Traditional Texas Food
Articles about Texas' most famous foods
by John Raven, Ph.B.
Remembering Home Cookingby John Raven, Ph.B.
The first solid food that I can remember consuming was oatmeal. For many years my day started with a bowl of oatmeal and a couple of slices of buttered toast. I had one of them alphabet bowls. That is, it had the alphabet printed round the edge of the bowl. Eating was also an educational process.
I was raised on a farm on the eastern edge of Taylor, Texas. (Taylor's still there, and they have a website) The farm was owned by a doctor in Taylor, and my Daddy managed the farm. The time frame was from 1942 until 1957.
It took a lot of food to keep the folks going. The usual day started off with breakfast. Then, about ten o'clock there was coffee and sweet rolls, then the noon meal. About two in the afternoon, there would be coffee and sweet rolls again, and then the big meal of the day, supper.
Bacon and EggsBreakfast for the adults was bacon and eggs with toast and coffee. Liberal amounts of butter included. Noon meal could be most anything. Leftovers from the last evening meal or something fairly simple. Pinto beans were a popular item, as was fried steak and mashed potatoes and gravy. Always lots of white bread. The big meal at "supper" always had meat. Mostly fried steak, gravy and mashed potatoes. Occasionally, the potatoes would be just plain boiled or fried.
It's a wonder we didn't all fall victim to beriberi, rickets and/or pellagra. Vegetables were not a big staple in our diet. When we had a vegetable, it was usually green beans. Mama would open a can of green beans, put them in the pot, add a little bacon grease for flavor, and boil them until they were green mush in the bottom of the pot. Occasionally, Mama would boil some cabbage. No one liked the way it smelled, so it wasn't real popular. Carrots and turnips would make a rare appearance on our table.
A fresh salad was only for special occasions. Our family salad was lettuce and tomatoes covered with mayonnaise, and was a soggy mess. People ate it only to be polite. After bottled salad dressings came to town, salad was soggy lettuce and tomatoes with French dressing. Still something you ate only to be polite. There was the occasional cole slaw which was meant to be soggy.
Everything was cooked well done or past that point. Remember this was the time where electric refrigerators were just becoming available for home use. Food went a little past fresh on occasion. If you cooked the heck out of it, more than likely it wouldn't hurt you. Mama's steak was always fried crisp. I never had a piece of meat cooked rare until I was full growed and away from home.
Old DessertsHomemade desserts were for holidays. The everyday sweets came from the store in the form of cookies or sweet rolls. Does anyone remember the pink and white anise cookies? Delicious.
Mama's best dessert was lemon pie. She made them from scratch. There was no way to predict how the pie shell would come out -- one time soggy, the next time scorched and sometimes just right. Mama's cakes never came out looking like the ones in the magazines, either. They were always lopsided or puffed up in the middle. She had a couple of homemade icing recipes that were a lot of work. But as well as I can remember, there was no cake wasted. Mama also made her idea of ice cream on occasion. This was a homemade pudding with crushed pineapple in it and frozen in the ice cube tray. Really, really good stuff.
We had fresh fish only when someone caught some. They were always fried crisp. Mama would make hush-puppies to go with the fish, one of my favorite things to this day. We called the hush-puppies "sinkers". That was because Mama molded her hush-puppies with a tablespoon. Since Daddy and I made our fishing sinkers out of lead molded in a tablespoon, the connection was there.
Sunday dinner was usually a roast. The roast was seasoned with salt and pepper and floured. It was cooked until only the connective tissue remained. It sure tasted good though. Served with mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans.
Chickens were either roasted or fried. The fried was best.
The best food was prepared for holiday occasions -- Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Usually the whole family would gather at our house for the holiday. Mama's specialty was turkey and dressing and her holiday potato salad. The kinfolks brought the rest of the meal.
Preparations would begin several days in advance. The turkey giblets had to be boiled down for stock. Potatoes had to be boiled. The cornbread for the dressing had to be baked. Some stale bread had to be toasted for the dressing. I never understood why the turkey had to go in the oven about three in the morning. Needless to say, it was always well done.
Mama's potato salad was a thing of delight. Nothing was measured; it was assembled by "taste". "Here, taste this and tell me what it needs". I can nearly duplicate the potato salad. Take some potatoes that don't come apart when you cook them. Onion and dill pickles diced, a small jar of pimentos for color and mix with mayonnaise and mustard. Salt and black pepper to taste. Needs to sit in the ice-box for a day to let all the ingredients get to know each other.
Dining ProtocolEating was also an educational process. There were some rituals at our family gatherings that seem strange today. The event was segregated by sex. The men stayed in the garage where the beer was, if there was beer, and the weather wasn't too cold. The women stayed in the house and attended to the food details. The kids ran back and forth from one area to the other. The women didn't drink beer. They were allowed a small glass of Mogan-David in the house. The kids had a big crock of red Kool-Aid.
When it was time to eat, the food was placed on the dining room table. All the kids were rounded up and filled their plates, and were seated at card tables in some out-of-the-way room. Then the men were seated at the table. They ate until they were full, and then went back to the garage. The women then took over the dining table and ate and discussed whatever they discussed. They usually spent the longest time at the table. But after they finished, it was time to clean up the mess, and guess who got to do all that.
And that's the way it was back when the world was a lot simpler.
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