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A Texas Cowboy Cookbook – more than food!


Buffalo Bill, a real life Colonel who had fought in numerous battles, created a traveling show merging his own experiences with fiction. This show and others helped spread and popularise the image of the ‘Wild West’ and the cowboy. Buffalo Bill’s wild west and congress of rough riders of the world – Circus poster showing cowboys rounding up cattle and portrait of Col. W.F. Cody on horseback. c.1899

Robb Walsh’s Texas Cowboy Cookbook is one of his many great cookbooks that bring together history and food in a wonderful volume. The Texas Cowboy Cookbook has simple recipes with plenty of photographs and stories about the history and origins of the food.

Mention a Texan cowboy and most people will think of similar images: gathering around a fire with cactus silhouettes in the background, gunfights at high noon and playing poker in dusty saloons with swinging doors. While some of those things did happen, they are only a fraction of the story, and the image of the Texas cowboy that so many have comes from a 20-year period where driving cattle through dangerous territory was common.

erwin e smith - black cowboys

African-American cowboys on their mounts ready to participate in horse race during Negro State Fair, Bonham, Texas, ca. 1911-1915. Photo: Erwin E. Smith

After the Civil War ended, Texas was not a state only populated by white gun-toting cowboys and small frontier towns, as many books, TV shows and films would have you believe. There were thousands of newly-freed slaves (25% of all cowboys during this time) and a large minority population from Mexico (which Texas had been part of only 20 years before). In fact, the primary origin of Texan cowboy culture is rooted in the Mexican vaqueros, which originates on the Andalusian plain in Spain. The food traditions associated with these different groups as well as the mix of American and European immigrants moving into Texas shaped the foods eaten there, as well as the practicalities of eating on long trips rounding up wild cattle.


The Longhorn cattle were released by the Spanish in the 16th century and had become feral and plentiful in central and western Texas by the mid-19th century. Photo courtesy of Dickinson Cattle Co.

Post Civil War many people needed new jobs – and the wild longhorn cattle could fetch $30-$40 a head. From 1866-1886 millions of cattle were rounded up and driven to railhead towns to be shipped to Northern markets. This could be dangerous work with little pay – there were storms, rattlesnakes, stampedes and raid by Comanche and other Native American tribes. The lifestyle became popularised and romanticised, as well as the associated food. In reality beans, sourdough biscuits and black coffee would have been common on the trail; fortunately however this cookbook has recipes for more than just that! Venison tamales, stewed baby okra, coffee-rubbed beef tenderloin, butter pecan ice cream, jalapeño corn bread and chicken-fried steaks are just some of the recipes on offer.

walsh - tx cowboyThe Texas Cowboy Cookbook (Broadway 2007) Texas cowboys are  legend — immortalized in rugged images from Madison Avenue to Hollywood. Robb Walsh digs into the culinary culture of the Texas cowboys, starting with the chile-based cuisine of the Mexican vaqueros and then gives overdue credit to the largely unsung black cowboys and the role played by cowgirls and finishes with the modern Urban Cowboys.

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Jefferson’s “trophy” pickle

Jefferson bust by Houdon

Jefferson bust by Houdon

Thomas Jefferson, revolutionary and third American president, had three great loves. One was France. (“Every man has two countries: his own, and France.”) The second was his Virginia estate, Monticello. And the third was — well, read on.

Jefferson first planned Monticello in the 1760s, and his design was realised by the time he left for France in 1784. While in France, Jefferson trained his slave Hemings in French cookery and later his White House employed three French chefs. But France must have changed the forty-something Virginian’s other tastes for upon his return the house was redesigned and another thirteen years put into its construction. When the great American died nearly $110,000 in debt the contents of Monticello were sold, as well as the plantation itself. Since 1923, Monticello has been owned by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, who charge $24 a day to see it ($8, children).

Farmer Tom

A page from Jefferson's Garden Book, listing which crops go in which beds.

A page from Jefferson’s Garden Book listing which crops go where.

In the 1970s, as Americans were discovering that their homes had doors which led to the outside, it became fashionable to restore the nation’s historic gardens. While Jefferson remarked to Charles Willson Peale in 1812, “But tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener,” this didn’t stop him plunging in up to his elbows with the carefree exuberance of someone trying to die $110,000 in the red. A thousand-foot long terrace was created for Jefferson’s vegetable beds, whose construction required the removal of huge amounts of soil and a retaining wall twelve feet high and ten deep (all of this done by enslaved hands). Eventually there were 24 beds, each of about 1600 square feet. Well, that’s a lot of vegetables but consider that Indian corn was a staple and artichokes do require a bit of space. (And think of all the manure.)

Jefferson’s Garden Book, which chronicles his agricultural successes (most things) and failures (wine, melons) from 1766 to 1826, gives us an idea of what sorts of crops he liked in his beds — and on his plate. In 1812, for instance, we see that he dedicated bed XIX to spinach and XXIV to kale, the sensible man. Salsify (probably Spanish), beets, garlic, and leeks bedded down at Square XIV, between the carrots and onions. He enjoyed red haricots (by the bedfull), “tomatas” and okra.



What surprised me was that Jefferson dedicated an entire bed (Square IX) to the nasturtium. Sixteen hundred square feet of silly old nasturtium. I couldn’t believe it but there they are, the only thing in the bed year after year, listed just after cucumbers and gherkins. What was going on there?

For starters, it was clear he was eating them. There were other beds for flowers to cut and put about the home, nasturtium not among them. Jefferson listed and planted it very specifically with the edible vegetables. Yum, yum in his tum, tum went those nasturtiums. (Note: See also, Great American Poems.)

The Fruit of a Nasturtium

Nasturtium botanical illustrationThomas Mawe and John Abercrombie, in The Universal Gardener and Botanist (London, 1778), wrote of the “economical” nasturtium: “When therefore it is intended to cultivate these plants as esculents [i.e., food], for the flowers and fruit, they may be sowed in the kitchen-garden in April or May…”. Flower and fruit? Indeed: “… they will thus supply you with abundance of flowers and fruit from June or July until October.” What would you do with the “fruit” of a nasturtium? Indeed, what is the fruit of a nasturtium?

Another book published in London in 1799 and called The Garden Flowers of the Year gives some clues. The entry for Nasturtium reads:

The various kinds of nasturtium, or Indian cress, make a great show in the garden. Linnæus named the flower from tropœum, a trophy, because of its helmet-like shape, and because, like too many of the trophies of man, it wore the dark red stain of blood…. The flowers of our common species are sometimes eaten as salad, and both these and the young succulent leaves and shoots have a pungent property, which renders them very wholesome. The seeds are very commonly pickled and used instead of capers.

Pickled nasturtium seedsPeregrine Pickles! What have we here? These Englishmen were cultivating a poor man’s caper in the guise of the dear nasturtium seed! Trophy, what! But did Jefferson, dexterous American gourmet, fancy himself a pickle man of the same cunning?

For this answer the obvious place to look was The Virginia Housewife (or, Methodical Cook), one of the most influential housekeeping and cook books of the nineteenth century. It was written by Mary Randolph, who was related (by marriage) to Jefferson. There I found my pickle. From page 167 of The Virginia Housewife:

To Pickle Nastertiums:

Gather the berries when full grown but young, put them in a pot, pour boiling salt and water on, and let them stand three or four days; then drain off the water, and cover them with cold vinegar; add a few blades of mace, and whole grains of black pepper.

People still do this today, such is the longevity of a good pickle. Make your own? Check out the Celiac FarmerDuncan’s pickle recipe, or a Canadian recipe for halibut with pickled nasturtium seeds. And do tell us if they’re good enough to sow a million of and preserve the sanity of Mr. Jefferson.

Books from our collection

A Rich Spot of Earth, by Peter J HatchFor more details of Monticello’s extensive garden, the source is “A Rich Spot of Earth”: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello, by Monticello head gardener Peter J. Hatch (Yale University Press, 2012). Foreword by chef Alice Waters, if you care. I’m uncertain about Hatch’s claims to the “revolutionary” nature of Jefferson’s plot — I don’t think he would have shown John Bartram anything new — but the book has as much depth and abundance to it as a double-dug raised bed.

Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee, by Thomas CraughwellSome wealthy American families hired Frenchmen in their kitchens — Étienne Lemaire, who cooked Jefferson’s dinners in the White House, worked previously for the Bingham family of Philadelphia — but ever since I first heard of James Hemings I’ve been curious about Monticello’s Paris-trained, enslaved French chef. For anyone else with the same affliction, I recommend Craughwell’s Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brûlée (Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2012), subtitled “How a Founding Father and his slave James Hemings introduced French cuisine to America”. (James was the older brother of Sally Hemings, a domestic servant with whom Jefferson is said to have fathered children.)

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Books into Film: Julie & Julia

My Life in France, by Julia Child (Duckworth Overlook, 2009). Page 45:

Julia Child in France“Paris was wonderfully walkable. There wasn’t much car traffic, and one could easily hike from the Place de la Concorde to the top of Montmartre in a half-hour. We carried a pocket-sized map-book with a brown cover called Paris par Arrondissement, and would intentionally wander off the beaten path. Paul, the mad photographer, always carried is trusty camera slung over his shoulder and had a small sketchpad stuffed in his pocket. I discovered that when one follows the artist’s eye one sees unexpected treasures in so many seemingly ordinary scenes. Paul loved to photograph architectural details, café scenes, hanging laundry, market women, and artists along the Seine. My job was to use my height and long reach to block the sun over his camera lens as he carefully composed a shot and clicked the shutter.”

Julia Child in FrancePage 49:

“‘I feel it is my deep-seated duty to show you the rest of France,’ Paul said one day. And so, at the end of February 1949, he, Hélène, and I drove out of cold, gray, Paris down to bright, warm Cannes.

“The tone of our trip was set by lunch in Pouilly, four hours out of Paris. Paul had written ahead to Monsier Pierrat, a well-regarded chef, asking him to fix us ‘a fine meal.’ He did. It took us over three hours to work our way through Pierrat’s terrines, pâtés, saucissons, smoked ham, fish in sauce américaine, coq-sang, salade verte, fromages, crêpes flambées   all accompanied by a lovely Pouilly-Fumé 1942. We finished with (and were finished off by) a rich and creamy dessert called prune, for which the cheerful chef joined us. It was an extraordinary meal. And by its conclusion we were utterly flooded with a soft, warm, glowing pleasure.”

The Julie/Julia Project, Sunday, August 25, 2002:

Julie and Julia“The Book:
Mastering the Art of French Cooking.’ First edition, 1961. Louisette Berthole. Simone Beck. And, of course, Julia Child. The book that launched a thousand celebrity chefs. Julia Child taught America to cook, and to eat. It’s forty years later. Today we think we live in the world Alice Waters made, but beneath it all is Julia, 90 if she’s a day, and no one can touch her.

“The Contender:
Government drone by day, renegade foodie by night. Too old for theatre, too young for children, and too bitter for anything else, Julie Powell was looking for a challenge. And in the Julie/Julia project she found it. Risking her marriage, her job, and her cats’ well-being, she has signed on for a deranged assignment.

“365 days. 536 recipes. One girl and a crappy outer borough kitchen.

“How far will it go? We can only wait. And wait. And wait…..

“The Julie/Julia Project. Coming soon to a computer terminal near you.”

Monday, November 04, 2002:

“So where was I? Ah, yes, eviscerated lobster….

“Once I had finished preparing those, I got to work on the Artichauts Braises a la Provençale — artichokes braised with wine, garlic and herbs. This entailed trimming the tops of the artichokes, and the spiny end of the remaining leaves, then quartering them lengthwise and cutting out the chokes. I love cutting out a choke, and not only because it sounds like some kind of S&M jargon. It’s also just fun to scrape out all that nasty hairiness, especially now that I’ve come to love and appreciate the yummy soft stuff underneath. Anyway, all the artichoke trimming takes a little while, and then I boiled them for ten minutes or so. While that was happening I sautéed in olive oil (hence the “provençale”…) some onions and garlic, and turned on the oven.

“It was around this time that Bekkah and Jeff showed up. I would like to point out that I have never yet lost a friend en route to my place. Rat- and drug-dealer-infested it may be, but at least it ain’t hard to find….”


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Joy of The Joy: How to play favourites

The Joy of Cooking changed through the years to reflect new developments in American kitchens.

The Joy of Cooking changed through the years to reflect new developments in American kitchens.

To say that The Joy of Cooking is an American classic is slightly misleading.

It’s more accurate to say that it is an institution, shifting its form, adapting to the way Americans live and eat. With each edition new recipes are added, old ones dropped, almost all of them revised. Even entire sections have changed substantially. In the 1997 edition an encyclopaedic section called ‘Know Your Ingredients’ was eliminated and the information spread throughout the rest of the book. And in 1943, Irma Rombauer altered the recipes to reflect the war rationing, which made that edition a very useful and successful book indeed.

So it is entirely possible to have a ‘favorite’ Joy of Cooking. In this final post of the series I’m having a look at the different Joys through the twentieth century, how they reflected the times and how they may still be worth a look.


Irma’s first edition, self-published. About 450 recipes. She included what one historian calls ‘casual culinary chat’, making the book not just easy to cook from but easy to read. There was a facsimile reprint done in 1998. Fantastic dragon illustration on dust jacket.


Within a few years The Joy of Cooking had become a local sensation and was spreading to other parts of the nation. Irma had the momentum to get a publisher, so she revised her book, inventing the unique recipe format that has been a Joy hallmark since.

Sugar rationing in WW21943

Bit of trivia for you: this was Julia Child’s first cookbook. To this edition were added a number of quick recipes and substitutions for rationed items then hard to find. This was the first American cookbook to make serious use of soy. Technology developments of this decade begin to leave marks on – or rather appliances in – the American household.

Vintage (?) fridge advert1951

Times were a-changing. After the war refrigeration spread into the American heartland and new ways of eating followed.

As Irma grew older her daughter Marion Rombauer Becker began to take a hand in the production of Joy. Marion brings an interest in gardening, herbs, and wholefoods (she had an eight-acre homestead in Cincinnatti), as well as related philosophies on health and eating. The index was considered incomplete and was revised for the 1953 reprint.


Now double the size of the 1931 edition. Following a series of strokes, Irma had died and Marion took on the book’s production. A number of other authors left their fingerprints on this edition, not it seems to the knowledge of the one whose name is on the cover. The result was one not very coherent book and one very irritated Marion Rombauer Becker. Becker made so many corrections for the 1963 reprint that the type had to be reset.


American Beaver

“What tail? I don’t see a tail. Please don’t eat me!” (The 1975 Joy of Cooking included an illustrated guide to the art of beaver-skinning and, yep, a recipe for Beaver Tail.)

This is the most popular edition: if you want the authentic, good ol’ American classic, go find a nice 1975 Joy. It says something about the monumental quality of this edition (the one my mother owned when I was a lad) that it is the longest-lived of any Joy: it would not be revised for over twenty years. Marion saw her aims more fully realised in the 1975 than in the 1962 (or 1963). Raw and natural foods abounded, and there was a special section explaining the uses and qualities of common ingredients.

There are some quirks. Marion did not, for example, entirely trust microwaves. While menu ideas had been familiar since the 1936 edition, here there were some for those inevitable ‘backpacking’ dinners on the trails. This is also the Joy that tells you how to prepare beaver tail and skin a squirrel. Oh, the seventies.


Marion died and Ethan Becker took up the reins, releasing a substantially new edition of Joy in 1997. (The list of authors grows lengthy.) American cookery had changed quite a bit – thanks in part to women like Julia Child and Martha Stewart – and the new emphasis is on freshness, convenience and health. Ethan brought in more global tastes and expanded the descriptions of ingredients. Unfortunately, the decision was also made to nix the handy section called ‘Know Your Ingredients’ (which really could be a useful book in itself) and scatter that information throughout the other sections. And, roll in your grave Marion: no canning section.


Weighing in at 1152 pages is the 75th Anniversary edition, which I have on the desk in front of me. The editors (who include yet more family) restored the ‘Know Your Ingredients’ section and employed a number of contributing ‘experts’, including Irma’s biographer Anne Mendelsohn who has written a very good, short history of the book. It is no compliment to the 1990s that this edition is not based on the 1997 one – generally seen as a regrettable lapse of judgement – but rather on Marion’s masterpiece from 1975.

Joy of Cooking, 75th anniversary ed.The Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary Edition, by Irma Rombauer, et al. (Scribner, 2006)
In addition to hundreds of brand-new recipes, this JOY is filled with many recipes from all previous editions, retested and reinvented for today’s tastes. This edition restores the personality of the book, reinstating popular elements such as the grab-bag Brunch, Lunch, and Supper chapter and chapters on frozen desserts, cocktails, beer and wine, canning, salting, smoking, jellies and preserves, pickles and relishes, and freezing foods.

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