South Texas Happiness Can Be Found On The Grill

By Richard G. Santos

Happiness in South Texas and Winter Garden area (south of San Antonio) are fajitas grilled over mesquite with flour tortillas warmed on the side accompanied by freshly boiled pinto beans with ham hocks, bacon or ham, cilantro, onions, garlic cloves and serrano peppers.  Happiness is also a bowl of true Texas chile con carne spicy hot enough to benefit the ice cream industry, bringing tears to a visitor’s eyes as he/she recall their deceased relatives and topped with chopped onions and crushed saltine crackers.

On Sundays happiness is barbacoa de pozo (not prepared in an electric broiler) served on hand-made corn tortillas with chopped onions, cilantro, chilepiquin or serrano peppers de amor (a mordidas, bitable whole peppers). Happiness Sunday afternoon or early evening is a cup of home made chocolate with pan dulce of your choice.

In winter, happiness in South Texasand Winter Garden area is several dozens of home made tamales of pork, beef or fried pinto beans served and accompanied with freshly boiled pinto beans and a hot salsa. Happiness can also be found in a bowl of fresh beef or chicken caldo with bite size pieces of yellow zucchini, small red potatoes, a cabbage cut in quarters, green squash, baby carrots, peas, whole kernel corn or quartered corn on the cob with a quarter cup of Spanish rice added to taste served with corn tortillas. Happiness on a cold day can also be found in pork chops or small steaks smothered in a hot salsa accompanied by crushed pinto beans fried in bacon grease or olive oil with corn or flour tortillas.

Across the tracks or main street, happiness can be found in pork loin sliced to make large steaks with salt, pepper, seasoning, sliced onions, seedless tomato slices, seedless sliced bell pepper strips, sliced serrano peppers rolled, tied and cooked in a hot oven.  Happiness can also be found in chicken breast prepared the same way with or without the serrano peppers.  An alternative to happiness on the other side of the tracks is chicken cut into quarters, floured and fried in oil, served with mashed potatoes topped with cream gravy with young green peas or whole kernel corn.  Happiness on a cold day is found in a roast cooked with celery, quartered potatoes, onions and carrots in a cast iron dutch oven, served with hot home made biscuits.  Baked meatloaf topped with tomato ketchup and cooked macaroni with Velveeta cheese sauce brings back memories of childhood happiness.  For some happiness can be found in cooked sauerkraut served with a hearty homemade wurst sausage.  On a Sunday afternoon fresh apple pie topped with ice cream brings happiness to both sides of the tracks. Early morning breakfast happiness can be found in pancakes topped with strawberries or maple syrup, accompanied on a cold day with bacon and eggs to taste.  Fried ham steak with red-eye gravy and biscuits bring back memories of happiness at breakfast.

For children and grandchildren of the Depression-era parents and grandparents on both sides of the track, happiness can be found in scrambled eggs cooked with bite size pieces of wieners accompanied by buttered toast and a glass of milk or juice.  On one side of the tracks happiness can be found in a bowl of fideo with onions and cilantro to taste or the dish is promoted to fideo loco if fresh pinto beans and cooked ground beef is added.  On the other side of the tracks happiness can be found in a plate of cooked spaghetti smothered in a tomato sauce with handmade meat balls, topped with a sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese and served with garlic bread.  Regardless of ethnic, racial and socio-economic background, in a restaurant on either side of the tracks early morning happiness is found in diced potato and egg tacos with or without bacon, or in an egg with diced potato and chorizo tacos, as well as bean and cheese taco with or without bacon accompanied by salsa or chilepiquin brought from home. The equally popular sausage and biscuit with or without cream gravy can also bring a smile.  Happiness at mid-day can also be found in a polish sausage wrapped in a flour tortilla.

Happy childhood memories can be found in a slice of bologna with mayonnaise with or without a freshly sliced onion ring.  Post-World War II happy memories can be found in scrambled eggs with spam prepared at home.  For others, happy childhood memories can be found in the simple and ever popular peanut butter and jelly sandwich or taco, with a cold glass of milk.  Childhood happy memories inNew Mexicocan be found in a homemade sopapilla stuffed with homemade guacamole or fried beans for breakfast or venison for lunch or supper. Others relive happy childhood memories at the sight of ripened mesquite pods, orange, grapefruit, peach, pecan or persimmon laden trees.  Fond childhood memories are also relived in freshly cut red or yellow watermelon and off-the-field cantaloupes.

In conclusion, all items mentioned above and many more, bring happiness when shared with relatives or friends. The items can also bring back cherished “back home” childhood memories for those away from their home town, farm or ranch..  Most frequently, I have witnessed lengthily discussions and conversations of such memories as well as the comparison of restaurant cooking and how it does not compare with “mother’s recipes” as recalled by a person.  For instance, do you remember your first pizza, the Chicagored hots sold by cart pushing vendors, or the cart pushing taco vendors in the Mexican border towns?  Or was it your first lox and bagel, or Chinese sweet and sour pork or lemon chicken?  Chances are you will also recall who was with you that first time you tasted that delicacy.  Ah, the aromas of the home, the barrio, the neighborhood.  Ah, the taste, place, year and your companion when you first shared a dish that became a special memory. That is happiness of the mind and soul my friends.  Provecho, bon appetite, enjoy.

Richard G. Santos is an international research historian and retired university professor who lives in Pearsall, Texas.

[Photo By mccun934]

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