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Texas History from the Dinner Table

by John Raven, Ph. B.

Old-time Traditional Texas Food includes items you don't find very often anymore. Times change, and many of these foods are lost to history as supermarkets, prosperity and politically correct diets have swept the land.

Several things to do with a hog's head

For instance, I'll bet you didn't know that delicious hot tamales are traditionally made from hogs' heads. Yep. When Christmas time rolls around, you can still find whole hogs' heads on display in the markets that cater to the Mexican style of cooking. This is not a pretty sight unless you have homemade tamales on your holiday menu.

The hogs' heads are cleaned and boiled in seasoned water until the meat falls off the bones. The meat is then shredded, more seasonings added, and the resulting product is wrapped in masa and a corn shuck or husk, if you prefer. The tamales are steamed until the masa is done and takes a set. Pure-Dee fine eating. Come the holidays, it is not unusual to see a pickup truck parked by the side of a busy road selling real homemade tamales.

The Germans brought their own hogs' head recipes to Texas. Some, especially the hogs' head cheese, took a route through the Pennsylvania Dutch area.

Not really cheese at all, hogs' head cheese is made of pork scraps boiled along with a pig's foot or two until tender; then the "cheese" is poured into bread pans to jell. Usually vinegar is added to give a sour taste. The pig's foot provides the gelatin that sets the cheese. Served on crispy crackers, it's quite good. Hogs' head cheese is also known as souse.

Scrapple is one of my favorites. It is made by combining cooked, chopped pork with a cornmeal mush which is then molded in bread pans. When cool, it is sliced and fried, usually as a breakfast dish. Scrapple may also include pork hearts and liver.

Inside the hog you will find the fabled chitterlings or "chitlins." Chitlins are, of course, the hog's intestines, and are usually used for sausage casings after being given a good cleaning. (Cleaning chitlins is not one of the more highly sought-after jobs at a hog killing). Chitlin sausage casings will get brown and crispy when fried or baked and add flavor and crunch to the sausage. The plastic casings you find on most commercial sausage are mostly indigestible and should be discarded. Chitlins can also be boiled in seasoned water and eaten plain or cooled and then fried.

Another German contribution is Blutwurst or blood sausage, and it is exactly that. Hog blood is mixed with suet, breadcrumbs and oatmeal and stuffed into a casing. I have found no one who has a passion for blutwurst except that guy from Transylvania. The Irish also have a version of blood sausage which they call black pudding.

No Bull

I suppose everyone has heard of Rocky Mountain Oysters or Mountain Oysters or Calf Fries or Turkey Fries. These are the testicles of cattle, hogs, sheep and even turkeys. At the spring roundups on the prairies of Texas, the bull calves are treated to a simple operation that prevents them from ever being fathers. After this surgery, they are known as steers. In the old days, the testicles were thrown in the fire used for heating the branding irons until they were done (the testicles -- not the branding irons). Then they were skinned and eaten as is.

Today the preferred method of preparing mountain oysters is to soak them in cold salt water for a while, then remove the skin and slice into manageable size, dredge in seasoned cornmeal or flour and deep fry. Lots of folks swear by them. Personally, they taste to me like fried lard. Calf fries and turkey fries are given the same treatment. Incidentally, the turkey doesn't survive the operation. Turkey fries are removed when they are dressed.

S.O.B. Stew

The S.O.B. in S.O.B. Stew stands exactly for you think it does. It's sometimes politely called Son of a Gun Stew. S.O.B. Stew was a great favorite among the cowboys who subsisted on a diet of mostly beef, beans and flour. The standard S.O.B. recipe includes but is not limited to: the marrow gut, brains, sweetbread (pancreas), heart, liver and tongue of a young calf. All ingredients were stewed together for several hours. The internal organs are high in vitamin content. After a steady diet of the aforementioned beef, beans and flour, the cowboys would start to have a craving that only S.O.B. Stew could satisfy by providing the vitamins.

Marrow gut comes from an unweaned calf. It is a tube that connects the calf's stomachs. It goes in S.O.B. Stew or can be eaten alone. The favored method of cooking is to broil it over hot coals. After a calf starts eating grass, the marrow gut becomes tough and inedible.


Menudo is a first cousin to S.O.B. Stew, with the principal ingredient being tripe (cow's stomach). The tripe is cleaned, given several boilings and the water discarded. Then it is cut into bite size pieces and the menduo in made. Also included are a pig's foot or two, chili powder, other chili type seasonings and hominy. For best results, it should be boiled over an open fire for five or six hours. It's served steaming hot in a bowl garnished with chopped onion and a squeeze of limejuice. I can personally attest to the legendary restorative powers of menudo. Nothing beats it after a hard night of party.

So there we have a few staples from the early Texas menu. Space does not allow us to get into the wild game page of the menu, but we'll get around to that at another time.

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