Q: As a native Texan, I have an interest in most all things Texana. Recently, I was browsing a list of our official state symbols—bluebonnets, mockingbirds, pecan trees, and the like—when I noticed that sopaipillas and strudel appear to have ceased filling the role of official pastries as of January 31, 2005. Have we really been without a state pastry for a whole decade and half?
Cece Jackson, Fort Worth
A: The Texanist is no stranger to things Texana. He has, in fact, managed to keep his pan de campo (official bread of Texas) buttered for the past fourteen-plus years or so by spending the majority of his workweek exploring all manner of things Texana and then writing about some of those things right here in this very space. There’s a reason the shingle that hangs outside his office is inscribed with the words “The Texanist.” Texana is kinda his specialty.
During these frequent Tex-centric explorations, the Texanist has, of course, come across many of the state’s officially designated symbols. Back in December of 2018, for instance, an entire column was dedicated to why it is that chicken-fried steak is not Texas’s official state dish. The woman who wrote the letter that inspired that column, a nice lady from Sherman, was under the mistaken impression that barbecue had been enshrined as the state dish. As diplomatically as possible, the Texanist had to let the letter’s author know that chili con carne and not barbecue has, since 1977, held that lofty distinction. The following year, a gentleman from Austin and his son wanted to know why Texas shares a state bird (the mockingbird) with Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The Texanist explained the history behind that whole feathery state of affairs, and briefly considered whether the turkey vulture and Attwater’s prairie chicken might be better options. Over the years the Texanist has also written about the state footwear (cowboy boots), the state hat (guess), the state sport (rodeo, much to the chagrin of football lovers), the state flower (bluebonnets), the state motto (no, not “Remember the Alamo,” but rather the more cordial “Friendship”), the state reptile (the Texas horned lizard, a.k.a. the horny toad), and probably a few others, at least in passing.
The various creatures and plants and songs and foodstuffs and so forth that the wise folks over at the Texas Capitol have seen fit to designate as the official this or that range from the well-known to the obscure or, if one is feeling less generous, the trivial. The state cooking implement, for instance? It’s the cast-iron Dutch oven. The state vehicle? It’s not the pickup truck; it’s the chuck wagon. The state shrub? The crape myrtle, which the Texanist always thought was just a tree. The state epic poem? The Legend of Old Stone Ranch by John Worth Cloud.
In total, there are some 76 such symbols. And each and every one of them came to be so honored by way of a legislative process that usually starts with a concurrent resolution originating in either the Texas Senate or the Texas House of Representatives, and ultimately culminates with the governor’s signature.
The language in this sort of legislation typically begins with a few lines of flowered-up verbiage explaining, generally, the importance of such emblems. For example, House Concurrent Resolution 92 of the Seventy-eighth Legislature, which names the state pastries, begins, “WHEREAS, The State of Texas has customarily recognized a variety of state symbols as tangible representations of the state’s historical and cultural heritage; and WHEREAS, Among such icons are the rodeo, the state sport; the guitar, the state musical instrument; and chili, the state dish . . .” You get the idea.
The earliest such honoree on the books over at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission dates back more than a century, to the year 1901, when the state’s Twenty-seventh Legislature dubbed the bluebonnet the official flower of Texas. The pecan tree followed in 1919 as the official tree. The pecan tree’s fruit, by the way, became the state “health nut” in 2001. (The Texanist figured the state health nut was the formerly Dallas-based 1990s weight-loss infomercial phenom Susan “Stop the Madness” Powter. But never mind.)
The most recent “tangible representations of Texas’s cultural and historical heritage” warranting canonization are the 1847 Colt Walker pistol (the state’s official handgun), the Bowie knife (the official knife), and the Texas star (the official mushroom), all of which were so recognized during the recent Eighty-seventh Legislature.
Of the seventy-some-odd officially designated symbols of Texas, only the state pastry came into being with an expiration date. As you point out, Ms. Jackson, the sopaipilla and the strudel, Texas’s official pastries, which were honored in 2003, concluded their short but sweet reign in 2005.
Why, though? This anomalous bit of Texana, along with the thought of honey-drenched sopaipillas, whetted the Texanist’s appetite. He had to know more. So, given that the pertinent legislation was launched in the Texas House of Representatives, the Texanist reached out to that august body’s Speaker, Dade Phelan, who was kind enough to help unravel the whole curious episode.
“As originally filed by representatives Inocente ‘Chente’ Quintanilla [of El Paso] and Patrick ‘Pat’ Haggerty [also of El Paso], House Concurrent Resolution 92 designated only the sopaipilla as the official state pastry and did not contain an expiration date for that designation,” Phelan explained in a lengthy written statement. Yet when the resolution was scrutinized by the Committee on State Cultural and Recreational Resources, chairman Harvey Hilderbran, of Kerrville, proposed an amendment containing the expiration date that would eventually be adopted by the full House of Representatives.
Why would he do such a thing? Apparently, in order to allow a different pastry to serve as the state pastry in the future. “Given the size and diversity of the Lone Star State, resolutions designating official state symbols have become quite controversial in recent history,” Phelan explains. “With such fierce competition between the diverse regional pastries—sopaipillas, strudels, kolaches, klobasneks, conchas, empanadas, croissants, churros, hand pies, and cinnamon rolls, to name a few—legislators will be bound to represent the will (and taste buds) of their districts.”
And, in fact, not long after chairman Hilderbran introduced his amendment, Hill Country representative Carter Casteel successfully amended the resolution further, by inserting the strudel as a second official state pastry. “The sopaipilla, which is delicious and meritorious of significant praise for being a culinary delight, was not without rival,” Phelan said.
That doubly amended rendering of the resolution is the one that made it to the governor’s desk. “It appears the version of the resolution signed by Governor Rick Perry was the case of a Solomon-like decision by the House members to put a cease-fire to the pastry turf battle between El Paso and the Texas Hill Country,” the Speaker concluded.
So, there you have it, Ms. Jackson. But while the mystery of the expired state pastry is hereby solved, it remains unclear why the position of state pastry has gone unfilled for an embarrassingly long amount of time. Phelan, though, sounds eager to do his part in seeing that this sorry situation gets corrected. “The Speaker of the House does not author legislation; however, my staff and I stand ready to taste any potential candidates for state pastry,” he wrote. “After all, we are public servants.” Phelan encouraged citizens to urge their representatives to revive the state pastry designation, a sentiment that the Texanist wholeheartedly seconds.
The filing period for the Eighty-eighth Legislature begins November 14, 2022.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.