How to Cook Local in Hallettsville

Me and my mom in her mom's big, open, comforting kitchen.
Photo: Stephen Orsak
Last weekend, I was in Hallettsville with my parents and brother and, with the chance to all cook together, I wanted to take advantage of any local products I could find. My parents buy produce from local farmers in Lavaca County for canning... cucumbers, beets, tomatoes. And the noodles for my extended family's Christmas gathering have often been bought straight from the noodle maker on her front porch.

Hope Shimek of Triple S Traditions.
But what about cooking for a Saturday night dinner or Sunday breakfast for just four people? My mom knew there was a farmers market starting that Saturday on the square, so we headed there first. We were disheartened seeing only two tables set up, but those two tables yielded a wide assortment of products... and both farming families were Czech. From Greg Hermes (Hermes Farms), we bought his last dozen eggs from White Longhorn chickens, zucchini, soup noodles made that week, raspberry-fig jam, and cucumbers. From Triple S Traditions (Paul, Lisa and Hope Shimek), we bought yellow squash, jalapenos, tomatoes including heirloom Romas, and kale. If we'd been more ambitious in the kitchen, there were also dewberries for a lattice-crusted pie.

Second stop was to Novosad's BBQ & Sausage Market because they had a handmade sign in the window for head sausage. My mother is not a fan of this, but my friend Lori and I are, so I picked up a link for baking in Austin and serving with bread and molasses. We could have picked up barbecue, of course, too, but had a plan to make fried chicken, so passed on what Texas Monthly has named one of the Top 50 barbecue restaurants in the state.  There were other city slickers in Novosad's when I was there; all of us had cameras out, which must amuse Nathan Novosad.

Hoffer's local veggies selection. Just dig for what you want. 
As we drove back to my grandmother's house on Alt 90, we stopped last at Hoffer's (small grocery store AND laundromat) to see what local produce they had (they always have a mix of local and things bought wholesale, so you have to ask which is which.) On this trip we bought Swiss chard and yellow beans, but someone had also brought in cucumbers, zucchini and patty pan squash. We also picked up a six pack of Shiner... with the Spoetzl Brewery only 14 miles away, it was local enough for me. Earlier in the day, my parents had also run into Janak's Packing Company further out on 90, which is a meat processor, but also sells all kinds of canned goods, and they got jalapeno mustard. With our local booty, we started planning dinner.

Our local booty... eggs, veggies, sausage, jams, mustard, beer.
The sides we decided to make are just natural combinations of flavors and colors and ingredients embedded in us, not necessarily Czech, but informed certainly by that cuisine and several generations of Texas Czechs doing what they could with what they had and making it tasty. We didn't need recipes. We boiled the beans with some new potatoes and simply buttered and salted and peppered them. The cucumbers got sliced up with tomatoes and added to some onions and then it was all dressed with a 1 to 3 ratio of white vinegar and oil, again salted and peppered. We could have added garlic or fresh dill if we'd had them. The salad tasted like summer to me.

At home in my third floor apartment with nothing but houseplants the next week, I ate sauteed Swiss chard with fried eggs on top for breakfast. For dinner, I made a small squash casserole and thought about the bounty around Hallettsville. My family and I talked about when the pecans in my grandmother's front yard would be ready and hoped the two family reunions we'd come back for in June timed perfectly with the unusual white Mustang grapes being ripe in the pasture (for jelly and maybe even wine this year.)

I did not grow up on a farm and, in my adult life, I've had my pick of anything and everything at any time from the grocery store in the urban areas I've lived in. But at what sacrifice? I'm trying to now align at least a small sliver of my life with what grows locally and at what time and tie that into my cultural heritage. I'm trying to come full circle back to, not the hardships or limitations of my ancestors, but rather the bounty and the seasonal pleasures. Yes, cooking local is now a lifestyle choice and, frankly, should be a priority. Yes, I recently read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, which definitely informed the writing of this post. And I am grateful to those who've come before me for giving me the ability to indulge in this way.


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