Is there an avocado shortage? In Austin, hardly

The annual holiday food shortage-that’s-not-really-a-shortage is back, just in time for Cinco de Mayo.

(Before we go any further: Whatever you do this Cinco de Mayo, make sure you’re visiting this cultural appropriation checklist. It’s one thing to know about the history of Cinco de Mayo and drink a margarita (or make some guac) to celebrate the amazing cultural diversity of this country, and another to call it “Cinco de Drinko” and turn Mexican culture into a caricature.)

MORE: Quiz: How much do you know about Cinco de Mayo?

Back to the avocado business: As you’ve probably seen all over the news this week, there’s an avocado shortage this year, thanks to it being an off year for the crops in Mexico and California.

Central Market has plenty of avocados earlier this week. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Avocados are “alternate-bearing crops, with large harvests one year and smaller ones the next,” Bloomberg reported a few days ago, and this is the year when the crop is smaller. Americans are eating more than seven pounds of avocados a year, up from only a pound in 1989, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

Seven pounds of avocados is a lot, especially considering that includes people who don’t eat avocados at all or who live in parts of the country where they aren’t as readily available.

Guacamole isn’t the only way we eat our seven pounds of avocado a year. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

In Texas, that number has to be higher, thanks to the prevalence of guacamole and, yes, avocado toast. On Cinco de Mayo, lots of Texans will be scooping out that bright green avocado flesh. It’s the second-highest avocado consumption day, right behind the Super Bowl.

EVENTS: Celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Austin with these events

Although we very well could be seeing an avocado shortage in other parts of the country, it’s hard to find signs of it in Austin. I visited half a dozen grocery stores this week, and all of them had lots of avocados at reasonable prices.

Despite a comment from a store representative from H-E-B who said their avocado costs were running higher because of “growing conditions and weather events” (note: that’s not the “alternative-bearing” year reason given in the initial stories), they don’t seem to be passing the cost along to consumers, at least as of Wednesday and Thursday.

To find out how much avocado flesh is in both the small and large Hass avocados, I weighed them whole and without the seed and skin. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Both Central Market and H-E-B had plenty of cases of avocados at regular prices: 68 cents for the smaller avocados and $1.78 for the larger. (That’s the typical price, unless they are on sale for 50 cents/$1.50.)

Shortage averted, I decided to answer a question I’ve always had: How many small avocados are in a big one? As in, is there a cost savings if I buy two or three small of the small ones instead of a big one, or vice versa?

I got out my kitchen scale to find out. It turns out that the seeds of both of my samples weighed the same amount: 31 grams. The smaller one, minus the seed and skin, was just over 100 grams, exactly half of the amount of bright green creamy flesh contained in the bigger one.

The takeaway: At 68 cents, you can buy two avocados for $1.36 and save yourself 40 cents for the same amount of avocado. 

Small avocados (left) have about half as much flesh as the larger one, but cost about a third of the price, making them more economical if you are making guacamole. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

There’s one caveat, however: Frequent avocado buyers know that that quality of the smaller avocados is less assured. Even though both are usually Hass avocados, the larger ones tend to be higher in quality.

When you’re making guacamole, quality matters, but because the dish is all smashed together, it’s easier to hide imperfections, so for my money, you can go with the small avocados and save a bit of money.

Since I was working with avocados, I decided to do a side-by-side taste comparison of the H-E-B prepared guacamole and Good Foods’ sealed tableside chunky guacamole.

In a taste best between H-E-B’s prepared guacamole and the Good Foods’ sealed prepared product that’s available in many stores, we liked the Good Foods’ brand because it had a less-overwhelming taste of lime. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

They were the same cost for the same amount and a nearly exact ingredient deck. However, when we pulled out our chips, it became clear that the H-E-B guacamole had significantly more lime juice. Too much for our liking, especially when eaten right after the more balanced Good Foods’ guacamole.

 

El Milagro closes iconic Sixth Street location, moves one block north

El Milagro, the popular chip and tortilla-maker that is based in Chicago but has deep roots in Austin, has closed its longtime location on East Sixth Street to move to another space at 905 E. Seventh St.

El Milagro has had a location on East Sixth Street for many years, and it recently moved one block north to East Seventh Street. Matthew Odam / American-Statesman

The Sixth Street store closed about three weeks ago, according to an employee in the store, and just like the old space, the new location carries fresh masa, tortillas and various kinds of chips and tostadas, all of which are made at a San Marcos production facility.

The new El Milagro on East Seventh sells the same masa, tortillas and chips as the location on East Sixth. Matthew Odam / American-Statesman

The East Austin store is open from Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. 4:30 p.m., Saturday from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

I’m trying to find out a little more about the history of the Sixth Street space. If you have any details or memories of the tortilleria, let me know by emailing abroyles@statesman.com or calling 512-912-2504.

El Milagro chips are known as some of the best in Central Texas, and you can buy them by the big bag at the retail location at 905 E. Seventh St. Matthew Odam / American-Statesman

 

 

 

 

New Sweden Lutheran Church celebrates May with traditional Swedish dinner, maypole

Swedish meatballs, lingonberry jam and open-faced sandwiches are staples of Swedish culture and cuisine, and despite the thousands of Swedes who settled in Central Texas, it can be hard to find those foods outside IKEA these days.

RELATED: Exploring Swedish heritage through a midsummer feast at Ikea 

Ancestry trip to Sweden leads to new flavors, culinary discoveries

But on May 6, the communities of Carlson, Kimbro, Lund and Manda will gather at the New Sweden Lutheran Church in Manor for the New Sweden Heritage Center’s fourth annual Heritage Day May Fest.

The New Sweden Lutheran Church outside Manor will host a Swedish Heritage Day on May 6. Contributed by New Sweden Church

Starting at 3 p.m. Saturday at the church at 12809 New Sweden Church Road, descendants of the Swedes who settled the area, as well as Swedish ex-pats and others with an affinity for Scandinavian culture, will enjoy a maypole, silent auction and a traditional Swedish meal, followed by a program in the sanctuary at 6 p.m.

Tickets for the meal are $15 for adults and $8 for children ages 4 to 9, and you can buy them no later than Wednesday by calling the church office at 512-281-0056.

What’s the most Texas dish to celebrate Texas Independence Day?

There’s a movement afoot to change Texas’ official dish from chili to tacos.

This Missouri transplant certainly eats tacos more than chili, but I also enjoy my chili with beans and am still learning to say “fixin to” instead of “getting ready to.”

MORE: No fighting about breakfast tacos allowed in ‘Tacos of Texas’

I have, however, become super interested in food and Texas history since I moved here in 2005, including Texas Independence Day, which is today. (Here’s how/where to celebrate.)

Texas sheet cake, King Ranch chicken, Frito pie and Texas caviar are some of the state-specific foods I learned about when I arrived, and I’ve had fun profiling over Texas food history overs over the years.

K.R. Wood makes chili at his Manchaca home. KR Wood, a singing cowboy historian from Manchaca who teaches kids about Texas history through chuckwagon cooking, makes chili over a fire. 02.18. 2014 LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN 022614 relish austin
KR Wood, a singing cowboy historian from Manchaca who teaches kids about Texas history through chuckwagon cooking, makes chili over a fire.
LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

There was this singing cowboy, who was probably my favorite.

Celebrating Texas Independence Day with a singing chuck wagon cook who knows his history

Last year, Jessica Dupuy published a “United Tastes of Texas” cookbook that included enough Texas recipes to keep you busy for a year.

King Ranch chicken is one of the classic Texas recipes from Jessica Dupuy's "United Tastes of Texas" cookbook. Photos from Southern Living
King Ranch chicken is one of the classic Texas recipes from Jessica Dupuy’s “United Tastes of Texas” cookbook. Photos from Southern Living

King Ranch Chicken

Hailing from an era when casseroles were king, this Tex-Mex addition reigns supreme as the staple dish for church suppers and neighborhood potlucks. Though not an invention of the famed King Ranch — it’s more likely the invention of a Junior League member — the spicy flavors of chili powder, roasted peppers and cumin never fail to please.

— Jessica Dupuy

Vegetable cooking spray
6 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped poblano peppers (about 2 medium peppers)
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 (10-oz.) can diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained
1 1/2 cups sour cream
2 lb. Smoked Chicken (recipe follows), coarsely chopped (about 5 cups)
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
18 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1/4 cup canola oil
For garnish: chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 13-inch-by-9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and next 3 ingredients; sauté 8 to 10 minutes or until tender and lightly browned. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper and cook 1 minute.

Sprinkle flour over vegetable mixture and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Whisk in broth and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil 1 to 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat. Add tomatoes and sour cream.

Stir together chicken and cilantro; stir in vegetable mixture until blended. Combine cheeses in a small bowl.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Lightly brush each tortilla on both sides with oil. Cook tortillas, in batches, in hot skillet until lightly browned and crisp on both sides.

Line bottom of prepared baking dish with 6 tortillas, overlapping slightly, to cover bottom of dish. Top with half of chicken mixture and 1/3 of cheese. Repeat layers once. Top with remaining tortillas and cheese. Lightly coat a sheet of aluminum foil with cooking spray and cover baking dish.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 more minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned on top. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with cilantro. Serves 12.

— From “United Tastes of Texas: Authentic Recipes from All Corners of the Lone Star State” by Jessica Dupuy (Oxmoor House, $24.95)

Smoked Chicken

Piloncillo is a raw sugar made from reduced cane juice. It’s sold molded into cone shapes and is sometimes labeled panela. To measure, place the cone in a zip-top plastic freezer bag and pound it with a meat mallet to break it apart.

— Jessica Dupuy

3 to 4 oak, hickory or pecan wood chunks
1 cup firmly packed piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar), about 1 (8-oz.) cone (can substitute dark brown sugar)
1 Tbsp. ancho chili powder
1 Tbsp. table salt
1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 (3 3/4- to 4-lb.) whole chickens

Soak wood chunks in water to cover 1 hour.

Meanwhile, combine piloncillo and next 3 ingredients in a small bowl. Rub chickens with piloncillo mixture and let stand 30 minutes.

Prepare smoker according to manufacturer’s directions. Place water pan in smoker; add water to depth of fill line. Bring internal temperature to 225 degrees to 250 degrees and maintain temperature 15 to 20 minutes.

Drain wood chunks, and place on coals. Place chickens on food cooking grate; close smoker. Smoke 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until a meat thermometer inserted into thickest portion of thighs registers 165 degrees.

Remove chickens from smoker and let stand 20 minutes before slicing. Serves 12.

— From “United Tastes of Texas: Authentic Recipes from All Corners of the Lone Star State” by Jessica Dupuy (Oxmoor House, $24.95)

Secret ingredient to these cakelike cookies? Nostalgia (and ricotta)

Sue Dorrance from Round Rock surprised us with her mom’s ricotta cookies.

Sue Dorrance's mother made these ricotta cookies for many years, and now she's carrying on the tradition. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
Sue Dorrance’s mother made these ricotta cookies for many years, and now she’s carrying on the tradition. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

“These were a staple back when I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Every bridal shower, every baby baptism featured these cookies,” she says. “When I eat these, I think of all the people who enjoyed these cookies with me over the years.”

Like many Italian ricotta cookies, this one has a somewhat cakelike consistency, and they aren’t very sweet, but they are just right with the royal icing on top. Dorrance is a librarian at Stony Point High School, and she tints the icing with blue and gold when she makes these cookies for the softball team. “I am their super fan,” she wrote in her submission.

Joan White’s Ricotta Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 cups sugar
1 lb. ricotta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
For the icing:
1 lb. powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. milk, plus more for thinning icing
Food coloring, as desired

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Using standing mixer, if possible, blend butter and sugar. Add cheese, blend well. Add beaten eggs and vanilla and mix until blended. Mix in flour, 1 cup at a time; add baking soda and salt with the first cup of flour.

Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls on greased cookie sheet — they will spread a bit. Bake 15 minutes or until edges just begin to brown. (You can check the bottom of a cookie; it should be golden but not brown.)

For the icing: Blend powdered sugar with 3 Tbsp. milk. If necessary, add more milk, a little at a time, to make a spreadable consistency, but not so thin as to be a glaze. Add food coloring as desired, and spoon a little on top of each cooled cookie. Depending on size of cookie, this recipe can make 4 dozen or more cookies.

— From Sue Dorrance

5 Days of Scandinavia: Falling in love with IKEA food all over again (except the veggie balls)

These heart-shaped waffles are some of our favorite items from the IKEA store in Round Rock. Photo by Julian Knox-Broyles.
These heart-shaped waffles are some of our favorite items from the IKEA store in Round Rock. Photo by Julian Knox-Broyles.

For a few years now, I’ve been fascinated with IKEA’s role in Texas-Swedish culture.

The home furnishing giant, which started in Sweden in 1943 and opened its first Texas store in 2005, flourished in the U.S. more than 100 years after Swedish immigrants started settling here.

Swedes were hugely influential in Central Texas starting in the mid-1800s, and many of the streets, parks and landmarks, especially in Williamson County, are named after Swedish settlers. Even Austin Bergstrom International Airport is named after a Swede.

Yet we eat kolaches and not kanelbullar.

Not to say that Czech culture in Texas isn’t equally as important or worth preserving, but Texas-Czech culture is thriving in a way that Texas-Swedish culture is not. There is a Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in Austin, and Swedes in Elgin and New Sweden host mid-summer and St. Lucia celebrations, but for the most part, Austinites don’t see evidence of Swedish influence on Texas in the same way that we see German and Czech influences, especially when it comes to food.

Except when you go to IKEA.

At a midsummer celebration a few years ago, I was blown away to see so many Swedish expats, Swedish-Texans or people who just have an interest in Swedish culture gathering to eat Jansson’s Temptation (a creamy potato casserole) and sip on lingonberry soda.

Once I saw IKEA through a different lens, I started to love going there, specifically to buy food from the small grocery market near the exit. Right before my trip to Sweden, I stopped by IKEA to stock up on meatballs, cinnamon rolls, pear soda and lingonberry jam so that my kids, who were staying with my parents in Missouri, could have a taste of Scandinavia while I was gone.

Two weeks later, on the way home from picking them up after I returned, we stopped by IKEA again to drop another $60 on Swedish food. Call it an at-home souvenir.

In that shopping trip, I picked up several new food items I hadn’t tried before, including the vegetable balls that IKEA launched in 2015 and a boxed multigrain bread mix.

veggieballsI tried the veggie balls during this week’s Facebook livestream — I do these every Wednesday at noon — and as you can see, I was not a fan. At the store, they serve the veggie balls with an Indian-spiced sweet potato sauce that might improve their flavor, but when simply baked in the oven, they tasted like pea paste studded with pieces of corn and bell peppers. I’ve had a few people tell me they like these veggie balls, but maybe I just don’t love the taste of peas enough to like them.

Or maybe I love their regular meatballs too much to be able to fairly judge them.

The second new product was this multi-grain baking mix that comes in what looks like a square milk carton. I had this bread several times in Sweden, where it is generally called seeded rye bread. The mix has wheat and rye flours, wheat and rye flakes, sunflower seeds, linseed, malt and yeast, and to make it, you pour hot water directly in the carton, close it up and shake the heck out of it for 45 seconds. Pour the batter into a bread pan, let rise for 45 minutes and then bake at 400 degrees for 60 minutes.

I should have pulled the loaf out after about 50 minutes because it’s extra crusty on top and a little too chewy on the edges, but in general, this is a good approximation of the dense, hearty bread you’ll find served with hard-boiled eggs, salmon, tiny shrimp or ham for breakfast, lunch or fika, the afternoon snack.

What are we doing with the rest of the haul? Making elderflower kombucha, celebrating the end of the school week with the sparkling pear cider and trying to limit our intake of the chocolate heart cookies and the heart-shaped waffles. (I already finished the package of dill gravlax.)

What do you like from the IKEA restaurant or food store? Where are the hidden pockets of Swedish culture that I’ve been looking for? Have a good recipe for Swedish meatballs to share?

IKEA now sells a box of multigrain bread mix. All you have to do is add hot water to the box and shake to mix. Bake for about an hour at 400 degrees. Photo by Addie Broyles.
IKEA now sells a box of multigrain bread mix. All you have to do is add hot water to the box and shake to mix. Bake for about an hour at 400 degrees. Photo by Addie Broyles.

 

 

How a Texas newspaperman’s invention led to creation of Key lime pie

A poster for an early version of Borden's condensed milk. Image via WikiCommons.
A poster for an early version of Borden’s condensed milk. Image via WikiCommons.

Does Gail Borden Jr.’s name ring a bell?

You’ve probably seen the Borden brand of milk in stores, but Borden’s legacy goes even deeper than that. Borden was a New Yorker who found his way to Texas in the years before the Alamo. He and his brother ran a newspaper outside what is now the Houston area during the Texas Revolution. He got involved in politics during the Republic of Texas era, serving several roles under Sam Houston, but by the middle of the century, he’d started developing food products, including a dried meat biscuit that never took off.

However, after a journey across the Atlantic in which the cows on the ship got sick and died — and sickened children who drank the milk — Borden set out to find a new way to preserve milk. In 1856, he was awarded a patent for condensing milk through a vacuum process, and by the late 1850s, he had left Texas and was back in the Northeast, where he started the New York Condensed Milk Company, which provided millions of pounds of condensed milk to troops during the Civil War.

According to Key lime pie historian David Sloan, Borden’s shelf-stable and calorie-dense creation was a humanitarian effort to ease malnutrition and increase food safety, but it was also a boon to the Florida Keys, where refrigeration, ice and just about anything made with milk were hard if not impossible to come by until the Overseas Highway connected the islands to mainland Florida in 1930.

Canned milk allowed people living in the Keys to make ice cream and cream sauces. Key limes were abundant on the islands, so it was only a matter of time before cooks combined the two to create a pie that had silky smooth filling without a drop of quick-to-spoil milk or cream.

Nowadays, every corner store in the country carries fresh milk, and some of our refrigerators are the size of small cars. But I think there’s still something charming about taking the road well-traveled and starting dessert by whipping out your can opener.

RELATED: How to make Key lime pie-inspired margarita pies

The company eventually became Eagle Brand, and though the milk distribution company that now bears his name is not affiliated with any of Borden’s original companies, his name and legacy continue in surprising ways. For example, Borden County in West Texas, and its county seat of Gail, were posthumously named after him, even though he never set foot in that part of the state.

 

 

Graham Cracker Toffee and other treats from “Food Gift Love”

Maggie-Battista-Food-Gift-LoveMaggie Battista knows what you want under the tree.

The founder of Eat Boutique (eatboutique.com), a website dedicated to food gifts, either homemade or purchased, has released an entire book of food-based projects you can gift. “Food Gift Love” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25) includes recipes for jams, marmalades and sauces, as well as homemade vinegars, extracts, syrups and infused spirits. Not all of the gifts are tied to winter holidays, which makes the book a little more useful the other 10 months out of the year.

If you’re interested in taking a class in gift-making, the Container Store, 9629 Research Blvd., is hosting a DIY gift demo on Saturday with Austin blogger Jeanine Donofrio of loveandlemons.com, who is releasing her first book next year. The event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday is free and you can RSVP at containerstore.com/rsvp/holidayAUS.

toffee
This graham cracker toffee is one of the many DIY gifts featured in ‘Food Gift Love’ by EatBoutique.com founder Maggie Battista. Photo by Heidi Murphy

Graham Cracker Toffee

This treat is less toffee and more a delicious hack of graham crackers, butter and sugar — but no matter what you call it, it might be the first thing to disappear from your cookie tin.

12 large graham crackers, broken into halves
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 Tbsp. coconut oil

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with aluminum foil, setting one aside for later use. Arrange the graham crackers on the other sheet, with each cracker touching the next.

Melt the butter in a small pot over low heat. Stir in the sugar and simmer (do not boil) about 10 minutes, just until the sugar melts. Stir occasionally to help the sugar dissolve. Pour the hot mixture over the graham crackers and spread it evenly to cover all the crackers. Sprinkle the nuts over the graham crackers. Bake about 10 minutes, keeping a close eye on them so they don’t burn.

Remove the graham crackers from the oven and let cool on a cooling rack 8 to 10 minutes. Remove each cracker to the second lined baking sheet, taking care to make sure the crackers do not touch each other this time.

In a double boiler set over medium heat, place a bit of water in the bottom pot, making sure the water doesn’t touch the underside of the top pot. (If you do not have a double boiler, just place a metal or glass bowl on top of a medium pot.)

Place the chocolate and coconut oil in the top part of the double boiler. Stir and melt until the chocolate forms drippy ribbons when you lift your rubber spatula from the pot.

Pour the melted chocolate into a plastic bag. Cut a tiny corner off the bag and immediately begin drizzling the chocolate all over the graham crackers until all the chocolate is used.

Let it harden overnight at room temperature, and store in an airtight container up to 1 week. Makes 48 pieces.

— From “Food Gift Love” by Maggie Battista (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25)

LBJ recipes available at presidential library, online

The LBJ Presidential Library is selling sets of recipe cards from the Johnson family. Photo from the LBJ Library.
The LBJ Presidential Library is selling sets of recipe cards from the Johnson family. Photo from the LBJ Library.

Lady Bird Johnson’s family recipes have been circulating in Central Texas since before the first family moved into the White House. You might have some of them in your own recipe collection. But the LBJ Presidential Library, which houses dozens of Lady Bird’s beloved recipes, has compiled 18 of them into a new gift set available at the library or online.

The recipe set includes beef picadillo, molded cranberry salad, spinach souffle and the classic Texas Trash snack mix. It’s likely that some of the dishes are from longtime Johnson family cook Zephyr Wright, who created the family’s famous Pedernales River Chili recipe.

Each card features a favorite family recipe used for holiday meals at the White House or the LBJ Ranch, and the set is available in the library store for $8.75. You can also buy them at shop.lbjstore.com.

Texas Trash

1/2 box Cheerios
1 box Rice Chex
1 box tiny pretzel sticks
1 lb. pecans or mixed nuts
1/2 cup margarine (or butter)
1/2 cup bacon drippings
1 Tbsp. garlic salt
1 Tbsp. savory salt
1 Tbsp. Tabasco
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire

Mix Cheerios, Chex and pretzels together. Add nuts. Melt margarine and bacon drippings, then add seasonings. Put nut-cereal mixture in a large pan. (Lady Bird used a turkey roaster.) Pour liquid mixture over cereal mixture. Place in a 350 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Stir often. Makes 10 pints.

— From Lady Bird Johnson

From the archives: Zephyr Wright’s legacy lives on through famous LBJ chili recipe

(Editor’s note: The item was originally posted on Oct. 17, 2011.)

zephyrparty.JPG
Zephyr Wright with the Johnson Family. From the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum archives.

The legacy of the LBJ family’s Pedernales River chili has lived on long past the first family who made it famous, but the story of Zephyr Wright, the longtime Johnson family cook who created it, isn’t as well known.

The chili is simple by today’s standards: ground meat, onions, tomatoes, salt, cumin seeds, chili powder, hot sauce and two little old cloves of garlic that would blush at the number of ingredients that go in most chili pots these days, including my own.

But more than 50 years after people first started requesting the recipe from Lady Bird, the Johnson family chili recipe is still making the rounds, most recently in a new book called “ Eating With Uncle Sam ,” that was published in conjunction with a National Archives exhibit about how the government, including presidential recipes, affects the American diet. Last week, as I was writing a story about the book and its Texas ties , I realized that there was far more to this chili and the cook who created it than the recipe indicates.

Wright often cooked chili for the family on their famous Stonewall ranch, and after Johnson had a heart attack, out went the beef suet . So many people requested the chili recipe that the White House printed it up on recipe cards that could be easily mailed out, and the recipe has been printed in a number of books and newspapers in the half century since Johnson took office.

“For everyday eating, Lady Bird brought along Mrs. Zephyr Wright, the Johnsons’ cook for 21 years,” a Time magazine reporter wrote in an article in December 1963 . “Zephyr is an expert at spoon bread, homemade ice cream and monumental Sunday breakfasts of deer sausage, home-cured bacon, popovers, grits, scrambled eggs, homemade peach preserves and coffee.”

Wright is rarely credited, but her work didn’t go unnoticed and her impact on the Johnsons goes far beyond peach preserves and chili.

chilirecipe pedernalesriver (450x308)The top photo of Wright and Luci Johnson is from a 1965 birthday party that the family hosted for Wright, and the families were so close that some in Johnson’s administration believe that the Wright and her husband Sammy, who was the family chauffeur, directly influenced Johnson’s decision to make civil rights a priority.

In fact, Zephyr Wright was in attendance when Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and when the president was done signing the bill, he gave her the pen he used.

“‘You deserve this more than anybody else’,” Leonard H. Marks, director of the U.S. Information Agency during the Johnson administration, recalls the president telling her .

(You can hear Wright talk briefly about her days at the White House in this 2008 NPR report from the Kitchen Sisters about the complex history of presidential cooks.)

030 (450x338)

I was thinking about Wright when I cooked a batch of her chili last week for the story. She died in the 1988, but her legacy lives on through her recipes, even if her name isn’t in capital letters at the top of the page.