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Tales of Texas Cooking: Stories and Recipes from the Trans Pecos to the Piney Woods and High Plains to the Gulf Prairies

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According to Renaissance woman and Pepper Lady Jean Andrews, although food is eaten as a response to hunger, it is much more than filling one's stomach. It also provides emotional fulfillment. This is borne out by the joy many of us feel as a family when we get in the kitchen and cook together and then share in our labors at the dinner table. Food is comfort, yet it is also political and contested because we often are what we eat--meaning what is available and familiar and allowed.   Texas is fortunate in having a bountiful supply of ethnic groups influencing its foodways, and Texas food is the perfect metaphor for the blending of diverse cultures and native resources. Food is a symbol of our success and our communion, and whenever possible, Texans tend to do food in a big way.  This latest publication from the Texas Folklore Society contains stories and more than 120 recipes, from long ago and just yesterday, organized by the 10 vegetation regions of the state. Herein you'll find Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s Family Cake, memories of beef jerky and sassafras tea from John Erickson of Hank the Cowdog fame, Sam Houston's barbecue sauce, and stories and recipes from Roy Bedichek, Bob Compton, J. Frank Dobie, Bob Flynn, Jean Flynn, Leon Hale, Elmer Kelton, Gary Lavergne, James Ward Lee, Jane Monday, Joyce Roach, Ellen Temple, Walter Prescott Webb, and Jane Roberts Wood. There is something for the cook as well as for the Texan with a raft of takeaway menus on their refrigerator.

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Stories and Recipes from The Piney Woods

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Stories and

Recipes from

The Piney

Woods*

Most of this area of some 16 million acres, ranges from about 50 to 780 feet above sea level and receives 40 to 56 inches of rain yearly. Many rivers, creeks, and bayous drain the region. Nearly all of Texas’ commercial timber comes from this area. There are three native species of pine, the principal timber: longleaf, shortleaf, and loblolly. Hardwoods include oaks, elm, hickory, magnolia, sweet and black gum, tupelo, and others.

The area is interspersed with native and improved grasslands.

Cattle are the primary grazing animals. Deer and quail are abundant in properly managed habitats. Primary forage plants, under proper grazing management, include species of bluestems, rossettegrass, panicums, paspaiums, blackseed needlegrass, Canada and Virginia wildryes, purpletop, broadleaf and spike woodoats, switchcane, lovegrasses, indiangrass, and numerous legume ­species.

Highly disturbed areas have understory and overstory of undesirable woody plants that suppress growth of pine and desirable grasses. . . .Grasslands have been invaded by threeawns, annual grasses, weeds, broomsedge bluestem, red lovegrass, and shrubby woody species.

 

Stories and Recipes from the Gulf Prairies and Marshes

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Stories and

Recipes from the Gulf Prairies and Marshes*

The Gulf Prairies and Marshes cover approximately 10 million acres.

There are two subunits: (a) the marsh and salt grasses immediately at tidewater, and (b) a little farther inland, a strip of bluestems, and tall grasses, with some gramas in the western part. Many of these grasses make excellent grazing. Oaks, elm, and other hardwoods grow to some extent especially along streams, and the area has some post oak and brushy extensions along its borders. Much of the Gulf

Prairies is fertile farmland, and the area is well suited for cattle.

Principal grasses of the Gulf Prairies are tall bunch grasses, including big bluestem, little bluestem, seacoast bluestem, indiangrass, eastern gamagrass, Texas wintergrass, switchgrass, and gulf cordgrass. Saltgrass occurs on moist saline sites.

Heavy grazing has changed the native vegetation in many cases so the predominant grasses are the less desirable broomsedge bluestem, smutgrass, threeawns, tumblegrass, and many other inferior grasses. Other plants that have invaded the productive grasslands include oak underbrush, Macartney rose, huisache, mesquite, prickly pear, ragweed, bitter sneezeweed, broomweed, and others.

 

Stories and Recipes from the Post Oak Savannah

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Stories and

Recipes from the Post Oak

Savannah*

The secondary forest area, also called the Post Oak Belt, covers some 7 million acres. It is immediately west of the primary forest region, with less annual rainfall and a little higher elevation. Principal trees are post oak, blackjack oak, and elm. Pecans, walnuts, and other kinds of water-demanding trees grow along streams. The southwestern extension of this belt is often poorly defined, with large areas of prairie. The upland soils are sandy and sandy loam, while the bottomlands are sandy loams and clays.

The original vegetation consisted mainly of little bluestem, big bluestem, indiangrass, switchgrass, purpletop, silver bluestem,

Texas wintergrass, woodoats, narrowleaf, post oak, and blackjack oak. The area is still largely native or improved grasslands, with small farms located throughout. Intensive grazing has contributed to dense stands of a woody understory of yaupon, greenbriar, and oak brush.

*Stephan L. Hatch, Texas Almanac, 2014–2015, Elizabeth Cruce Alvarez, editor (Austin: Texas State Historical Association), 115. Used with permission of Texas State Historical Association.

 

Stories and Recipes from the Blackland Prairies

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Stories and

Recipes from the Blackland

Prairies*

This area of about 12 million acres, while called a “prairie,” has much timber along the streams, including a variety of oaks, pecan, elm, bois d’arc, and mesquite. In its native state, it was largely a grassy plain—the first native grassland in the westward extension of the Southern Forest region.

Most of this fertile area has been cultivated, and only small acreages of grassland remain in original vegetation. In heavily grazed pastures, the tall bunchgrass has been replaced by buffalograss,

Texas grama, and other less productive grasses. Mesquite, lotebush, and other woody plants have invaded the grasslands.

The original grass vegetation includes big and little bluestem, indiangrass, switchgrass, sideoats grama, hairy grama, tall dropseed,

Texas wintergrass, and buffalograss. Non-grass vegetation is largely legumes and composites.

*Stephan L. Hatch, Texas Almanac, 2014–2015, Elizabeth Cruce Alvarez, editor (Austin: Texas State Historical Association), 115. Used with permission of Texas State Historical Association.

 

Stories and Recipes from the Cross Timbers and Prairies

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Stories and

Recipes from the Cross

Timbers and

Prairies*

Approximately 15 million acres of alternating woodlands and prairies, often called the Western Cross Timbers, constitute this region.

Sharp changes in the vegetational cover are associated with different soils and topography, but the grass composition is rather uniform.

The prairie grasses are big bluestem, little bluestem, indiangrass, switchgrass, Canada wildrye, sideoats grama, hairy grama, tall grama, tall dropseed, Texas wintergrass, blue grama, and buffalograss.

On Cross Timbers soils, the vegetation is composed of big bluestem, little bluestem, hooded windmillgrass, sand lovegrass, indiangrass, switchgrass, and many species of legumes. The woody vegetation includes shinnery, blackjack, post and live oaks.

The entire area has been invaded heavily by woody brush plants of oaks, mesquite, juniper, and other unpalatable plants that furnish little forage for livestock.

*Stephan L. Hatch, Texas Almanac, 2014–2015, Elizabeth Cruce Alvarez, editor (Austin: Texas State Historical Association), 115. Used with permission of Texas State Historical Association.

 

Stories and Recipes from the South Texas Plains

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Stories and

Recipes from the South Texas

Plains*

South of San Antonio, between the coast and the Rio Grande, are some 21 million acres of subtropical dryland vegetation, consisting of small trees, shrubs, cactus, weeds, and grasses. The area is noteworthy for extensive brushlands and is known as the Brush Country, or the Spanish equivalents of chaparral or monte. Principal plants are mesquite, small live oak, post oak, prickly pear (Opuntia) cactus, catclaw, blackbrush, whitebrush, guajillo, huisache, cenizo, and others that often grow very densely.

The original vegetation was mainly perennial warm-season bunchgrasses in savannahs of post oak, live oak, and mesquite.

Other brush species form dense thickets on the ridges and along streams. Long-continued grazing has contributed to the dense cover of brush. Most of the desirable grasses have only persisted under the protection of brush and cacti.

There are distinct differences in the original plant communities on various soils. Dominant grasses on the sandy loam soils are seacoast bluestem, bristlegrass, paspalum, windmillgrass, silver

 

Stories and Recipes from the Edwards Plateau

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Stories and

Recipes from the Edwards

Plateau*

These 25 million acres are rolling to mountainous, with woodlands in the eastern part and grassy prairies in the west. There is a good deal of brushy growth in the central and eastern areas. The combination of grasses, weeds and small trees is ideal for cattle, sheep, goats, deer, and wild turkey.

The limestone-based area is characterized by the large number of springfed, perennially flowing streams that originate in its interior and flow across the Balcones Escarpment, which bounds it on the south and east. The soils are shallow, ranging from sandy to clays, and are calcareous in reaction. This area is predominantly rangeland with cultivation confined to the deeper soils.

In the east-central portion is the well-marked Central or Llano

Basin, centering in Mason, Llano, and Burnet counties, with a mixture of granitic and sandy soils. The western portion of the area comprises the semi-arid Stockton Plateau. Noteworthy is the growth of cypress along the perennially flowing streams. . . . These

 

Stories and Recipes from the Rolling Plains

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Stories and

Recipes from the Rolling

Plains*

This is a region of approximately 24 million acres of alternating woodlands and prairies. The area is half mesquite woodland and half prairie. Mesquite trees have steadily invaded and increased in the grasslands for many years, despite constant control efforts.

Soils range from coarse sands along out-wash terraces adjacent to streams to tight or compact clays on redbed clays and shales.

Rough broken lands on steep slopes are found in the western portion. About two-thirds of the area is rangeland, but cultivation is important in certain localities.

The original vegetation includes big, little, sand and silver bluestems, Texas wintergrass, indiangrass, switchgrass, sideoats and blue gramas, wild-ryes, tobosagrass, and buffalograss on the clay soils.

The sandy soils support tall bunchgrasses, mainly sand bluestem.

Sand shinnery oak, sand sagebrush, and mesquite are the dominant woody plants. Continued heavy grazing contributes to the increase in woody plants, low-value grasses, such as red grama, red lovegrass, tumblegrass, gummy lovegrass, Texas grama, sand dropseed, and sandbur with western ragweed, croton, and many other weedy forbs. Yucca is a problem plant on certain rangelands.

 

Stories and Recipes from the High Plains

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Stories and

Recipes from the High

Plains*

The High Plains, some 19 million treeless acres, are an extension of the Great Plains to the north. Its level nature and porous soils prevent drainage over wide areas.

The relatively light rainfall flows into the numerous shallow

“playa” lakes or sinks into the ground to feed the great underground aquifer that is the source of water for the countless wells that irrigate the surface of the plains. A large part of this area is under irrigated farming, but native grassland remains in about onehalf of the High Plains.

Blue grama and buffalograss comprise the principal vegetation on the clay loam “hardland” soils. Important grasses on the sandy loam “sandy land” soils are little bluestem, western wheatgrass, indiangrass, switchgrass, and sand reedygrass. Sand shinnery oak, sand sagebrush, mesquite, and yucca are conspicuous invading brushy plants.

*Stephan L. Hatch, Texas Almanac, 2014–2015, Elizabeth Cruce Alvarez, editor (Austin: Texas State Historical Association), 117. Used with permission of Texas State Historical Association.

 

Stories and Recipes from the Trans-Pecos Mountains and Basins

PDF

Stories and

Recipes from the Trans-Pecos

Mountains and

Basins*

With as little as eight inches of annual rainfall, long hot summers, and usually cloudless skies to encourage evaporation, this 18-million-acre area produces only drought-resistant vegetation without irrigation.

Grass is usually short and sparse.

The principal vegetation consists of lechuguilla, ocotillo, yucca, cenizo, prickly pear, and other arid land plants. In the more arid areas gyp and chino grama, and tobosagrass prevail. There is some mesquite. The vegetation includes creosote-tarbush, desert shrub, grama grassland, yucca and juniper savannahs, pine oak forest, and saline flats.

The mountains are 3,000 to 8,749 feet in elevation and support piñon pine, juniper, and some ponderosa pine and other forest vegetation on a few of the higher slopes. The grass on the higher mountain slopes includes many southwestern and Rocky Mountain

*Stephan L. Hatch, Texas Almanac, 2014–2015, Elizabeth Cruce Alvarez, editor (Austin: Texas State Historical Association), 117. Used with permission of Texas State Historical Association.

 

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