Cookbook History & The West

Texan Dishes and Texan Appetites

In a fascinating, annotated facsimile of Austin’s first book of “receipts” (recipes), we’re going to take a tour through Lone Star history that’s sure to rouse your appetite. Lets dig into some cookbook history!

Texas is not just a state, but also an intersection of cultures and attitudes. Once a Spanish colony, and later a Mexican state, Texas has Hispanic recipes in her DNA. Can you imagine the Lone Star State without the exalted taco? Us neither. Once Stephen F. Austin, the Father of Texas, got permission from Mexico to encourage Anglo settlers onto the the western frontier, new dishes, tastes, and smells came tumbling out of kitchens everywhere. In the 1850s, Germans and Bohemians brought their cooking and brewing traditions directly from Europe. You can still taste these contributions in the beers and delicacies that took hold in Austin and Central Texas. And by reading cookbooks like history books, you can glimpse some interesting history.

A palatable and easily digested meal is a sine qua non to peace at home… We toss into the lap of the inquiring house-wife, a feast of good things which is warranted to dispel the incubus hanging over an expected meal, a family dining, or a more ceremonious lunch.

Introduction to Our Home Cookbook

What’s for Dinner? Cookbook History!

Austin’s first cookbook was Our Home Cookbook, printed by Eugene Von Boeckmann in 1891 as a fundraiser for the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Mrs. Paul F. Thornton and Mrs. I.V. Davis gathered more than three hundred recipes contributed by eighty-nine women. Included therein were recipes for Dixie Biscuits, Oyster Stew, Irish Potato Salad, and Dandy Pudding. The cookbook is also noteworthy for its two sections on Mexican recipes. Mexican culture was integral to Austin and all of Texas, and Austinites enjoyed dishes like Tamale de Cusuela, Chili y Huevos con Carne, Chili Reyenes, Quesode Almendra, Copas Mexicanas and Huevos Reales. The term Tex-Mex was still decades away.

An image of the front cover of Our Home Cookbook.
The front cover of Our Home Cookbook. Image sourced from Austin’s First Cookbook: Our Home Recipes, Remedies and Rules of Thumb.

Another early Austin cookbook was The Capitol Cook Book: A Selection of Tested Recipes, by the Ladies of Albert Sydney Johnston Chapter, Daughters of the Confederacy. Louise Holland Meyers compiled hundreds of recipes for the volume. In the early twentieth century, Austin witnessed an increase in cookbooks with eighteen new titles, thirteen of which were thanks to the University of Texas’s Domestic Economy Department. Nearly forty cookbooks came out of Austin from 1900 through the 1950s.

A depiction of the Bon-Ton Bakery in Texas.
Bon-Ton Bakery, from flyer. Image sourced from Austin’s First Cookbook: Our Home Recipes, Remedies and Rules of Thumb.

Local food companies got in on the action with de facto marketing pieces. Driskill Hotel’s pastry chef and baker Adolph Kohn opened his Bon-Ton Bakery in 1902, and became known throughout Texas for his Pan Dandy brand of bread until it closed in 1953. The Bon-Ton Bakery produced a small pamphlet, “Bread: The Most Important of All Foods,” which included recipes for its popular breads. Local business–produced recipe books like the Bon-Ton’s and fundraisers for local groups dominated the Austin cookbook market. For example, the local Red Cross Canteen Corps used its book to raise fun for their , where they provided disaster assistance and fed troops at their Austin “canteens.”

Walker’s Austex Chili. C05843, Russell Chalberg Photo Collection, AHC.

Austin’s Mexican population was acknowledged in William Walker’s Aus-Tex Chili Co.’s pamphlet “Rare Recipes ‘From Mexico,’” which featured its foods. In 1900, Walker and his brother manufactured and canned Mexican spices and foods along with the grocery business. Walker’s produced Mexene Red Devil Chili Powder, chili con carne, tamales, enchiladas, beef stew, and spaghetti with meatballs. In 1911, Walker’s installed the first automated tamale-making machine.

1970s and 1980s

Austin cookbooks exploded the 1970s with over sixty published. Reprints of historic cookbooks became trendy with “The Capitol Cookbook,” “Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping,” and “The First Texas Cookbook.” The largest number of Austin cookbooks came out of the 1980s with over one hundred, no doubt due to the celebration of Texas’ 150th anniversary in 1986. This time, new cookbooks were tied to local restaurants like the historic Green Pastures restaurant, and “Dining with Diane,” with profiles of twenty-one Austin spots.

Austin Today

Recently, Austin’s African American culture and cuisine was spotlighted in Angela Shelf Medearis’ series of books related to African American cooking. And Austin chef and restaurateur Matt Martinez Jr., whose grandfather opened the first Mexican restaurant in Austin, El Original, in 1925, wrote 3 books of his family’s recipes. While Austin is known today as a mecca for hip, Texas history continues to be relevant, and looms large in its vibrant dining community.