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Clay Coppedge
Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Tasty Texas Ingenuity

by Clay Coppedge
Contrary to stereotype, Texas history is more than a land of cowboys, Comanches, revolution, outlaws and cattle. Quite a few Texans, famous and otherwise, tried to make Texas and the world a tastier place. Here's few original Texas foodies and the food (and drinks) they bestowed upon the world.

Charles Alderton and Dr Pepper. Charles Alderton, a young pharmacist at Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store in Waco (when it was still called Six-Shooter Junction) in 1885, loved the smells of his soda fountain so much that he started experimenting with the fruit syrups he served by mixing a little of this with a little of that to find a potion that tasted as good as his soda fountain smelled. Once he thought he had it right he shared the new drink with his boss, who liked it enough to serve it to his customers.

"Shoot me a Waco" customers would say when they ordered one, and they ordered a lot of them.

Wade Morrison, owner of the soda fountain, hooked up with a beverage chemist named Robert S. Lazenby to open the Artesian Mfg. & Bottling Company. According to the Texas State Historical Association they later changed the name to Dr Pepper (no period after Dr) to honor Dr. Charles T. Pepper. Dr Pepper made its national and world debut at the 1904 World's Fair Exposition in St. Louis, along with the hot dog and ice cream cone. The country's eating and drinking habits would never be the same.
Texas Rio Grande Valley Grapefruit
Texas Rio Grande Valley Grapefruit
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
John Shary and Texas grapefruit. The Texas grapefruit industry as we know it today started in 1929 when a South Texas farmer discovered a red grapefruit growing on a pink marsh tree, a genetic fluke that Texas growers quickly turned green by manufacturing red grapefruit exclusively. Similar mutations were subsequently found in several South Texas groves in the 1920s and 30s, and each new variety was named for the grower who found it.

Grapefruit had become a Texas thing in 1910 when John H. Shary, often called the father of the Texas grapefruit industry, rebuilt the local irrigation system around Mission and sold small, irrigated plots to citrus farmers. Today, the Lower Rio Grande Valley, particularly Hidalgo and Cameron counties, produce about seven percent of the nation's grapefruit. The Texas legislature designated the red grapefruit as the state fruit of Texas in 1993. Rio Red is the main Texas variety, accounting for about 80 percent of the state's grapefruit production and marketed as Rio Star. Other varieties are marketed as Ruby-Sweet.

Brad Cowan, Hidalgo County agriculture extension agent, says that South Texas grapefruit growers are justifiably proud of their product. "It really is the world's best grapefruit," he says. "People have an idea that grapefruit is always bitter, but Texas grapefruit is very sweet"
Texas Rio Grande Valley Grapefruit adertisement
The Lower Rio Grande Valley
Texas Grapefruit

Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
Texas Rio Grande Citrus Orchard
Texas Rio Grande Valley Citrus Orchard
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
Charles Doolin and the Frito. Charles Doolin's father, C. B. Doolin, invented what might have been the precursor of the steel belt in steel-belted tires, and he taught his sons how mechanical things work and the importance of writing patents for anything they invented. Charles extended that notion to food, even if he didn't invent it.

Long before Doolin ever tried one, fritos were known in Mexico as the perfect beach food. Fritos translates from Spanish as "fried" and people called the little corn chips "little fried things." Fritos.

Charles Doolin learned all this when he went looking for a new treat for the family's confectionary in San Antonio and spied an ad placed by Gustavo Olguin in the July 10, 1932 edition of the San Antonio Express. Olguin wanted to sell an original recipe for corn chips, an adapted potato ricer and 19 retails accounts. Doolin liked the taste of the corn chips and paid $100 for the whole package.

The family started out making corn chips with the adapted potato ricer and premade masa (corn dough) that they bought from a tortilla factory. They named the corn chips Fritos. In September of 1932, two months after Doolin's deal with Olguin, Doolin chartered the Frito Company. By 1933, Doolin had a patent for a "hammer press" to mass produce the chips, and by 1947 the company had five manufacturing plants and franchises across the country.

Fritos merged with the Lay Potato Chip Company of Georgia in 1961 to form the Frito Lay Company, which became a subsidiary of PepsiCo in 1965. In May of this year, Forbes Magazine listed Frito-Lay as the world's 40th most valuable brand, with an estimated brand value of $13.6 billion. The company's headquarters are in Plano.
T.C. Nye, George Copp and the Texas Onion. If Texas weren't already so well known for commodities like cows, cotton and corn, we might be known instead for our onions, the state's number one vegetable crop. The sweet yellow Bermuda onions that connoisseurs like to say "you can eat like an apple" originated here by way of the Canary Islands.
Packing Bermuda Onions - Texas Gulf Coast Country
"Packing Bermuda Onions - Texas Gulf Coast Country
Reached by Rock-Island Frisco Lines"

Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
Consumers who buy onions at the grocery store, especially early in the year, are probably buying a Texas onion. Onion sales bring between $70 million and $100 million to the state every year with an overall economic impact of about $350 million, according to figures from Texas A&M University. It all started with a single packet of Bermuda onion seeds that T.C. Nye and George Copp planted near Cotulla in 1898. They sent the onions from that seed to Milwaukee, which may have been the first commercial shipment of onions anywhere in the country.

Wisconsin responded to that first shipment with a simple plea: "Send more onions!"

Nye reportedly made a previously unheard of $1,000 an acre on his crops. By 1907, Texas was shipping more than a thousand railroad cars of onions a year. That number more than doubled the next year. But onions have not always been a sure thing in Texas.

Low prices drove a lot of the early growers out of business by the time World War I started, but the war actually gave the onion industry a much-needed boost by creating food shortages in Europe, which Texas onions helped battle. By the 1920s, almost inevitably, the market slumped because of falling prices and overproduction.

During that same time, Bermuda onions seeds were becoming scare because of high demand. The Texas farmers were planting more seeds than the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, the principal producer, could ship. In a frantic race to keep up with demand, seed quality declined.

The first Grano onions were brought here from Spain in 1925 in response to the seed crisis. In 1933 the Texas Agriculture Experiment Station launched an onion breeding program that led to the development of the Texas Grano 502, the mother of all the sweet onions in the world today. Adapted to short days and moderately cool temperatures, they thrive in the Rio Grande Valley and Winter Garden areas of the state.

One of the most popular varieties is the Texas 1015Y variety. The numbers tell the growers when to plant - on October 15 - and the Y refers to the yellow color. Transplants are harvested in September for shipment in December to the Southern U.S. and through April for the northern markets, including Canada.

Consumers across the country are still asking Texas to "send more onions."
Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" December 2, 2018 column

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  • Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

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