A Living History Skills series by Colonel Jerry Tubbs

As a young man my father told me something that has stuck with me all of my life. He said, " Even in the worst of times, there are two things people are going to do…. They are eating and drinking." At the time he was referring to opening a liquor store or a food store but eating and quenching our thirst is fact of life that we are subject to on a daily basis. Just what the Colonial Texans ate and drank is the topic of our next subject.

Traveling in the Texas Colonies during 1835-36, Colonel William Fairfax Grey of Virginia kept an extensive diary of his daily activities and of what was served to him for his meals as he traveled from place to place. He noted that at just about every meal the menu was the same as the last home he had visited. A meal would consist of fried pork, course corn bread, bad coffee or coffee made from corn with no sugar, cream or milk to improve the taste and of boiled eggs. Only once did he mention ever having beef to eat. This was provided by the widow Burnett which she cooked by broiling the meat. This basic meal was served three times a day with little or no change made to it. Milk along with churned butter could be found but was the exception and not the rule. Honey was generally substituted for sugar as the sweetener for coffee when available.

In J. Frank Dobie's book Tales of Old-Time Texas he writes of foods found in early Texas:
" After Stephen F. Austin had located many colonist in Texas and acquired many thousand of acres of land, he wrote: "I am still very poor, living on coffee made of parched corn, cornbread, milk and butter." At that, Austin had two articles seldom found on the tables of settlers. Travelers among them habitually remarked on the constancy of cornbread and the lack of milk and vegetables. Fruit, except wild berries, plums and grapes, was virtually unknown. In the book Trip to the West and Texas, by A.A. Parker, Esq., who crossed into Texas in December 1834 he further writes on the foods encountered. Even cornbread he sometimes found scarce, for beef could be "raised with less trouble than corn." At only three places during his travels did he find wheat bread. Many of the householders, he recorded, "are what our northern people would call indolent." Occasionally he rode up to a good farm or large plantation with fine herds of cattle and a comfortable dwelling, but the typical homestead was a one-roomed log cabin wherein a family slept and fared on "cornbread, meat and sweet potatoes." Parker stopped at "some places where they had twenty or thirty cows but no butter, cheese or milk." He did not find butter "at half the places" where he called on "obtained cheese only once in Texas." He verified the old saying that Texas had "more cows and less milk than any other country on earth." Frederick Law Olmstead, whose illuminating Journey through Texas came twenty years later, found cornbread and salt pork the unrelieved fare morning, noon and night."

As you can see, pork and corn was the dominant food prepared by the colonist of Texas. Some chickens were kept for eggs and perhaps for eating but this was rare. Protecting the flock from predators was extremely hard to do. Cattle were not looked upon as a food source since their value was in their milk and their use as beasts of burden. Fresh meat was believed to be unhealthy unless it was smoked or cured in a brine solution. Vegetable gardens were not planted because of the fear of contamination from human waste and roughage was of little concern to the colonist.

These accounts are just a small example of the eating habits of colonial Texas but also say a lot of the people who were willing to go without to have a better life than they had from where they came.

The next camp you are in, for just one weekend recreate the food that was available to the colonist and perhaps have a better understanding of their hardships. Center you meals around cornbread, fried pork and coffee or even try coffee made from parched corn. Supplement the meal with fruit, plums, and berries or if lucky enough to have, maybe milk and butter. Experiment with course ground corn meal and try to stray away from using prepackage mixes. These only trap you in the twentieth century mind set. If not willing try this experience for a weekend, make a simple meal at dinner (lunch) time when the public is most present and use this time to explain to them the hardships you and if included, your family are going through. Make this not only an opportunity to learn but to teach as well. Remember the pop-tarts and steaks are waiting for you when you return home. Good luck.


Creating a Character

Is That Gun Real?

What's in the Bag?

You need an Edge

What's Cooking?

Lighting up the Night

Keeping an Eye on the Sky

Getting Started

Then & Now

What type of Primitive Shelter is best for you?


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