The Lone Star State covers a vast area, bringing together a myriad of different cultures. Texan cooking is influenced by a variety of cuisines, from Native Americans to early European settlors; Cajun, Creole, African American, Asian, Mexican, and Jewish.
We look at seven dishes that are synonymous with Texas, and remain popular to this day.
1. Biscuits and Gravy
Biscuits and gravy is a comfort food staple throughout the Southern states. Historians trace the dish back to the Revolutionary War, when workers needed a cheap, calorie-heavy breakfast to set them up for the day.
The term “biscuits” is derived from the Latin word “biscotum,” meaning twice-baked bread. In the early days, biscuits were hard lumps of flour and water. The invention of baking powder and its surge in popularity throughout the late 1800s facilitated the evolution of the biscuit. This transformed it from its tooth-breaking predecessor to the soft, light, crumbly version that is so popular today.
Gravy is made by adding water or milk to meat juices. It is a common way of stretching out a meal. Wild pigs were once plentiful in the South, and sausages an inexpensive source of protein and fat. Though biscuits and sausage were once considered survival food, today the dish is celebrated throughout the United States and beyond.
The kolache is a round, jam-filled pastry, of Czechoslovakian origin. It comes from the Slavonic word “kolo,” meaning wheel. The origins of the kolache back to the 15th century. At that time, breads enriched with sugar, butter, and eggs became popular throughout Eastern Europe.
When Czech settlors arrived in America the 1840s, they founded more than 250 small communities throughout Texas. They made up the largest Czech population in the role United States at the time.
The dough used to make kolaches is dense, rather than fluffy. Many kolache recipes are a closely-guarded secret, handed down through generation after generation in Czech families. Popular toppings include spiced plum, cherry, apricot, blueberry, poppy seeds, and cheese.
3. Chuckwagon Beef Stew
For centuries, stews have been popular throughout Europe as a way of tenderizing tough cuts of meat. The oldest cookbooks, dating back to the Romans in the 1st century BC, feature lamb and fish stew recipes.
In the early days of cattle ranching, beef was much leaner than we find it today. Without fat to render it, beef can be somewhat tough. As a result, it needs to be cooked over a low heat for a long amount of time.
Charles Goodnight invented the chuckwagon. It is essentially a kitchen wagon that keeps ranchers fed on long cattle drives. Chuckwagon beef stew comprises slow-cooked beef, root vegetables, and potatoes, making it the ideal campfire dinner.
4. Green Tomato Pie
This savory dish is made using thick slices of tomato, layers of green onion and chopped basil, and cheese sauce, encased in a flaky crust. Tomato pie is a beloved summer dish of the Southern states. As the name would suggest, green tomato pie is made using underripe tomatoes.
Recipes for the dish appear in cookbooks dating back to the 1800s. Its origin remains a mystery, with many claiming it is of Mennonite or Amish origin, and others arguing that it is an African-American dish.
Enchiladas are arguably the Lone Star State’s favorite Mexican dish. Enchilada recipes have been found in the earliest Mexican cookbooks, dating back to the 1800s. Historians have linked the dish to a Mayan recipe featuring corn tortillas stuffed with meat or fish.
With many regional variations, enchiladas remain a popular type of street food to this day. They may be stuffed with fillings such as beef, chicken, pork, seafood, beans, or vegetables. They are often topped with cheese, sour cream, salsa and cilantro.
6. Pecan Pie
Pecan pie is the official state dessert of Texas, its principal ingredient growing in huge swathes. Traditionally served for holiday celebrations, the first pecan pie recipe appeared in 1898, in a St. Louis cookbook. Native Americans were likely to have been using pecans for centuries.
In the 1920s, corn syrup manufacturer Karo started printing a pecan pie recipe on its cans. This led to an explosion in popularity of the dish.
Many contend that Fletcher Davis served the world’s first hamburger in the late 1880s, in his small café in Athens, Texas. Initially known as a mere sandwich, Fletcher Davis took his creation to the St Louis World Fair in 1904. Here the creation earned the name “hamburger,” named after the city of Hamburg in Germany. Locals there famously ate ground beef, a practice that was not very popular in early 20th-century America.
Today, Americans consume around 50 billion hamburgers annually. May 28 is National Hamburger Day. The oldest burger chain in America is White Castle, which opened in 1921, selling burgers at 5 cents apiece. In the United States today, McDonald’s report selling 75 burgers every second.