My Citizens – I had originally planned to share a nearly lost recipe of the Jewish Deli with you, but lo and BEHOLD – a card from my wife’s Aunt Sue arrived today with her recipe for one of my favorite Texan treats! I speak of nothing less than the savory splendor of spicy cheese and pecan wafers, a Texan specialty and in fact found through most of the American South. As such, and given the repeated requests I have received for simple, nostalgic comfort food recipes – I give you this today and shall hold the deli recipe for next time! 😀
I am extremely fond of antique recipes like this one – and while it may not be a typical TFD recipe with rare and outré ingredients from far-distant shores, it IS delicious and really fits the bill of fare for this month’s holiday emphasis and nostalgic reminiscence of the past. I only ever get to sample these during the Christmas holiday season and only when we are back in Texas visiting my wife’s family. Here is the actual recipe card, as I received it today:
As noted in an intriguing article in the Boston Globe:
Wildly popular cheese wafers are savory rounds that many Southern cooks make for all occasions. Almost every recipe is the same — grated sharp cheese (I like cheddar here), butter, flour, salt, and a generous pinch of cayenne pepper. The wafers have no leavening, and no eggs or sugar. This version is from a 1950 spiral-bound book called “Charleston Receipts,” where it appeared in the “canapes” section, along with recipes for cheese balls, shrimp paste, and benne (sesame) seed “cocktailers,” a kind of biscuit.
In this updated method for cheese wafers, you make the dough in a food processor, turn big clumps onto a sheet of plastic wrap, and with your hands, shape a compact log. Then fold over the plastic wrap and press a ruler against one long side of the wrap to form a tight roll.
The roll sits overnight in the fridge. Here’s a baker’s trick to keep the log from forming a flat side: With scissors, make a lengthwise cut along a cardboard paper towel roll (the piece left after you use up the paper). Set the log in the cardboard and refrigerate. When you go to slice the log, use a flat-bladed knife and keep turning the roll after each slice to make perfect circles. They bake into firm, slightly golden, rounds that are spicy, cheesy, crisp, and addictive.
The Texas State Historical Association’s website has a great deal of information on the Pecan, which are such an integral part of this delicious recipe and the history of the Lone Star State as well!
The pecan is the only commercially grown nut in Texas and is native to most of the state’s river valleys. The tree, one of the most widely distributed trees in the state, is native to 152 counties and is grown commercially in some thirty additional counties. It is also widely used as a dual-purpose yard tree. The size and quality of pecans are influenced by the number of leaves per nut. More leaves are needed for large nuts.
Pecan trees begin growing in early spring and continue in early fall; deep, loose, and well-watered soil is conducive to growth. Peccan is Algonquian for “hard-shelled nut.” In 1919 the Thirty-sixth Legislature declared the pecan the state tree, and eight years later the Fortieth Legislature reaffirmed the decision.
There is evidence that the pecan tree grew in the Texas region during prehistoric times. Records indicate that the nut was exported from the state before 1860. Exports from Galveston alone amounted to 1,525 bushels in 1850 and 13,224 in 1854. In 1866, 8,962 barrels were shipped from Indianola, and 1,500 barrels from Port Lavaca.
The value of the pecan, however, was apparently not fully recognized for many decades, for many trees were cut to make way for cotton, and the wood was used for making wagon parts and farm implements. By 1904 pecan trees had been cut to such an extent that laws to prevent their complete destruction were considered. The financial value of the crop was soon recognized, and pecans became one of the leading money crops in the state.
Texas pecan production in 1910 was 5,832,267 pounds. In 1914 all but eight counties reported pecan trees growing within their boundaries. The leading pecan-producing counties in 1926 were Brown, Bell, Bexar, Burnet, Comanche, Dallas, Erath, Gillespie, Gonzales, Grayson, and Guadalupe. These counties produced over 250,000 pounds of pecans each. Exports from Texas during the 1920s ranged from twenty-five to 500 carloads a year.
During the years of light production practically the entire crop was used in the state, but during the years of heavy production about 75 percent of the crop was exported to northern and eastern markets, principally to shellers and candy makers. The pecan crop in 1932 totaled 19,500,000 pounds and was valued at $975,000. The average annual production for the 1936–46 period was 26,815,000 pounds.
The 1948 pecan crop, the third largest on record, totaled 43,000,000 pounds and was valued at $4,860,000, or 11.3 cents a pound. The 1949 crop was estimated at 36,000,000 pounds. The 1945 census estimated that there were 3,212,633 pecan trees in Texas. The Lone Star State produced about 30 percent of the nation’s crop during these years and usually led the states in pecan production.
Pecans were shelled on a commercial basis before 1900 by G. A. Duerler of San Antonio, who used railroad spikes for cracking the pecans and sacking needles for picking out the meats. The pecan-shelling industry grew gradually, and more mechanical devices were used in the plants. During the Great Depression an increase in cheap labor encouraged hand shelling, and many home shelling plants emerged.
These small plants soon became a threat to the mechanized plants and forced them also to employ hand labor in order to compete. During the depression period 12,000 to 15,000 people were employed in the shelling industry in San Antonio alone, where several hundred plants were operating (see PECAN-SHELLERS’ STRIKE). In 1938, when wage increases were required by the Fair Labor Standards Act, unskilled labor became unprofitable, and the use of machinery again became necessary.
A few fully mechanized modern plants soon replaced the hundreds of home shelling plants. By the 1950s shelling plants were located at San Antonio, Tyler, Comanche, Clarksville, Taylor, Denison, Fort Worth, Dallas, and San Angelo. A plant at Weatherford in Parker County processed shell and other pecan wastes into oil and tannin for use in tannic acid.
By the 1950s pecans were being divided into two general kinds, natives and improved varieties. Most Texas-grown pecans were native and were often shelled commercially before marketing, while the improved varieties were more often sold in the shell. In the 1950s Texas led the nation in total number of pecan trees and was usually first in annual production. The 1954 crop totaled 22 million pounds and was valued at $5,886,000. The 1960 crop comprised more than 21 percent of the nation’s total crop. That year 2,000,000 trees on nearly 16,000 farms produced over 8½ million pounds of pecans valued at $8,600,000.
It is my great honor to share it with you all today and as this does not bear any traces of my hand in the recipe, it shall remain under the nom de plume I’ve given it without my name gracing the post, as is appropriate. 🙂 The use of Old English® cheese is critical – many supermarkets carry it or failing its availability, a good medium to medium-sharp cheddar would be a decent substitute. Fresh Texas pecans are also a MUST – I endorse these in particular.
The Holiday season has especial meaning in 2020 – I wish all of the TFD Citizenry around the world the best wishes of the season, whether that is Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza or your preferred holiday of the month! We can ALL use best wishes and good cheer right about now, and TFD has every plan to deliver it to you, the loyal members of TFD Nation! Consider serving this as part of a Texan holiday feast, along with some Texas chili (which these REALLY complement!).
Battle on – the Generalissimo
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