main course at the earliest Texas German Christmas celebrations was pork. The hog was easy to raise and produced a lot of meat for the investment. The turkey did not really become popular until the Civil War. A turkey would feed a lot more hungry soldiers than a chicken and could be found nearly anywhere.
My family had a food serving routine that was probably the norm for the period. While the food was being placed on the dining table, an area for the kids had card tables set up to accommodate them. After the blessing, the kids were sent around the table to fill their plates, which they took to the "kids' table". Then the men folk were seated at the table. After they were all full, the women took over the table. The women always spent the most time at the table, since there was plenty of time for conversation and relaxation from the day's work. When the women finished, the food was covered and left on the table so that anyone wanting a second or third helping could find it without having to dig through the icebox.
There was always a dessert table. Here was where all the sweet treats were served. Cakes, pies and cookies were the standard items. There was always at least one Texas pecan pie.
Christmas Sweet TreatsThis seems like a good time to talk about some of the sweets and provide a couple of recipes. The desserts were always referred to as "sweets," I guess because they were all sweet. The cakes tended to be of the chocolate variety with chocolate icing. In later years, the sheet cakes with Jello in them began to show up. They tasted good and were attractive.
Pies could vary. My mother had a special lemon pie. One of the aunts had a chocolate pie. I do not remember who specialized in the pecan pies, but they were always everyone's favorite.
Sugar cookies were the favorite until the chocolate chips came out. It's hard to beat a good chocolate chip cookie. A lot of times there was a banana pudding.
Spice CakeThrough the years, my favorite cake came to be one that was out of my mother's antique cookbook. It is a spice cake with raisins and pecans.
Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie
LebkuchenHere is an authentic cookie recipe from the old country. It is sort of like gingerbread but not quite. You are not restricted to making them square or round. You can use your cookie cutters to get seasonal shapes and then decorate them with what seems proper.
Heat together the honey and brown sugar until sugar dissolves. Cool. Stir in the egg, lemon rind and juice.
Beat in dry ingredients until smooth. Add nuts and citron. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill overnight.
Roll out dough 1/4 inch thick and cut into approximately 1-1/2-inch squares, or do like me and use a glass to cut them. Place on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 350°F from 12 to 15 minutes. When cookies are done, spread or brush them with glaze (recipe follows). Makes about 3 dozen cookies. (Mine make 2 dozen).
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my Texas Cooking friends.
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