Christmas is the perfect time to share your cooking with your friends. And you don’t even need to turn on your oven. Texas is a lucky state when it comes to food writing and recipe development. As a state, we have a collision of cultures. That sounds explosive, doesn’t it? But when considered in terms of food only, it is exciting. Not only are we a culture that loves good, old fashioned comfort food of all sorts, but it has stripes of BBQ, Southwestern, Mexican, Tex-Mex, hunter cuisine, Gulf coast seafood, and ranch culture. Let’s not even get going on the Cajun and Vietnamese and Chinese influences. We are a lucky bunch. It is therefore my opinion that the cookbooks that come out of Texas are utterly worthwhile, and they are fun, too.
Cookbooks are the best of all gifts, I think. They are perfect for hosts as a reflection of who you are and where you come from. They are usually under $50 and most often much less than that. They are beautiful. And they feed our imaginations. I know many people who don’t even cook, but they love to collect cookbooks because you can enjoy food through photos and words even if not through taste. You don’t need to be a Texan to love these. But, I’m proud that this is the caliber of work coming out of Texas (or by Texans) so I want to make sure you know about them. I have made a list of my favorite recent Texan-authored (original and spiritual Texans) cookbooks and food related tomes for you to consider for Christmas, for yourself or others. I also asked some of the authors of these great cookbooks what their favorite Texas-authored books are. The little boxes contain some jewels, as little boxes often do.
Where to begin? Let’s start with Robb. Robb Walsh comes up a lot around PIE because he writes the books that I would aspire to write if I was that kind of a gal. They are half history, and all food. His books always have the recipes that you look at and say to yourself, “God…my grandma used to make gravy that way…get out the lard.” His books make you not only want to eat and cook, but travel. You will want to jump in your truck and go all over the state and eat enchiladas and chicken fried steak and BBQ. I don’t “read” many cookbooks. I mostly peruse and cherry-pick cookbooks. I read Robb’s cookbooks. So, consider Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbookas a gift for someone who loves Texas food, or needs to.
The Homesick Texan
Lisa Fain lives in New York and is known by the moniker The Homesick Texan. She loves New York but lives to come home and visit her people and fill up on the foods that make her heart sing. Then, she goes back to New York and spreads the gospel of Texas foods and culture. There are a lot of Texans in the diaspora for whom this message resonates. If you once lived in Texas, and now do not, and have ever uttered the words, “Why in the hell can’t I find any Ro-Tel in this god-forsaken place,” you are going to adore Lisa Fain. She has a pure adoration for all things bluebonnet, chili, and queso. Her recent book The Homesick Texan Cookbookhas been an unquestionable hit. And it even has a fairly significant section of non-meat recipes (doesn’t seem possible, I know, but they are there and they are wonderful sides). It is a great gift for yourself or your favorite cook. If you live in Texas or you pine for Texas…or you have always wondered how to make credible Tex-Mex and other traditional Texan dishes at home, you need to have both Lisa and Robb’s books on your shelf.
“I love all Texas cookbooks but I’m especially fond of community cookbooks. Also, those slender pamphlets that food companies and utilities used to publish are a lot of fun. The best gift, however, is when a family produces its own cookbook. My family did that a few years ago and it’s a treasure.” Lisa Fain, The Homesick Texan
In Austin, there is a lot to the food scene. It is innovative, it is traditional, it is in a word, happening. Then again, Austin is just the hub. It sort of exudes the energy of a thought incubator. We all go there when we are young and eat and drink it up. Some of us stay, some of us go on, but all of us leave a big hunk of our soul there. I have a little warm spot in my heart for Austin still. In one of the loveliest spots in this Austin food world there is a chef named Jesse Griffiths who along with his wife, Tamara, runs Dai Due. He focuses on high quality local foods and produce, but he also cooks a lot of game. This year he published a cookbook called Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish. This one is on my shopping list and my gifting list. This is the one I will be buying for myself, my brother, my dad, and any of my shotgun or rifle wielding pals who are gracious enough not to just plop their kill in the sink for their wives to deal with. This is a book for the hunter-cook (or fisherman). Jesse teaches classes, many directed towards women that want to learn more about hunting and fishing. He teaches people the process from start to finish, from driving through the gate to rubbing your stuffed belly. He shows people that you can still procure and prepare your own food, and it is fun. This is not a new lesson. This is an old lesson. But, he is doing it in a wonderfully inventive and skilled way from a culinary perspective. I am very pleased when hunting and fishing are brought up in the food discourse, as this is my comfort zone.
Plus, as though you needed another reason to want this one…it was photographed by Jody Horton who is, in a word, brilliant.
Robb Walsh’s suggestions:
“Afield by Jesse Griffith and Homesick Texan by Lisa Fain are wonderful, but I’m sure you are listing both. So I’ll recommend some golden oldies: Texas on the Halfshell by Phil Brittan and Joe Daniel (1982 Dolphin, Doubleday)…A madcap roadtrip across the Texas food scene of the 1970s and early 1980s complete with chili parlor listings, barbecue philosophizing, archival photos and anatomical drawings of chile peppers. A chilehead cult classic.
Helen Corbitt Cooks for Company (1975 Houghton Mifflin)…Helen Corbitt ran the restaurants at Neiman Marcus in the 1950s. The Chicago Tribute called her “the best cook in Texas.” Julia Child mentions her cookbooks in the movie Julie and Julia–they were the most successful cookbooks of the era. Corbitt’s food was way ahead of its time. Stephan Pyles is reviving some of her recipes at his new restaurant Stampede 66.”
-Robb Walsh on his favorites