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How Christmas came to Texas

The old-time Texas Christmas’ is far different from today. If your grandparents and great grandparents have lived in Texas for many years they can remember some of the customs from the past. And if you’re great, great, grandparents were Texans they can remember even more. Beginning with the victory of Sam Houston’s Army in 1836, the Anglo pioneers began flooding into the new land of Texas. Their food items were few and they had to make do with what they had. Some could even remember seeing their first Christmas tree – – none existed before. A Christmas dinner in those days would have consisted of wild game such as squirrel, rabbit or turkey. In those days all of this wild game was plentiful. And of course, there was the ever present pork and chicken. These were plentiful as was milk and butter were plentiful, but wheat flour was often not available at all – – however cornmeal was. One of the favorite items for a festive dinner was boiled whole chicken with cornmeal dumplings. A truly authentic recipe follows:

 

Pioneer Cornmeal Dumplings

Place one whole, cleaned chicken in a large pot and cover with water. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until very tender.

In the meantime make Pioneer Cornmeal Dumplings. Here’s how:

1 cup cornmeal

¾ teaspoon salt

One pinch of freshly ground black pepper and one pinch of freshly ground Cayenne pepper

Boiling water

 

Enough boiling water to form dough, neither too much water nor not enough. As you pour the hot water into the dry mix, stirring all the while, put just enough liquid so that the dry ingredients turn to dough. From this, place slightly cooled dough in the palm of your hand so that it is about the size of a ping pong ball. Slightly squeeze this so that it holds together. Using a large slotted spoon gently lower each dumpling into the simmering water with the cooked chicken. These will float and after about five minutes they are done. Serve in a large ceramic bowl in the middle of the Christmas Table with boiled broth, the chicken and the dumplings all around. Using a long forked tool and a carving knife cut the chicken into pieces and serve with the dumplings and a little broth. To make this dish even more festive place some pine cones around the serving dish or some berries on a branch or pine needles, etc.

Another typical pioneer Christmas dish was Southern Fried Wild Rabbit. Following is an authentic recipe:

 

Southern Fried Wild Rabbit.

Begin with one perfectly clean rabbit – – some butcher shops have these available. Cut into pieces and place all in a large pot of boiling water, to cover. Season with salt and pepper. Turn heat to a simmer and cook fifteen minutes.

Remove meat and let cool enough to handle. Dip each piece in egg batter then dredge in seasoned flour including a little salt, black pepper, cayenne and cumin. Fry in hot lard until golden – – this was the typical frying oil of this time.

Serve on a platter with sides of green beans with bite sized slab bacon and sweet potato pie.

There is a fantastic book called “AN EARLY EAST TEXAS CHRISTMAS.” It is loaded with stories, early Christmas stories and recipes. One interesting article was written by historian Robbie Scifres, entitled “A TEXAS CHRISTMAS CAROL.” To order this book goes to www.texashistoricalpress.org.

Your questions and comments are always welcome. Call 575-291-9918. For other books on early Texas go to www.texashistoricalpress.org.