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
" 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.
Creating a Character
Is That Gun
What's in the Bag?
You need an Edge
up the Night
Keeping an Eye
on the Sky
What type of Primitive
Shelter is best for you?
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