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Taste of Texas

Corn, Sweet Potatoes, Pecans, Sugar, Peppers, Mesquite. This could be the grocery list for a backyard barbecue or family reunion. But these are the food items that sustained the earliest populations in the region giving Texas its distinctive flavor today.

Corn was cultivated in east Texas for hundreds of years before Spanish exploration. Texas Indians may have played an important role in the development of the continent as the agricultural practices of large civilizations in southern Mexico spread across the Mississippi to major settlements throughout North America. Nomadic Indians foraged for pecans in season along Texas rivers and dug roots and sweet potatoes. They ground mesquite beans and used the bark for kindling. Wild berries and the fruit of the prickly pear cactus were particular delights to tribes that gathered when the fruits ripened. The red bulbs of the prickly pear, or tunas, were an important trade commodity.

The Spanish learned to raise gourds and corn to live as the Indians. They named the boundary between the provinces of Coahuila and Texas Rio Nueces, or Pecan River, a prominent gathering ground for pecans. Early Anglo settlers in the Austin Colony raised sugar cane. In the late 1800s Texans exported many of these native foods commercially via the railroads.

Texas foods are much like Texas music -- diverse and home grown. The flavors of Texas come from the early Indians and Spanish, and from modern Mexico, as well as from the southern United States. Tamales in corn husks, sweet potatoes covered with marshmallows, pecan pie, mesquite grilled trout -- these are the modern foods of Texas that have developed from old customs.

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