Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at at time.

Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at a time.

Friday, August 22, 2014

BBQ is not only a Texas tradition, it’s a family tradition

Texas and barbecue are considered synonymous by many. Barbecue is, however, only one of the dishes considered traditionally Texan and it lags behind the king: chili.

That being said, I am going to address barbecue because I am constantly asked, “Hey Janna. You’re a Texan. Where do I go for great barbecue?”

My response almost always is, “Memphis.”

I hate barbecue.

There. I said it. I can’t stand the stuff. I think it tastes like shoe leather slathered in rancid ketchup. When it comes to barbecue, I become a high-maintenance princess and I whine. When asked where I want to go for lunch or dinner, I answer, “Anything BUT barbecue.”

I should turn in my Texas passport.

Truthfully, my taste buds prefer haute cuisine. I’m all about home cooking, but if you chuck words and phrases at me like “demi glace” and “reduction sauce,” you will have my full attention. But barbecue? Just the mention of it makes me throw up in my mouth a little.

My hatred of barbecue stems from the fact that there is so much bad barbecue out there, so I should probably say that I hate BAD barbecue. I have had great barbecue too and I did enjoy it.

Texas Monthly, that yankee-run rag in Austin that touts itself as the National Magazine of Texas, runs a list of top-rated barbecue joints every year. And almost every year, one joint appears in the list: Casstevens Cash & Carry in Lillian.

I am writing about Casstevens Cash & Carry because my cousin, Harold Dan, once owned and ran it. Casstevens is my maiden name. If you meet a Casstevens in Texas, yes, we are related and proudly so. Doesn’t matter how; just know that we are and that’s all you need to know.

I have been blessed to eat Harold Dan’s BBQ and it is everything that New York-inspired publication says it is. Thanks to Harold Dan, I can still call myself a Texan.

Now I must tell you this before we go any further: if you see a barbecue joint with “barbecue” in the name, the food is terrible. The fewer the letters in the name, the better the ‘cue. So it is with Casstevens Cash & Carry. The sign announcing the fare served reads “BBQ” as it should.

I am not endorsing Casstevens Cash & Carry. I am simply stating my experience with the place and bragging about my family. This is Texas; it’s what we do. And you are reading this column for my slanted, biased, Lone Star-centric musings. You have been warned.

I had the pleasure of CC&C’s ‘cue 13 years ago at a family reunion. Harold Dan catered. I gagged silently at the thought of eating barbecue, but because Harold Dan is family, I ate the stuff. After all, blood is thicker than barbecue sauce. I was converted. I became a fan of barbecue. Well, sort of. I only eat GOOD barbecue or “BBQ,” if you will, and CC&C’s more than qualifies.

I spoke on the phone with Angela Ashley, an employee of CC&C. She told me that the family no longer owns the business, but that we’re still involved. Harold Dan is at the store every day and still dispensing ‘cue advice. He is, in uppity business terms, a “‘cue consultant” now, as he should be.

If you don’t mind making the drive, CC&C is located at 11025 E. FM 917, Lillian, TX 76061. Call 817-790-2545 if you get lost and to make sure they are open when you go to visit.

To be fair, I must mention other BBQ enterprises around the state. I am told by my Texas compatriots and friends that Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in Llano is excellent, though the name makes it suspect. So is Snow’s BBQ in Lexington and Wild Blue BBQ in Los Fresnos. I mention those two because, BBQ is in the name and we all know what that means.

The so-called National Magazine of Texas also promotes some who have all the variations of the spelling: barbecue, bar-b-q, bar-b-que and barbeque.

All that being said, you be the judge and remember what I’ve told you about what’s in a name. As for me, I plan a drive to North Texas in the near future, home of my Texan forefathers, to tread the boards of a sacred place and once again experience the BBQ that has helped me keep my Texas citizenship.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Traveling Texas highways means miles of driving, memories

Texas is a big state. Before Alaska became a state in 1959, Texas was the largest of the then-48 states. I’ve heard Texas is so big and is shaped the way that it is because we were once a sovereign nation and got to choose our own boundary lines, but I haven’t yet verified that information. It sounds plausible to me, though.

The wide open spaces of Texas become apparent as you drive through it. Bob Wills penned the tune, “Miles and Miles of Texas” for a reason. It’s about a six-hour drive to Texarkana from here. It’s nearly seven hours to Brownsville. It’s only three hours to Houston or Dallas and an hour to Austin from here. But as many of you Fort Bliss alumni are well aware, it’s almost nine hours to El Paso.

If you average 65 miles per hour on the road to El Paso, then that averages out to about 585 miles of road.

I knew some people from back East who were invited to a wedding in Waxahachie. They thought they’d just fly into Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on the day of the wedding, get a hotel in Dallas and just drive about five minutes to get to the wedding.

Waxahachie is forty miles south of Dallas. On Interstate 35 with traffic, the drive averages out to about an hour of travel time. You can’t just “pop down to Waxahachie” from Dallas. You have to plan for it. It’s one of those things you learn when you live here.

Those East Coast folks learned the hard way, bless their hearts.

By the way, for a Texan to cross state lines is something of an out-of-body experience for us. It’s like the force-field that holds us here is shattered and we’re lost in space. I’ve driven from Tyler to New Orleans, La. and I can tell you that a Texan out of state is like the proverbial fish out of water. We’re used to driving for hours and hours across Texas and when the state line rises up to greet us, it’s like having the rug jerked out from under us. I know it’s crossed my mind as to whether I need a special plug adaptor for my hair dryer in Louisiana, because in my Lone Star State mind, I know I’m in a “whole ‘nuther country.” I remember crossing the Red River on a road trip to Eureka Springs, Ark. with my grandmother. We crossed the state line in Texarkana and I said, “Gammy, we’re in Arkansas!” to which my grandmother replied, “Honey, we’re in Hell.”

That was in 1980 and Gammy is long gone, y’all, so--with apologies to my Arkansan friends and relatives (I have a cousin up there)--please don’t take umbrage at that. Arkansas is a lovely state and people really should go see Eureka Springs.

Several years ago, my daughters and I went up to Greenville to a wedding shower for my cousin, Rachel. Lisa and Katie chirped, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” the entire way. As is stated in the song, they saw miles and miles of Texas. Honestly, they love a road trip and will jump at the chance to go anywhere. So we went 210 miles north and 210 miles south in 24 hours. Along the way, I pointed out the many landmarks of my childhood memories from the times my father and I rode up and down Interstates 35 and 30. I marveled at the sign indicating that Texarkana was another 140 miles from Greenville. Even to this Texan, Texas is big. “Mama,” Katie asked. “Why does it take so long to get where we’re going?”

“Well, honey, Texas is a big state,” I said, my heart swelling up a little and a lump forming in my throat. I remember asking my father that question on more than one occasion, and here I was repeating a little bit of personal history with my own daughters. “You can’t really appreciate the size of our state until you’ve driven just about every mile of it,” I added.

As we traveled through Dallas the night before the wedding shower, I pointed out the giant, red neon “Pegasus” on top of the Magnolia Building.

“Girls, look at Pegasus,” I said. “When we moved home from Wisconsin when I was just a little older than you are now, I asked my mother how I would know I was home and she said, ‘Look for Pegasus.’ And he has been there welcoming Texans home since 1934.” I confess I got a little weepy seeing the big red flying horse again. Dallas was my home for seven years. Before that, it was something I always saw on shopping trips to Dallas with my parents when I was a girl growing up in Tyler. To see Pegasus again meant that I was home…except that this time, I was just passing through.

Driving back to Central Texas the next day, I realized that the stretch of Interstates 30 and 35 and all the towns and cities in between are home for me. I drive them often just to visit friends and family. So are the winding trails of Highways 31 and 69, the roads I take to go to Tyler from here. I know where to stop for gas and a whole lot of places that are just best left alone. I know how close I am to my destination just by looking at roadside landmarks. And just like in Hal Ketchum’s song, “Mama Knows the Highway,” I can “gauge a cafĂ© by its sign.”

Speaking of cafes, that road trip gave me the chance to share a family tradition with my daughters. While in Greenville, we visited C.B.’s Sandwich Shop on Wesley Street. That was where my father’s family loved to go to get hamburgers. It’s where my father took my mother for lunch when he brought her home from college for the first time more than 50 years ago. Five generations of my family have enjoyed those burgers now and all because we took a road trip.

So while some non-Texans might not enjoy the driving, I’m hoping that you’re a little closer to understanding why we Texans do it without complaining, because along with the miles are the memories, and that alone is worth the drive.