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Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

Gray Matter: 'Not just another cookbook'

Monday, October 10, 2005

When I recently wrote of my Collection of Cookbooks, I intentionally left one out for it seemed to merit a whole column by itself.  I must first set the stage with another of my Texas stories.

After several seasons in the Hill Country we knew that to truly see Texas, we would have to schedule a spring trip through West Texas and down into the Big Bend  when the desert was in bloom.  We did just that in 1983, going first to spend time with friends in Midland in far west Texas.  From there we drove even farther west to Monahans, turning south to go through historic Fort Stockton.  Following  Highway 10, we again continued west,  taking a final southerly turn toward the Davis Mountains.  Restored Fort Davis  and the Mc Donald Observatory filled a couple of unforgettable days. 

From there we continued on and soon found ourselves in the town of Marfa where we planned to spend the night.  It is an unusual town in many ways, chief among them being that the main line of a major trans-continental railroad runs right through the middle of town.  The wail of the diesel engines wakened us so we were up for an early breakfast before beginning our explorations.  Signs, costumes, conversation --  we were soon aware that we were in the midst of their 100th Birthday Party.  Having had our own Centennial here in Marcus not too many years earlier, we were in our element.  The subject of  History Books and Cook Books was inevitable.  At this point we were told they had  combined the two.  Fascinated, we set off  in search of  a copy, but there was not one left in town.  The good news was that a second printing was expected on the 10 a.m. train.  We explored and visited  a bit more until, alerted by the diesel horn, we were back at the newspaper office in time to buy the first copy they unpacked of "Not Just Another Cookbook".  I opened the spiral-bound book to the title page  which continues  "----But A Whole Lot More."

After a Foreword and Acknowledgements, comes a list of families settling in the area before 1920.  They were divided quite equally between Mexicans and Anglos.  The alphabetical format follows, starting with Appetizers and Beverages and continuing through Vegetables.  Each section is ingeniously designated by decades. Bits of histories are given of  families, ranches or businesses established in that time frame. Many are illustrated with vintage photos.  Each history is then followed by recipes contributed by descendants of the families involved.

There are recipes for Asaderos, Parisa Dip, Plain Atole or, if you prefer, Atole de Mesquite.  That's OK, I don't know what they are, either, but it makes for wonderful reading. Under beverages, there are OLD directions for making Teswino and then "A More Modern Method"  which still sounded pretty primitive to me.  Basically, it tells how to make a fermented drink from corn which you first roast and then grind.  I quote --  "Combine it with two gallons of water, juice and rinds of three oranges  and one-quarter pound of corn husks tied in a small bundle.  This is covered and set aside for 3 days.  The third day, uncover the pot and stir all ingredients, cover again and let stand five more days.  On the eighth day, pour beverage through a colander, sweeten and add spices.  Chill and serve on the ninth day."  Wow! and Salud!, or whatever the Hispanic word is for Cheers.

That's just in "Appetizers and Beverages".  Continuing on, the stories of  those ingenious pioneers is astonishing.  I'm fairly certain that, though the book is now 22 years old, much of that creative energy is still very much a part of life in that far-off corner of the country.  I hope you see why I decided  "Not Just Another Cookbook"  deserved a Gray Matter all its own.