Here I sit eating pieces of beef jerky. I have often wondered why is it that I do not find myself in a position in which someone will ask me: “How is beef jerky made?” To which I would answer: “Well, first you start with a very, old cow.”
I couldn’t say if I ate jerky as a kid. I can long remember eating Slim Jims, which are the same as jerky only different.
In many cases there are numerous foods today which were not available to the general public when I was growing up. A major reason for that was or is geography. I grew up in a town of about 2,000 people which was some 60 miles from a “metropolitan area.”
The first Mexican food I remember eating was actually what is identified today as Tex-Mex. That makes sense geographically since I grew up and live in Texas as well as Texas standing next door to Mexico. My mother would buy these enchilada and tamale TV dinners with frijoles y arroz, which we knew, of course, as beans and rice. Although I had eaten at a few Mexican restaurants in Texas and the South, I was never exposed to honesto a dios Mexican food until the time I spent in the El Paso-Juarez area and in Southern California. The first “authentic” Mexican food that I found in a restaurant outside of the Southwest was in Lufkin, Texas, of all places.
First of all, I went to college in Nacogdoches, which was just across the river from Lufkin. Casa Morales was the name of the restaurant. Located in downtown Lufkin, the place had great food and an ambiance to match. As well as a good plate of chile rellenos, one might search through the racks near the cashier for historietas, the graphic novellas which were more lurid and even pornographic than comic. Casa Morales later built another restaurant in Redland, a community closer to the Angelina River that separates Angelina and Nacogdoches counties.
Growing up, pizza was something my mother made with a Chef Boyardee Pizza Kits. I probably first had pizza in a pizza place in high school when I traveled to the Beaumont area, where I now live. Since that time I have eaten pizzas in the northeast U.S., Chicago, the West Coast as well as Australia and New Zealand. I must note, I have never visited New York, though I have had so-called “New York-Style” pizza.
There was some standard fare growing up. My mother made wonderful fried chicken. I remember her fried tripe was excellent although some people I know might gag at the sound of the entree. By the way, I had some really good menudo the last time I stayed in El Paso with my friends. Menudo is known, of course, for its magical powers as a hangover cure though I didn’t eat it for that reason on that particular occasion and it was still delicious.
Other dishes from my mother’s hands included, probably my best-loved dish that she made, her pigs-in-a-blanket. This was long before I heard the term kolache, but this was very near what her pigs were.
We were country folks and as such we would eat some dishes not-so-mainstream growing up. One of my sisters-in-law told of her being stunned to see on one of her initial visits, served on my family dinner table, a cooked baloney. Of course, that is considered soul food in some parts of the country today. My Dad, himself a good cook having served as a merchant marine steward in WWII, would buy a billy goat for the 4th of July that he would barbecue. The meal, especially using meat of a kid goat, today is known more by the Mexican method as cabrito.
I would be remiss not to mention a concoction my dad would make that he called “Son of a Gun.” Now my brothers and I have discussed this many times although I am not sure we arrived at a collective agreement as to what this meal was and what all it contained. Some of my siblings said it was my Dad’s version of “Sonofabitch Stew,” the old cattle drive fare that included just about any ingredient of a cow or other edible meat and lots and lots of hot sauce. But this stew my Pops whipped up was more like a Slum Gullion Stew, which is a watery stew of practically any ingredient handy.
In my Dad’s case, this thin stew consisted of potted meat and some type of canned tomato product such as tomato sauce or tomato soup or perhaps canned tomatoes. I surmise he added hot sauce, salt and pepper and he would often bake up some homemade corn bread as a side. It was truly some righteous stuff.
I have eaten barbecued monkey meat on a stick in the Philippines. I added an egg to a hamburger in Australia but turned down the “beet root.” Today you can get just about any kind of meat or vegetable depending on how much you want to pay and how far you want to travel. But sometimes the simplest meals one may find are the things no farther than one’s pantry or local grocer store. It is all the better when you know the food is made at home, and for love just as it is prepared for sustenance.