Willie Nelson’s resume is robust: musician, actor, author, activist, entrepreneur, card-trick expert, and more. And now he can add podcast host to the list. Nelson guest hosted Davia Nelson (no relation) and Nikki Silva’s Hidden Kitchens Texas, a spin-off of the NPR series Hidden Kitchens, which explores the culture and community birthed from canteens. The crooner paired up with another famous Texan who’s seen some kitchens worth nothing in the Lone Star State—Claire Underwood/Princess Buttercup herself, Robin Wright.
Here are a few takeaways from the 28-minute collection of stories.
- Robin Wright grew up eating a lot of starch.
Wright’s grandfather lived in the tiny North Texas town Venus, and every summer her family would gather there for a reunion. The menu, as she describes it, included cornbread, hush puppies, fried okra, and chicken fried steak. “Your whole day was prepping for lunch and then dinner—and most of that meal was starch,” she said.
- San Antonio was once the ice capitol of America
There are still restaurants and bars with “ice house” in the name scattered throughout Texas, but the original purpose of those businesses was to sell ice to people who needed it in the days before refrigeration — and while you were there, you might as well have had a beer. In the 1860s, three of the eight ice manufacturing plants in the U.S. were located in San Antonio, which would then distribute the ice to German and Czech breweries in the area, as journalist Randy Mallory explains in the episode. Conjunto music came about in the ice houses, too, when German and Mexican immigrants would combine their musical styles over a beer.
- 7-Eleven started as an ice station in the Oak Cliff neighborhood in Dallas
In the 1920s, Southland Ice Company’s ice station in Oak Cliff decided to start stocking some convenience items — eggs, milk, etc. — for patrons to pick up while they were getting ice. It was popular enough that they started keeping longer hours, opening up at 7 a.m. and closing at 11 p.m. (sound familiar?), and the rest is history. The 7/11 communications manager for 7-Eleven Inc. touts the innovations of the company over the years: coffee to go, the Big Gulp, and, of course, the Slurpee.
- The invention of the Slurpee machine in 1966 led to the frozen margarita machine
When Mariano Martinez, a fourth generation restaurateur in Dallas, entered the family business in 1971 with Mariano’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantina, he struggled to scale his father’s margarita recipe — which his dad served up in small batches, for tables of four at a time — to the number of customers he saw. “I knew there was magic in my father’s margarita — but the first week that I was in business, customers would stop me to complain about the margaritas, which weren’t good,” Martinez explains. Then he saw a Slurpee machine at a 7-Eleven, and while he couldn’t get one of his own, he souped-up a soft-serve ice cream machine to throw a party that, he says, lasted for twenty years. (His frozen margarita machine is now in the Smithsonian.)
- Fritos almost ruined a man’s life.
That might be an exaggeration, but not that much of one. “He was consumed by Fritos,” said Kaleta Doolin, the daughter of Charles Elmer Doolin, who invented the Frito and the Cheeto. Her dad had an obsession with mass-producing a masa-based snack that wouldn’t go stale like tortilla chips. “His life was one big kitchen,” Doolin’s husband said of his father-in-law, who grew his own corn for the Frito. Doolin said that her mother cooked up a number of Frito-based recipes, including a dark chocolate/Frito-based confection that could ruin anybody’s life.