Setting the Texas Table

By Gloria Meraz, Assistant State Librarian

On October 1, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission will open “Setting the Texas Table,” an exhibit about the history of Texas foodways featuring artifacts from the Texas State Archives. From produce parades to the floor of the Texas Legislature, Setting the Texas Table showcases the influence of state government and industry on Texas food culture. An array of historical photos, state promotional materials, and other artifacts highlight the farms and ranches, celebrations, laws and promotions that help define what goes on the Texas table. The exhibit opens Oct. 1 and runs through April 2019.

Opening Event

Attend the exhibit opening event on Oct. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. for an opportunity to check out the new exhibit, which includes armadillo preparation techniques, a letter from former H-E-B CEO Howard Edward Butt Sr. and Red Cross ration recipes from a prisoner of war diary. Industry experts, including John Lash of Farm to Table and Mark Hyman of Llano Estacado Winery, will talk about how Texas food culture today fits in to their professional endeavors in the food industry. There will also be Texas food and drink, a one-night-only display of food-themed artifacts from the archives, and a pumpkin decorating contest with prizes for the best decorated version of Texas’ state squash. For more information on the exhibit and the Oct. 11 event, visit www.tsl.texas.gov.

Exhibit Overview

What we serve on our table is not only a product of our own history and taste but the culmination of a vast and complex enterprise. From the farmer, rancher or fisherman to the industry promoter and state official, the people and organizations behind the scenes are all part of a thriving system of food production, transportation, marketing, sale, regulation and state support.

Setting the Texas Table serves up a hearty helping of favorite dishes and documents how state government influences the foodways of Texas. The exhibit features archival records from the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Tourist Development Agency, the State Legislature and governors.

The exhibit is organized into 6 sections. Cooking Up Texas shows how Texans connect with their history and each other by sharing recipes. Featured items include publications of the Texas Department of Agriculture with industry data and cookbooks, such as The Texas Wild Game Cookbook, which offers impressive recipes for barbecued and stuffed armadillo.

The Lean Table segment focuses on the experience of food hardship during the Great Depression and WWII. Items include documents on rationing, such as a letter from
H.E. Butt to Governor Stevenson on July 8, 1943.

The practice of Farm to Market was essential in maximizing access to local products. The development of roads (physical and promotional) ensured thriving foodways. Archival records include maps of agricultural food regions and photographs of state produce operations, such as the Stugard Ranch, which grew irrigated citrus and vegetables in the Rio Grande Valley.

States often proclaim foods as “official” to promote a local product and state industries. The exhibit’s Making It Official celebrates peaches, the essential component of the official state cobbler.

No Texas food exhibit is complete without beef. The Land and Cattle section highlights elements of the industry, from branding to fencing and images of Texas stock.

Celebrating the Taste of Texas brings people together in a purposeful way to build community. The Texas State Fair, established in 1886, is perhaps the best-known state event for promoting Texas products. One of the artifacts featured is J.R.’s Secret Sauce, which was served up in the 1986 Texas Sesquicentennial.

Visit the exhibit online at https://www.tsl.texas.gov/lobbyexhibits/txtable and watch the exhibit video featuring TSLAC Archivist Halley Grogan and many vintage film clips from the TSLAC collection at https://youtu.be/KToEc-jr_3E

We hope you will come enjoy the Setting the Texas Table exhibit and join us for our informative (and nourishing!) program Thursday evening, Oct. 11.

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