Heritage, Volume 5, Number 2, Summer 1987 Page: 27
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Green corn was boiled, roasted (husk
and all in hot ashes), or fried in butter,
bear oil, or lard. Harder corn was made
into "hominy" by boiling in wood ashes
or lye. It was then eaten as a mush. Corn
was also grated or ground into meal.
The cornmeal was mixed with cold
water and salt; it was then ready for cooking.
Covering the meal with hot ashes
produced ash cake; meal placed on a
piece of clapboard near the coals made
johnny cake; and the same batter on a
hoe resulted in hoe cake. A "pone" or
"loaf" was made by placing the batter in a
dutch oven with a heated lid. "Dodgers"
were simply tiny individual loaves. In San
Antonio and its environs Mexican Texans
soaked Indian corn in lye or lime and
ground it on a metate to make corn
Cornbreads or "quick breads" dominated
the cooking in the South and in
Texas. Yeast culture was hard to maintain
in these climates, and baking powder was
not invented until 1856. In the 1790s
pearlash (potassium carbonate) was used
in baking, as it produced carbon dioxide,
causing the bread to rise. Many recipes
also referred to salaeratus, a nineteenthcentury
term for baking soda.
In Texas, wheat bread was fairly rare or
extremely expensive when available.
Captain Gibson Kuykendall paid twentyfive
dollars a barrel for some flour in
1823. It made the first bread that his family
had tasted in seven months. Noah
Smithwick tells of an incident concerning
a young lad in De Witt's Colony who
had never experienced wheat bread. He
took one of the bread biscuits, "punched
holes through the center, inserted an
axle, and triumphantly displayed a miniature
Intially wild honey was the primary
sweetener on the frontier and quite often
was considered a cash crop. In 1836
honey and beeswax were listed among the
important products of Texas. White or
bleached wax sold for a dollar a pound in
Mexico, where it was used for church
candles. It was common for hunters to
gather the wax, throwing away the honey
because it was so abundant.
According to Mary Austin Holley, sugarcane
was beginning to be cultivated extensively
as early as 1836 along the Texas
coast and bottom lands. Since the more
refined white sugar was expensive, many
people used brown sugar. Corn also functioned
as a sweetener. The pith of the
stalk was cooked down to produce "corn
stalk molasses." Further inland, sugar, or
more specifically molasses, was produced
While travelers such as Frederick Law
Olmsted complained about the rancid
butter and lack of fresh dairy products,
other observers, such as Holley, found
milk and butter to be abundant. Many
settlers relied on cornbread and milk
products even more than on meat. While
there might have been a temporary shortage
of milk for early pioneers, a milk cow
was one of the first animals obtained.
With the summer heat, keeping dairy
products from going bad was always a
challenge. It was believed that a small
piece of horseradish in a pan of milk
would keep it sweet.
In an examination of foodways,
it is not enough to ask
what people ate, but also why.
Cheese was also available in Texas although
it tended to be cream cheese as
opposed to hard cheese. Dilue Rose Harris,
an early settler, spoke of her mother's
making cheese every day. Nineteenthcentury
recipes and manuals on cheese
production refer to rennet as being crucial
for coagulating milk or converting it into
cheese. To obtain rennet, the inner membrane
of a calf's stomach or "maw" was
heavily salted and stretched over a stick
to dry. When it was later needed to make
cheese, the dried maw was soaked in a
"pickle" with sweet herbs and spices.
This solution was later added to the milk
and 30-45 minutes later the milk coagulated
into a curd, which would then be
processed into cheese.
Texans also enjoyed ice cream in this
period. First introduced to Americans in
the 1780s, by the 1830s ice cream was
"universal and cheap." In 1841 Mary
Maverick treated her friends to ice cream
when a freezing norther came through
San Antonio. Many of the Mexicans had
never tasted ice cream before and "Mrs.
Yturri ate so much of it, that she was taken
with cramps and had to be carried home."
Eating vegetables was not a common
practice in the 1830s. Fresh fruit, warned
the New York Mirror in 1830, "should be
religiously forbidden to all classes, especially
children." This prejudice had its
foundation in the fact that uncooked fruit
and vegetables grown in night soil or
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 5, Number 2, Summer 1987, periodical, Summer 1987; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45437/m1/27/: accessed May 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.