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Letters from Listeners  
  We launced Hidden Kitchens Texas by putting up a Hidden Kitchens Texas Hotline at KUT and asked iisteners to tell us their hidden kitchen stories: Who glues your community together through food? Who's cooking on your street corner, what traditions are dissappearing and call out to be chronicled ? We asked them to sit back and tell us their story and become part of this national collaboration. Hundreds and hundreds of did !

 
  Here are just a few of the hundreds of Hidden Kitchens Texas calls and letters we received from listeners across the country
 
 


Hello. This is Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Your story on Ice Houses really dug up a part of history that I had practically forgotten. It
reminded me that when I was fourteen, I had a job in the summer camp in the Upper Adirondacks in upstate New York, on Big Wolf where my job consisted of chopping firewood and digging out from the saw dust that it was packed in, the huge blocks of ice, 3’ long, 2’ deep and 2‘ wide, and getting them loose with an icepick and an axe and getting them onto a wheelbarrow and into the kitchen ice houses. That was the memory that I’d forgotten. Thanks a lot. listen»

Pat Johnson
/ Bayat, Texas
I have a friend—I live in a rural community, Central Texas of old Czechs and Germans and I have made some wonderful granny friends over the years and one of my favorite friends is Leandra Slavock.  Leandra is well in her 80’s,  she is 5 feet tall. She is one of these woman that her breast start at her waist and her hands are incredible from working in the garden for a million years .  I got to know her because every time I was at a neighbor’s house she would show up because I like to talk too and she would talk.  And I would egg her on to tell stories—especially cooking ones.  She’s cooked at the feast here in Roundtop? Since she was a young girl.  She is a colorful character –so her stories are really good.  She has this old Czech/German dialect still.  She is a very good storyteller.  She would add a lot about what is being lost here in Central Texas –the old style cooking and the feast and the big hog slaughters and making sausages and colaches and all those things that are being lost right now. I really hope you will talk to her. Listen»

Leandra Slavok
Leandra Slavock in her pantry - photo courtesy of Pat Johnson

We wrote Pat and asked her for some photos and she sent these along with this note:

"Finally got a visit in with Leonda. We talked pickles. It has been so dry here she was complaining about the lack of produce from her garden but she has managed to pickle everything that has come up. She wanted to know why someone would want to talk to her and I explained about the project...that you all where looking for people who cooked and especially types, ethnic, cultural foods....and her reply “I cook 100% German”...now that means 100% Texas German. So off she went on sausage, PICKLES, the last time she made sauerkraut....the politics of selling her canned goods in RT......etc....then she took me out to the shed. It is so wonderful!

Fayette County was settled by Czechs and Germans. The Germans stayed in New Ulm, Frelsburg, Round Top, etc. The Czechs in Fayetteville, Praha, and for along time not much influenced them. Now with all the influx of retirees and weekend farmers the culture is starting to vanish. Hope you will consider including Mrs. Schlabach in your program before this is all gone." - Pat Johnson


Jackie Stence / Austin, TX
Myrtle Stence in her kitchen
Myrtle Ora Stence in her kitchen - courtesy of Jackie Stence

This is a quick snapshot of a photograph of my mother-in-law, Myrtle Ora Stence, in her kitchen in the late 1970's. It is where she taught me how to can peaches. They had a small orchard on their cotton farm in New Deal, Texas. They had their own well, so they watered whenever it needed it. She appliqued those bandanas onto her chambray shirt. Note the rotating lazy susan shelves in the cupboards in the corners. She designed it to make use of every single inch of storage space. Listen

Carrie Burkett
I just wanted to tell you about a woman I know who still does things that I think you might be interested in.  I don’t know if she’d give you permission to put it on air.  In Halletsville, Texas, it’s a Czech part, she still bakes bread and kolaches, poppy seed, apricot, prune, sausage kolaches. She still makes noodles from eggs from her chickens.  People drive from miles around, people from Houston will come up, to buy her things. She’s in her 70s and still puts up pickles and makes soap and grinds cornmeal and smokes bacon.  They still do things the old way with lots of love and flavor.  Her kids don’t necessarily do it, kids and grandkids, but they appreciate it.  There are people in that town that do it. But Emma Bujnoch, still full force, does all that every day. The name is spelled B-U-J-N-O-C-H, (Boy-knock). I think they’d be worth talking to if it sounds interesting to you.  Thanks very much. Good bye.

Anne Walker / Dallas
(excerpt) I grew up in a disappearing kitchen. It has not disappeared yet, though, because my mother, whose kitchen it is, is 73 and still cooking. When I was a child in the 60’s and 70’s I knew that something was different about the way we ate at our house. There were five of us – my parents, my older sister and brother, and me, and we ate really well – better than our friends. Going out to eat was not a part of our world, even though we had friends who ate out semi-regularly. I thought I was being deprived at times because we didn’t get to go to restaurants very often, and restaurants were always fun, but I always knew I wasn’t being deprived of good food.
Beth Walker
Beth Walker and her rolls - courtesy of the Walker family

The kitchen was where my mother lived. My earliest memory of her is one in which she is standing over the stove cooking. So what is disappearing? Homemade taco shells. Well, she bought the package of corn tortillas, but then she deep fried them in the shape of a crispy taco, and when these were cooking, I was in the kitchen smelling them and becoming very hungry. It was later when I was making them in my own kitchen that I realized first of all that it’s hard to find that tool that you use to shape them because not that many people use them, and second, that it is really quite easy to burn yourself when working with that much hot grease.

When we were teenagers, we rode the bus to and from school, and it was truly not unusual for the three of us to walk in the house in the afternoon and smell hot bread which was in the oven or had just come out of the oven. This was usually rolls made with honey, and Mother would say, “Sit down and butter one, because they’re the best when they’re fresh out of the oven.” It was never, “You should wait until dinner because it will spoil your appetite.” Not only does she cook well, but she also has this wonderful sense of hospitality, even toward her own children – especially toward us!

...Other disappearing things? Biscuits. The first time I made those, they were more like flour rocks. ... and cornbread. Southern cornbread that is crusty and dry and not sugary. She has this recipe down to perfection. It is served with pinto beans that have simmered all afternoon...listen

David Davenport/Houston
Exec. Director of End Hunger Network
I really want to thank you for the opportunity to call and tell you a little bit about what we're doing.  I'd really like to tell you about a unique and amazing kitchen designed to transform how Houstonians will care for and feed the most vulnerable members of our community. In 2005, End Hunger Network celebrated its 20th year of food rescue service in the greater Houston area by breaking ground on a state-of-the art hunger relief center just north of downtown. the centerpiece of this facility is a one-of-a-kind high-volume processing kitchen designed to convert donated food into healthy meals for our community's hungry.  It is planned that this kitchen will produce 1.7 million individual meals in its first year of operation.  The programs housed in this new facility will move from the Houstonian Hotel Club and Spa--this one-of-a-kind facility has been a partner with End Hunger Network since 2003, and has prepared our organizations needs with the same level of care and professionalism as it produces its meals for its guests.  We are really thankful for such wonderful friends. We invite your show, and our community of friends throughout the state of Texas to join us on June 6th, National Hunger Awareness day, as we celebrate the dedication of our hunger relief center and kitchen.  As we like to say, people are hungry, there's enough food--what's the problem?  This unique kitchen is a solution, and worthy of mention as a kitchen that will shape a community. Thank you so much for the opportunity to share our story. 

John Castillo / San Antonio, TX
When I was a kid back in what is now called the northeast side of San Antonio, Texas in the Naco –Perin area, that was never part of the city then. This was back in the late 60’s my mom used to usually do a lot of the cooking and whatnot in the house. And our house was always a hub of kids, all the neighborhood kids would show up at our house, it didn’t matter who they were, they’d just all show up there. And one of the biggest treats we ever had was when my mom would finish a fresh batch of beans and tortillas. We’re talking just beans straight out of the pot, unmashed, and wonderful. And every kid would get a bowl of beans and every kid would get a tortilla with butter on it to go with them. And I had one friend, my best friend, Mike, and I remember the year his mom tried to learn to make tortillas, from my mom. Well she gave her the recipe, told her how to do it, she went home, she tried it, she came back, and then on the old iron skillet was this poor, pathetic, dried, round thing, that we weren’t quite sure what it was but it was an effort and a half on her part to try. Well I’ll never forget how all the kids used to come over to the house and eat beans and tortillas and people tried to learn things from my mom as far as cooking and whatnot and that’s what held our neighborhood together.


Kirby Warnuck / Dallas, TX
I am going to tell you about a disappearing food from TX. The pinto beans. It seems that all the Mexican restaurants serve refried beans and we’ve gotten away from serving pinto beans. When I was a boy, my grandmother Marie Warnick, out of Pecos County, TX, made pinto beans that would be a meal in itself. We would make a big mess of pinto beans and cornbread and that’s what we ate. She said the best way to make pinto beans is that you had to soak them overnight in rainwater. They had a cistern out at the ranch that would collect the rainwater. And she said you got soak ‘em over night in rain water and then she would cook them for several hours and use a big old chunk of ham or ham bone in there along with it and season it just right. She made the best mess of pinto beans I have ever had. We just had those on plate and piece of corn bread and that would be the entire meal. I don’t see that happening in Texas anymore. When I was a boy it seemed like everybody had pinto beans. But we’ve gone to refried beans. And also for a while there, they’ve gone kind of nuts on these ranch style beans in a can. It seems most people just open a can of those and put them on a plate. They’ve gotten away from cooking them cause’ pinto beans take a lot longer to cook. Purple old peas or black eyed peas or peas you only boil for just a little while. But pinto beans had to be cooked for a long time.

Anyway, I think that’s a missing Texas food that used to bind us together is the noble but lowly pinto bean. Thank so much. Goodbye.

Big Andy Wilkerson / Red Oak, Texas

Plow Disc bbq Texas
Now the thing I am going to tell you about is something we came across back in 1990. A bunch of contractors didn’t have a lot to do. So we went out and we dug us out an old plow disk. It was all rusted up. Got it wired and brushed and cleaned that plow disc up, seasoned that plow disc in, got her all fancied up just like an old cast iron skillet. Managed to get a fire built up under it. We advanced it to using a propane burner now. We needed some implements to turn the food we was going to cook on this plow disc so we went and got us a brick trowel and we heated it up, tempered it and make it curve the same curvature as the plow disc. Well, one thing leads to another and we started figuring what we would cook up on this plow disc. Well we decided we was going to try to cook some chicken fajitas out there on the tail gate at the drag races out there in Ennis. And let me tell you what …this thing turned out to be a fine tailgate implement. We could throw our oil on there, and let that thing heat up. As soon as it darked to smoke we dashed some chicken on there and cooked it on both sides, turned it with that masonry brick trowel and we’d slice our onions up just like big old hunks of pancake and lay em on there and pour a little soy sauce on em and let them cook on the outer edges while the chicken is cooking off in the center. Well you know we got to slice them up while they are cooking and all that. As it gets done, you know as the thing’s cooking, there’s always going to be a hand come in there and pour a little beer in there, that says there needs to be a little more seasoning. So you add the beer while your cooking the fajitas and then you got your onions going. And just before it gets done, you crack open them little ol’ package of flour tortillas and deal em’ out like you are dealing cards right over the top. And you let that steam out of that beer, in them corn, in those chicken fajitas. And let me tell you what, everything is served right there off the plow disc on the back of the truck. And if you got throw some refried beans or guacamole or something on there. I got some friends who got to have sour cream on them chicken fajitas. But anyway, that’s my story about something we had to come up with just out of necessity because we can’t afford to pay all them high prices that’s inside these outfits nowadays. You know we can all through out about 20 bucks and we can feed eight or 10 people right on the back of the truck.

Earl L. Robbins / Houston

I am the originator of Earl’s famous cheesecakes. I am an amateur cheesecake baker. I have 54 different kinds of cheesecakes. We started the Houston cheesecake hall of fame in Dallas Hill. It used to be a famous model in Houston back in the early days of the 70s. And we have named these cheesecakes after famous people in Houston and around the state we have like uh, chocolate macadamia liqueur named after Governor Mark White and we have people like Bill Archer and Marge Comebacker and John Alice, Carolyn Falk and Carolyn Farb. These cheesecakes are all made in my home at six at a time. I give away about 500 of them a year to charities so that they can auction them off. The history of the Cheesecake Hall of Fame started back in 1975. I started off with a simple recipe and now all my cheesecakes are gourmet style. They all have liqueurs or unusual insides. But they freeze very well and they are always available for people who need ‘em for charities. Anyway, if you need more information I can either mail it to you or give it to you on the phone. Thank you very much.

Randy / Dallas, TX
I am chuckwagon cook and my kitchen is anywhere I decide to take my kitchen. So if your interested in talking to a chuckwagon cook and what we do and how we get it done.

Nancy Mossman / Austin, TX
My name is Nancy Mossman. I go to the Lone Star Espresso in Sugerville Texas almost every day, it’s a one-person coffee shop, specialty coffee shop, they have great  coffee.  Heather Strouser is the proprietor and Heather is a young business woman who makes us feel like we are at calm.  Everybody who comes into the coffee shop to buy coffee knows one another we greet one another.  We tell our stories, we ask about each other’s families and children and jobs and work and it’s just one of those, homegrown places in the community where people come together. It’s not Starbucks.  It is a little, funky coffee shop that brings together the people of Sugarville and Heather is one of the main reasons why.  She makes everybody feel great, and she makes a great latte.

Ben Jones Dallas, Texas
Rutabager Lunch

 
 
Keith Patterson and his rutabagers
 
  Keith lives in Nederland, Texas. He grew up in the East Texas piney woods and moved to Southeast Texas to work in the Mobile Oil refinery. Nederland is the only Dutch-founded city in Texas but, it's richly flavored from all the Cajuns in the area as it lies about a half-hour drive from the Louisiana border and the Gulf coast.

My dad and Keith have been friends for over thirty years. They became friends through their love of antiques (especially clocks), plants, pet birds, and good food. They get together most every week for a rutabaga lunch and Keith often invites the church staff, he calls "The Revs", over to partake. One day the church preacher decided to try and cook the rutabaga dish at his home and his wife threatened him with divorce if he ever did it again. (Rutabagas are pungent.)

Like my dad says, Keith is one of the most alive men I know. He is full of incredible stories, hilarious coloquialisms, and a real love for life. It must be the rutabagas.


Dutch Ovens /Cheryl McRoy
Dear Sisters:
I hope you haven't left Texas before checking out The Lone Star Dutch Oven Society at www.lsdos.com. We exist for the purpose of keeping Dutch oven cooking skills alive. We have many local chapters around the state that serve the purpose of teaching these skills. There is also fun, food, and fellowship at these (usually monthly) Dutch oven gatherings (DOGS). Once a year we have a "Big Dog" in central Texas where all the chapters get together. Anything you can cook on top of and in a stove, you can cook in a Dutch oven. We share recipes and skills. Nobody leaves hungry. One of the most valuable pieces of equiptment that pioneers took west with them was the Dutch oven. Colt wasn't the only "iron" to win the West!
 
       
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