- From Tea Cakes to Tamales: Third-Generation Texas Recipes by Nola McKey
By Nola McKey. Illustrated by Cora McKown. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2016. xx + 263 pp. Illustrations, resources, index. $29.95 paper.
My mother's friend dissolved into tears when she bit into a piece of Amish fried chicken that tasted just like her late Mennonite grandmother's long-lost recipe. Traditional foods are a powerful conduit of cultural tradition and family memories. In From Tea Cakes to Tamales: Third-Generation Texas Recipes, Nola McKey weaves together heirloom recipes with oral histories of the women and men that made them over three or more generations. Historic photographs of the cooks and Cora McKown's watercolor illustrations of the recipes enhance this intimate portrait of Texas family traditions.
From Tea Cakes to Tamales paints a vivid portrait of historic Texas food cultures, but it is far from encyclopedic. McKey admits up front that restricting this collection to recipes made by at least three generations living in Texas limited the volume's ability to reflect that state's rich ethnic diversity. Czech, English, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Scottish, Sicilian, and even Wendish recipes testify to European immigration to the Great Plains. And Mexican, African American, and Cajun recipes represent those cultures' influence in Texas. But McKey was unable to locate any heritage American Indian recipes, and one fried rice recipe stands for all Asian traditions. Perhaps not surprisingly, dessert recipes predominate. While McKey uncovered some nineteenth-century recipes, this volume gives a much better sense for what Texans ate during the Great Depression and into the 1950s than they did on the [End Page 152] frontier. The structure of the book and manner in which its oral histories were collected tend to emphasize these recipes' timelessness, rather than placing them in historic context.
This attractive volume tells compelling stories that will interest readers in Texas and beyond. The author encourages readers to experience traditional recipes at Texas heritage festivals and historic sites, and to collect their own family recipes and memories. A handy appendix provides concrete steps for building your own heirloom cookbook. This volume is explicitly focused on Texas cuisines and traditions, but it will appeal to both scholars and general audiences interested in foodways and household labor on the Great Plains or the United States more broadly. It will prove useful to scholars, and would make a lovely gift for the foodies in your family.
University of North Dakota