Table of Plenty

By Amy Crowell

Mid-1800s Texas is one of the last places you’d expect to experience what the French refer to as a table recherché, a refined meal of sought-after delicacies. Just emerging as a state and nursing fresh wounds from the Mexican-American War, Texas was still wild, dangerous and rough in many spots. Yet European settlers steadily trickled across her new borders, bringing with them high hopes and hungry families. 

As many of them made their way inland, they watched the landscape transition slowly from moist, forested rolling hills in the east to drier scrub brush and dusty desert dotted with cactus and mesquite. This mosaic of bioregions converged in Central Texas—offering plant and animal diversity that would supply the resources for many new colonies to begin and survive. The abundance that drew people to the area we live in today continues to offer a unique selection of wild plants and animals to enjoy both in our landscapes and on our tables.

In 1844, Henri Castro, founder of what would eventually be called Castroville, described in his journal a September meal he shared with his guests in the newly forming Alsatian settlement:

“I was able to offervermicelli soup made with the bones of deer (nothing can be so delicate), fried trout, roasted turkey and partridgesfor dessert a cream made with eggs and milk produced in the colony. Pecans gathered at the door of the dining room, medlars and wild pomegranates. Red wine made by a German of wild grapesI attach importance to these details because they indicate the resources of which we could make use. At Paris one could find nothing more rare or more delicate, though he paid a great price. Is it not worthy of notice that we had in the middle of the desert, without expense, all the delicacies of a table recherché? That, nevertheless, is what is at the door of every colonist.” 

This entry is one of my favorite references to the wild foods common on an early Central Texas settler’s table. We’d expect pecans and deer, of course, but the references to partridges and trout were Castro’s common European names for what were most likely quail and bass. The medlars, or wild crab apples, were probably Texas persimmons (Diospyros texana) or wild plums (Prunus americana spp.), which would be ripe in September and could be mistaken for actual medlars. While Texas does offer some wild crab apples, they are more rare and would probably not have been growing in abundance near Castro’s original settlement. Wine made from wild grapes (probably our native mustang grape—Vitis mustangensis) was an essential part of his feast, and highlights a food tradition carried over from the Old World that’s still important to our modern meals. All of these fabulous, wild delicacies can be found in our area today, and offer many opportunities to create wines, jams, jellies and meat dishes that the mid-1800s settlers depended on and enjoyed.

Grilled Pork-Venison Sausage with Texas Persimmon Sauce

This sausage recipe is an Alsatian family recipe, passed down from generation to generation, and  is still used today. The family who shared this recipe lives in D’Hanis—one of Henri Castro’s original settlements—and gets together every year to carry on the tradition of hunting and making sausage together. This recipe will make enough patties for a large dinner party. You can also seal up the extra meat mixture in an airtight freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to two months.

Wild Fruit Jelly

Wild fruits common to Central Texas that can be used in this recipe include prickly pear tunas, grapes, mulberries, elderberries, plums, blackberries, persimmons, Turk’s cap fruit, agaritas and a few others. Consider this recipe a guide, and feel free to experiment with different amounts of sweeteners and juices until you create the recipe that is perfect for your palate.