If Michael Barnes’ inbox is any indication, Austinites love learning about the history of our fair city.
We want to know everything there is to know about the moonlight towers and why the streets are named the way they are. We want to know about old buildings and businesses and what the first 150 years of life in Austin were like. I share your fascination with Austin’s past, which is what inspired these Thanksgiving dishes I made for a recent Friendsgiving.
At the center was a Mexene-spiced roasted turkey, a nod to T. Bailey Walker’s famous chili powder mix that was one of the most popular food products to come out of Austin during the first half of the 1900s.
His company, Walker’s Austex Chili Company, sold canned chili con carne and tamales and Mexene chili powder out of a factory near what is now Republic Square Park. The scent of chili powder filled the air around the square from the 1920s to the 1950s, and according to some reports, he sold about 15,000 cans of Mexene chili powder a day.
Eventually, the company was sold to Bruce Foods in Houston. A few years ago, Teasdale bought the rights to sell that beautiful blue bottle of Mexene.
I love turkey with a kick, so I decided to make a Mexene rub for the outside of the bird. I didn’t want the chili powder to be the only flavor in the meat, though, so I made a citrus brine and roasted the turkey with oranges in the cavity. The combination of the smoky heat on the skin and the hint of orange in the meat was a hit with my guests.
We don’t know as much about the earliest tortilla and chip companies in Austin, but we do know that El Milagro opened on East Sixth Street in 1950, where it remained until earlier this year. Thankfully, the company, which has a production facility in San Marcos, opened a new retail store a block away at East Seventh Street.
That’s where I picked up a bag of their “estilo casera” chips that are thick enough to bring the taste of cornbread to stuffing or dressing without any sogginess. I added a hint of Fischer & Wieser’s pasilla chile sauce to the chicken broth, but any kind of chili puree or salsa (or additional peppers or even corn or cheese) would add a Tex-Mex touch to the casserole.
From 1910 to 1920, Austin produced more spinach in Texas than even Crystal City, a town in Zavala County that went on to become the spinach capital of the state. There, you’ll find a statue of Popeye. In Austin, you won’t find many remnants of this spinach boom, unless you live in East Austin, where farmers and backyard gardeners report ideal spinach-growing conditions and bountiful harvests.
To celebrate this fresh leafy green’s place in Austin history, I chose a recipe from the local olive oil and vinegar company Con’ Olio to show off both fresh spinach and the bright, green grassy flavors of high-quality olive oil. If you have vegetarians coming to dinner, use a meat-free dressing, but if you can, buy four slices of really nice bacon to add a crunch and smokiness to the dish.
For dessert, there are few Austin businesses with a longer history than Lammes Candies, which sells all kinds of candies and treats that would be a welcome host gift or treat on any holiday table.
The store and production facility are now located on Airport Boulevard, but the company got its start in 1878 on Congress Avenue downtown. The pralines, the company’s best-selling product, have been around since 1892, when David Lamme Sr. finally perfected a recipe he’d been working on for seven years. It’s been a favorite among Austinites ever since.
One company with deep roots in Austin might already be on your Thanksgiving table. Adams Extract started in the late 1800s in Michigan, but its founder, John A. Adams, came to Texas in 1905. By the time his sons were running the business in the early 1920s, they’d moved the company right next to the University of Texas, their alma mater. The company, which is now headquartered in Gonzalez, has long been known for its Adams Best vanilla extract, but they also sell all kinds of spices and spice mixes, including that pumpkin pie spice blend that gives pumpkin pie its unforgettable aroma and taste.
Mexene-Rubbed Roasted Turkey
For decades, the most popular chili spice in the country came in a blue bottle from Austin. Mexene was based in Austin from the early 1900s to the 1970s, and though it’s now based in California, longtime Texas chili lovers feel a strong connection to the brand.
Chili powder is a powerful spice mix that already includes salt, but I mixed about 2 tablespoons of Mexene with extra salt, cumin and paprika to rub all over the turkey. The drippings weren’t too spicy to use for gravy, but we also didn’t use all of them — only about 1/3 of a cup. You can find juniper berries in the bulk spice section of the grocery store, but feel free to skip or replace with peppercorns. Mexene should be available in many grocery stores, but you can also buy it online.
For the brine:
1 cup orange juice (keep the rinds if using fresh)
2 cups water
2 tablespoons juniper berries
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1 (12-lb.) turkey, thawed
For the spice rub:
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons Mexene chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, quartered
1 orange, quartered
To make the brine, bring the orange juice and water to a boil. Add the juniper berries, fennel seeds and salt. Stir to dissolve the salt. Add brine to a large pot and add between 1 and 2 gallons water, depending on the size of your turkey. You’ll want to add enough water to cover the turkey but leave at least 2 inches from the top of the pot. (You can also put the turkey in a plastic marinade bag with a hefty seal. Stored in the vegetable crisper, this is the only way I can brine a turkey in my small refrigerator. Otherwise, I have to set up coolers and ice in the garage.)
Brine the turkey for 6 to 14 hours. Drain and place breast side up in a roasting plan. Pat dry with paper towels. Using your hand, separate the turkey skin from the breast and leg meat and then spread the butter between the skin and the meat. Wash and dry your hands thoroughly.
Mix together the spices in a small bowl and dust on top of the turkey, being sure to rub the entire surface of the bird. Stuff the turkey with the onion and orange pieces.
Heat oven to 425 degrees and place rack in bottom third of oven. Roast for 30 minutes and then lower heat to 350 degrees and cook for about 90 minutes more. Check the temperature and continue roasting until a thermometer inserted near the thigh registers 165 degrees, about 2 to 3 hours, depending on the size of the bird.
Remove turkey from oven and let rest at least 15 minutes before carving.
You can use the drippings to make gravy, including the beer gravy below. If you’re not using beer, however, we discovered that a squeeze of lemon brightened the gravy and matched the citrus in the turkey meat. Carve turkey and serve with gravy.
— Addie Broyles
Celis Beer Gravy
I made this gravy for a pot roast earlier this fall, but it would be a great one for a turkey. I chose Celis beer because of its storied history in Austin, but any local beer will have a similar effect. Stay away from extremely hoppy beers, however, because they can be too bitter.
5 tablespoons oil or drippings
1/2 cup minced shallots
4 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup beer, such as Celis pale bock
Heat the oil or drippings in a pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until soft and translucent. Add the flour and whisk to absorb the fat. Add the broth and beer. Bring to a simmer, whisking often, until gravy thickens. Season to taste.
— Addie Broyles
Truth be told, when I made this stuffing at a recent Friendsgiving, I used a bag of Pepperidge Farm stuffing straight from the grocery store. I followed the instructions on the bag, except I added 2 cups crushed tortilla chips to the onions. I sauteed them, not unlike migas, before adding the stuffing mix. You’ll need more liquid to accommodate the tortilla chips, but not too much. You can always add a little more at the end right before it goes into the oven. The thickest chips from El Milagro, called “estilo casera,” are ideal, but any tostada-worthy thickness will provide that toasted masa flavor that you’re going for.
5 tablespoons butter
1 cup onion, finely minced
1 cup celery, finely chopped (optional)
3 cloves garlic
2 cups crushed tortilla chips
3 to 4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup salsa or chili sauce
1 (14-ounce) bag seasoned stuffing mix
Lightly spray or grease a 2-quart casserole dish. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter in a large, deep-sided pan over medium-high heat. Saute the onion, celery and garlic until translucent. Add the tortilla chips and cook, stirring often, for about 4 minutes.
In a large measuring cup or mixing bowl, mix together the broth and the salsa or chili puree. Add the stuffing mix to the tortilla chip mixture. Pour over about 3/4 of the broth mix and fold to combine evenly. Pour into the prepared casserole dish, top with remaining broth and bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
— Addie Broyles
Baby Spinach Salad With Aged Maple Balsamic Bacon Vinaigrette
This spinach salad recipe from Con’ Olio showcases one of Austin’s first signature crops — spinach — and the specialty store’s olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If you haven’t tried the freshest pressed olive oils, which often carry the Ultra Premium designation, you should seek some out. They make a big difference in a salad like this one.
2 quarts young spinach leaves, stems removed, washed
4 tablespoons Con’ Olio Aged Maple Balsamic Vinegar
4 slices center-cut bacon, cooked to a crisp and finely crumbled, divided
2 tablespoons aged Con’ Olio red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely minced shallots, divided
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon good-quality Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons Ultra Premium extra-virgin olive oil
Place spinach in a serving bowl.
Place the maple balsamic, half the crumbled bacon, red wine vinegar, salt, half the shallots, pepper and mustard in a small saucepan over medium heat. Gently warm while whisking — remove from heat before it reaches a simmer. Allow to cool for a minute, and then whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil to emulsify. Adjust seasoning. Gently dress spinach with warm vinaigrette and top with remaining crumbled bacon and shallots. Serve warm.
— Adapted from a recipe by Con’ Olio
Classic Pumpkin Pie
The original recipe for this pumpkin pie comes from Adams Extract, which is now based in Gonzalez. It called for 3 teaspoons of a pumpkin pie spice blend, but my son Julian accidentally used the tablespoon. We calculated that he put in just shy of 2 tablespoons of pumpkin pie spice mix. That heavily spiced filling baked in a buttery homemade pie crust made for the best pumpkin pie any of us had had in a long time.
— Addie Broyles
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell
Heat oven to 425 degrees with the rack in the center position. In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, salt, eggs, milk and pumpkin. Blend well. Add pumpkin pie spice and vanilla. Blend well. Pour into the unbaked pie shell.
Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 40 to 50 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center of the pie comes out clean. Allow pie to cool for at least 2 hours prior to serving. Top with whipping cream if desired.
— Adapted from a recipe by Adams Best
Flaky Pie Crust
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) very cold butter, cut into chunks
6 tablespoons ice water, plus more if necessary
In a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and combine until the flour and butter are crumbly and have some pieces the size of small peas. Add the water and pulse for another 5 to 10 seconds. You might have to add an additional 2 or 3 tablespoons water if the dough doesn’t press together when squished between two fingers.
Divide the dough in half and put each half in a plastic zip-top bag. Squeeze the air out of the bag and press the dough together until it forms a ball or a disc. Don’t overmix the dough or let your hands heat up the butter or else the dough will start to overmix. After you’ve formed 2 discs, refrigerate for 10 minutes before rolling out on a floured surface. If you’re not using both pie doughs, freeze or refrigerate the other. Fold the flattened disc in half over the rolling pin for easier transport to your pie pan.
— Adapted from a recipe in Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35)
GET READY TO GIVE THANKS
Thanksgiving is already texting “wheels down” from the airport — it may feel too soon (Nov. 23 is a day shy of the earliest that the holiday can take place), but the time is right to take stock and give thanks, especially after a year like this one.
We’ve had hurricanes and political turmoil, personal and societal loss, but amid the struggles, we’ve gained new friends, new perspectives, a better understanding of ourselves and maybe even a few new ways of thinking. If we’re lucky, we ate well, just as we’ll hopefully do with friends and family this week
We’d love to see pictures of your holiday meals— add #Austin360Cooks to your pictures on Instagram. If you’re eating out, use #Austin360Eats.
Over the next few weeks, let’s look back at what worked and didn’t work over the year and look ahead to see what we might tweak in the one that’s ahead, while giving ourselves all the grace we offer to the people who gather around our table.
— Addie Broyles