Post Civil War Texas was indeed the Wild West, but darker, seedier and more treacherous than the cowboy mythology that followed.
Cattle drives were brutal escapades through “Indian Country,” where roustabouts, ex-Confederate soldiers, ex-slaves and Mexican vaqueros tenaciously defended their bovine meal tickets against attack from many quarters for a dollar a day, a plate of beans and a dusty prairie bed.
Meanwhile, white writers in places like New York and Boston conjured white gentleman cowboys singing forlorn love songs under a low moon, who leapt from the pages of their dime novels onto the stage and then to the screen, without ever seeing a cactus.
Homesteaders and settlers from across the globe came to eke out a living in the rough towns and on the hard, dry dirt for the promise of free land and free living.
They fought for every inch of their dream of freedom.
For their toughness, resourcefulness and tenacity, the survivors earned a badge of fierce pride.
Their confidence and independence still swaggers in their trademark slow, easy stride.
The Texan reputation for being gracious and neighborly also comes from that culture of the big land, where folks had to come together to overcome adversity.
Out under the endless Texan sky, only a hat over their heads, they worked, they fought, they lived and died.
They also made time to put their hoes down, pick up their fiddles and kick up their spurs to celebrate life and community with some — you guessed it — outdoor cooking.
A significant number of Germans immigrated to Texas. They brought skills like butchery, sausage making, meat smoking and beer brewing.
Like alchemists, they took a cheap, undesirable cut of meat and through slow smoking it over wood coals for a whole day, turned it into the famous Texas beef brisket.
Many of us forget the long coastline that put lots of excellent seafood on those sun-bleached picnic tables. And, of course, Mexican flavors are everywhere on the Texan wind.
This July, the Old 5Mile House will serve up real Texas beef brisket, Corpus Crispy shrimp, oysters on the half shell, crispy fried chicken and cowboy steak. And for dessert, chocolate pecan pie with fresh made vanilla bean ice cream.
Robert Smith is the chef owner of the Old 5Mile House where they serve roadhouse food from around the world. Much of his Texas history for this column comes from food/cowboy historian Bob Walsh.
5Mile Chocolate Pecan Pie
Makes 1 pie
3 cups pecans
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
4 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon Bourbon
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Sort pecans into the best looking pieces, reserving these for the top.
Spread the other pecan pieces (about half of them) and the chocolate chips evenly on the bottom of the pie shell.
In a mixing bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients together. Pour the filling over the pecans.
Bake until the filling sets, 50 to 60 minutes.
Remove from the oven, place fancy pecan pieces in a spiral on top of pie. Brush pecans with maple syrup and bake for 10 more minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool for 30 minutes before slicing.