Foodways Texas , which was founded in July 2010 “to preserve, promote, and celebrate the diverse food cultures of Texas,” held its second annual symposium in Austin this past weekend. A couple of hundred participants listened to talks on the theme of “Texas Preserved”—a deliberately wide-ranging topic that covered cocktails, the drought, cattle, sugar plantations, heritage pigs, beer, shrimp boats, oysters, “trash fish,” and even mayhaw jelly.
Attendees also ate, very, very well, from a brisket dinner catered by Austin ‘cue maestro John Mueller (with sides by Hoover’s Cooking ) to the recreation of a Texas farm dinner circa 1840 at Boggy Creek Farm . The main course at the latter feast consisted of succulent grilled Red Wattle pigs (a heritage breed) provided by Revival Market in Houston; the chef for the occasion was Sonya Cote of Austin’s East Side Showroom and the brand new Hillside Farmacy .
Here are four choice moments from the nearly two-dozen presentations at the symposium:
“Two generations ago Texas housewives could buy sugar grown, refined, and packaged in Texas. The brand was Imperial, and it was downright disloyal to buy anything else. But gradually the thriving Texas sugar cane industry collapsed. The cause of its slow death was a perfect storm of cane disease, bad weather, and cheap sugar from other countries, to name just three reasons. But today, sugar cane may be making a comeback in the Rio Grande Valley. Could Texas once again become a sugar belt—or sugar bowl?” - MM Pack, food writer and culinary historian, Austin, speaking on “A Short but Not Always Sweet History of Sugar in Texas”
“Before the dawn of refrigeration, Houstonians were mockingly called “mud turtles” by other Texans. The city of Houston was regarded as filthy. It had no clean water, no streets, and a significant portion of the population was drunk at any given time because booze and beer were healthier to drink than water (especially bayou water).” – Bobby Heugel, co-owner of Anvil Bar & Refuge , Houston, speaking on “Preserving the Rich Culture of Drinking in the South”
The drought of 2011 devastated Texas crops and livestock. But it is also killing the fishing industries of the Gulf Coast. When there’s not enough rain, rivers don’t send sufficient fresh water to the Gulf. And oysters (just to name one example) don’t like it one bit. It changes the salinity of the water and leads to less spawning. That is why there are 65 percent fewer market-size oysters than were seen at this time last year, according to the parks and wildlife department. - Paraphrased from panel on “Feast or Famine: The Effects of Drought on the Texas Food Supply,” with Jim Gossen (president and CEO of Louisiana Foods, Houston; Neal Newsom (founder, Newsom Vineyards, Plains); Jeff Savell (professor, Texas A&M University); Raymond Slade (Certified Professional Hydrologist, Austin); moderated by Jessica Dupuy (freelance writer, Austin)
You needed guts to be a cowboy, and especially to eat like one. The staples of the chuck wagon were the “three M’s”: meat, meal, and molasses. The meat was sowbelly, the meal was cornmeal, and molasses is self-explanatory (white sugar was way too expensive). So after a back-breaking day in the saddle herding surly cattle, a drover could look forward to pig fat dredged in cornmeal and fried and maybe drizzled with some molasses. And just in case his digestion was still functioning, there were pinto beans to finish the job. - Tom Perini, president of Foodways Texas board of directors and owner of Perini Ranch Steakhouse , Buffalo Gap, paraphrased from his remarks on “Chuck Wagon Lore”
In addition to its two symposiums, Foodways has held several other regional events around the state (its “ Oysters Blues and Brews event is in Houston tomorrow). The organization is also making documentary videos (One, “50 Years of Pie,” is about a baker at Earl Abel’s in San Antonio), and has begun an oral history project focusing on iconic Texas restaurants, including Zentner’s Daughter in San Angelo, Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth, and the Blue Bonnet Café in Marble Falls.
Membership in Foodways is open to the public.