Jams and Preserves A Specialty Shop in Fredericksburg

A Little Local Home Grown Company

by Celia Hayes

So, I came to San Antonio for my final tour of Air Force duty in 1995 – but I think it took a little while for me to discover Fredericksburg, and the lovely, tasty specialty food products put out by Fischer and Wieser, of Fredericksburg in the Hill Country. It is in my mind that for the first couple of years, Fredericksburg was the only place that you could buy them anyway. Certainly all the little gourmet food outlets along Main Street had a good selection of Fischer & Wieser jams and preserves. There was an annex to Das Peach Haus in a teeny former residence near to the Nimitz Museum, which is where we usually bought those items which took our fancy.

Looking at the company website, it appears that was about the time that Case Fischer developed the Roasted Raspberry Chipotle sauce, which in movie parlance, was a tiny little local biasness’s First Big Break. Roasted Raspberry Chipotle is magnificent, by the way, but at first it must have seemed to be one of the weirdest concoctions ever proposed. Smoked Mexican chipotle peppers … and runny raspberry jam? Together? Hoooo-kay… But it put Fischer & Wieser – and chipotle peppers on the map. (For my money, the best thing on grilled shrimp is the ginger-habanero sauce, though. After driving past Das Peach Haus every time we came in to Fredericksburg by the road from Comfort – we finally stopped and went inside, and realized that – oh, my, it is bigger than it looks! There are little patches of landscaped garden all around, shaded by a grove of pine trees. And there are resident cats, too – always a good indication of quality, no matter if the product is books, garden stuff … or gourmet foods.

But the peach orchard which was the genesis of the company has been around since the Wieser family bought the property in the 1920s, and their son Mark opened a roadside fruit stand in 1969. There are a lot of seasonal roadside fruit stands on the main roads leading to Fredericksburg, and the Peach Haus was just one of them. The family sold fresh peaches, of course, and home-made peach preserves. Mark Wieser also taught school – and one of his students often helped out at peach harvesting time. Case Fischer was so keen on the possibilities of a specialty-food, development, marketing and entrepreneurship, that he went off to college and studied all that … and when he came home to Fredericksburg, he teamed up with his old teacher, and set about innovating, creating and producing quality foods; sauces for meats and pastas, mustards, jams and preserves, pie filling, salad dressing and dips.

And instead of just keeping it a local thing, Fischer & Wieser went national. Within a couple of years, I didn’t have to make the long drive up to Fredericksburg for some Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce – it and other products were on the shelves at the local HEB – even my own local, which usually is a little light on the gourmet goods. Even better – they are available in military commissaries and on Amazon.com. Not bad for a tiny local enterprise which started as a roadside fruit stand. Yes, indeedy – they did build that business.

But look out for the Ghost Pepper BBQ sauce … more than a quarter of a teaspoon can be lethal. I think it’s made for people who think straight Tabasco is just too darned bland.

Texas Barbeque…The Food of the Gods

Texas BBQ

It’s just one of those things – Texas should be so large a state as to have not one, but several different regional variants in barbeque stylings. Yes, in less-blessed climes, barbeque is done by just throwing your choice of animal flesh on the grill on the back porch and allowing it to char slowly over the coals or (byte ones tongue) propane flame. I have even run across *shudder* recipes for marinated and grilled slabs of tofu.

Sorry – barbeque here means mainly beef, although pork, turkey, chicken, sausages, and even cabrito – or goat and mutton – makes an appearance in the borderland Hispanic variant of barbecoa. There is the east Texas variant; marinated beef cooked slowly over hickory wood until the meat falls from the bone and served with a thick, tomato-based sauce, the central Texas option; beef or other meats rubbed with spices and cooked slowly over pecan or oak wood, and the south Texas style which features cooking over mesquite – an acquired taste. South Texas style preference is for a thick sauce and moist meat. A great many of the old established independent barbeque places began as meat markets, where the butcher – in the days before deep-freeze refrigeration – thriftily began to smoke and slow-cook all those leftover or unsellable bits at the end of the day, providing them as ready-to-eat morsels the next day. Waste not, want not, as the saying goes.

Frankly, to me, it’s all good, no matter what variant and the selection of commercial sauces available at the local HEB will prove that we love it here, either D-I-Y or from the local maestro of the pit. In the main, people here have high standards when it comes to making barbeque themselves, and adamant concerning the virtues of all those places which provide it; from chains like Bill Miller with outlets everywhere, through enormous single-standing locations like the Kreus Market in Lockhart, and then there are tiny and often locally famous places – like the Riverside Meat Market in Boerne (cunningly disguised as a meat market in the back of a corner Shell gas station) – and even the peripatetic Smoke Shack, a food truck which is usually, but not always to be found just inside the 410 Loop at Nacogdoches, parked in what used to be a gas station. Aficionados will drive any number of miles to sample the glories of an independent barbeque outlet … and many other aficionados will also pay interestingly substantial amounts for grills and smokers of every description, although I will note that to the hard-core, propane is frowned upon. It’s all in the wood and cooking it long and slow, in the flavored smoke. For a while, I had one of those inexpensive barrel-shaped cylindrical smoker-griller things, which did an amazing job for the price – save that I had to cook a huge lot at a time, which was only cost-effective if I was expecting to feed a small army on hickory-smoked chicken.

These days, I have to cheat, with my daughter’s propane grill from Lowe’s – which does the job – and I suspect that if I tinkered with it a bit, and figured out a way to put in a pan of soggy wood-chips and keep the heat really, really low – I might have some decently-flavored barbeque.

A couple of years ago, we had a celebration supper at our place, using a recipe for chicken, from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook. The sauce is sublime and hereby passed on.

Sauté until translucent in ½ cup oil: 1 ½ cups chopped onions and 1 Tbsp minced garlic. Add: 1 cup tomato paste, 1 cup cider vinegar, 1 cup honey, ½ cup Worcestershire sauce, 1 cup Dijon mustard, ½ cup soy sauce, 1 cup Hoisin sauce, 2 Tbsp chili powder, 1 Tbsp ground cumin, and ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes. Simmer uncovered, over low heat for half an hour.

Cut up 2 2½ -3 lb chickens, and marinate them overnight in 2/3rds of the sauce. Roast them over low heat for about 45 minutes, basting them with marinade. Serve with the reserved sauce on the side.

Texas Tea

South Texas Oil

I can’t say that I was very surprised to find out from various online sources last week that Texas is pumping so much oil from the Eagle Ford Shale formation in South Texas (among other oil-rich shale formations, some of which are not quite as well-along as far as drilling goes) that if it were an independent country, it would be one of the top fifteen oil producers. I am not one who follows this kind of thing, religiously – although where I grew up in Southern California, I remember seeing many a small rocking-horse pumpjacks scattered here and there, nodding busily away in the bean-fields and citrus orchards in Camarillo, or along the highways and back roads. It was just one of those things in the background. I don’t know if there are many pumpjacks left in So-Cal now. Probably not, although they are at least as unlovely as wind turbines and probably don’t kill nearly as many birds. I lament the loss of the place where I grew up, by the way; a place of citrus groves, and lonely hills, a rural, blue-collar and working-class kind of place, where you could drive in a single afternoon from a palm-tree desert to a pine tree covered mountain-top frosted in snow. Alas, it seems that the wealthy coastal enclaves drive California now, to the ruination of the places which I remember so fondly.

But I like to think of Texas as a massive producer of oil and gasoline, especially when the stuff gets to be north of $3.00 a gallon. And I should have so known that the boom was big, and doing good for South Texas, just by simple observation over the time that I have lived here, especially since I began to write historical fiction and taking long road trips – towards Beeville and Goliad and Port Lavaca and all – especially to Goliad, which we have done for a good few years now. It once was, going down 181, through Poth and Karnes City and Kenedy, or by other routes through Smiley or Stockdale and Nixon to other destinations. Four or five years ago, many of the little towns along the way appeared as if they were dying on the vine. There were so many crumbling storefronts – and the ones open for some kind of business presented a more forlorn aspect than the ones which had given up the ghost and boarded up entirely. Weekday or weekend – such towns were deserted by mid-afternoon. Even the parking lot of the Walmart in Kenedy was all but deserted the first couple of times we drove past.

We first began noticing the changes along about Christmas 2010, driving down to Goliad to take part in Christmas on the Square. Suddenly – there were oilfield developments, truck parks and wells, dotted here and there among the pastures and brushlands; newly paved and graveled, lit up boldly at night. There was a little more traffic on the roads and the small towns didn’t look nearly so forlorn. The crumbling motel suddenly was rehabbed, and a number of new cabin-style units added to the row of existing roomettes. There were lights in the café, new vehicles parked out front, and on the edge of town there were several new RV parks – which, since there were no golf-courses, lakes or riverfront amusements – were obviously for workers rather than vacationers. New housing developments were going in, outside of Karnes City and Poth – and the Walmart parking lot was full. We remarked on this, to some old friends in Goliad – long-time residents, who confirmed our observations. There were neighbors and residents who owned country acreage who had been scraping by on a shoestring for decades – and now they had regular and generous checks for leasing their land.

On the whole, this is a good thing – and a good thing to know that this new oil boom has bought some prosperity to places that hadn’t seen much of it lately. I’d much rather that some of what I pay at the pump for unleaded is going right back here to Texas.

Making the Art Scene in San Antonio

The Art Scene

by Celia Hayes

So, contra the belief that the wild and crazy art scene is all in Austin, and there is nothing much in San Antonio save the military bases, medical centers and the Alamo … there is an art scene, and I have pictorial proof, now that my daughter is becoming interested in it. And more than just interested – it’s a matter of professional involvement.

To backtrack a little; my daughter and Edith, her best friend from high school (St. Francis Academy, Class of 1998) having despaired of ever finding full-time, well-paid and remunerative employment doing something rewarding – or at least, something they do not hate – have decided to go into business together. Edith is an artist in pastels, and quite gifted. My daughter is madly creative with origami, the art of folding paper into astonishing and ornamental shapes – including tiny crane and tulip earrings – and all sorts of other charming ephemera. As I told Edith, when she was worrying about being seen as a sell-out by trying to make a living from her painting, there is a word for someone with a gift who just plays around with it and never tries to get back expenses. That word is ‘hobbyist.’ And someone who creates art, shares it with the world at a fair market value – whatever that value might be – the word for that person is ‘professional.’ I wouldn’t want to see her go as far into monetizing and mass-producing her paintings like Thomas Kinkade The Painter of Light ™ did – but the guy did manage to make a very good living from it, and I wouldn’t mind seeing my daughter and Edith meeting a market demand.

So, I have urged them both to try and start making a living doing what they love to do; starting small, of course – working the website (Pastel Junque) and various local art shows and events. Edith does have a following already; she was much more deeply involved in the local art scene … but I think her involvement was more like wading knee-deep in it. Now their joint venture is making a concerted effort to plunge into the deep end; to make more appearances at craft shows and art events with an eye to being where the customers are. They had their first roll-out a couple of Saturdays ago at Renewable Republic on St. Mary’s Street, downtown. Besides being a provider of solar panels, insulation and general green services to homeowners, they also have a garden and party venue out in back … along with a yurt. It was boiling hot, and threatening thunderstorms later on, and they didn’t actually sell all that much in the way of trinkets, prints and paintings – but it’s just the first step.

They hope to be included in the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center’s Hecho A Mano/Made by Hand this fall, and to have a vendor table at couple of local Christmas markets in November and December. In the mean time, they’ll be at various First Friday events in Southtown, and Second Friday at Tobin Hill … and who knows? They just might be as popular as Thomas Kinkade.

The Rain it Raineth

Here in San Antonio, hardly anyone has an umbrella…

by Celia Hayes

…On the just and on the unjust fella.
But mostly raineth on the just,

Because the unjust steals the just’s umbrella!

Or so runs the traditional couplet – here in San Antonio, hardly anyone has an umbrella, a proper raincoat or galoshes, because the worst rainstorms always seem to arrive unannounced. You might as well just resign yourself to getting wet, like we did over Memorial Day weekend. We hadn’t planned on doing anything for the weekend anyway. The thunderstorm woke me up when it blew in during the wee hours, the morning dawned dark and dreary, and the dogs were disinclined for walkies, so we were even less inclined to go anywhere, until it cleared up in the late afternoon.

That was when news stories and pictures of high water in downtown and in the parklands behind the Olmos dam, and in Breckenridge Park finally came to our attention. Oh, dear – another one of those places prone to flood are deep enough in water to draw the attention of local, national, and even international news outlets. How can I put this gently – it does rain in Texas, sometimes hard and long, and with flood-productive capacity, although thanks to a half-century of Hollywood movies and television, the national (and international) mental image of Texas as a waterless desert.

This might be true of West Texas; East Texas is as soggy as any other place in the Deep South. But San Antonio has its own problems with water. In some years, a shortage of it reduces home-owners to watering their lawns with a hand-held hose, while in other years it is entirely possible to drown in a sudden storm surge on a street within city limits; even without having taken the ill-advised step of driving around the city barriers, or going to muck about in the usually-dry-but now full-running-and-overflowing neighborhood creek-bed. San Antonio is still at an outstanding danger from flash floods. I cannot say that too often enough, although the danger of death from them is much diminished from former years, thanks to civic and engineering enterprise. The elementary thing about flash-floods is that they are – flash floods. They hit without very much warning, sometimes as a result of rain which has fallen miles or even counties away, and at intervals so irregular as to lull residents into complacency.

Into the 20th century, downtown San Antonio was prone to catastrophic floods; the establishment of the Riverwalk was an effort at control. It’s worked out very well, ever since – but this dear and rambling city still has water hazards. Those sections of highway downtown which run below ground level will flood. Given sufficient rain, the 281 north of the Olmos dam will be under water as well, and the stretch of North New Braunfels which runs through Alamo Heights will be running with water. Regular commuters will know the places along their route which can and will accumulate deep water. Most of the really potentially dangerous places along our surface streets are marked with bright yellow flood-gages, marked off in one-foot increments. There is a reason for this; a water level at or just above the underside of your car has a very real potential to lift your vehicle and float it away. The surface of your tires which actually touches the road, which gives you braking and steering control is only about the size of your hands (if you have big hands!) and once your wheels no longer touch the road, the best that you can hope for is that your vehicle lodges against something firm, and that rescue is not too long in coming. Never go around barriers to drive through a flooded area, be aware of those places which will flood, pay close attention to flood warnings, and know that those mostly-dry creek beds which meander through the greater part of our city will soon be full of very fast-moving water in the event of a large amount of rain upstream. Word to the wise – stay dry, San Antonio!

Texas Governor Lauches Chicago Ads

Gov. Perry Launches Chicago Ads

Monday, April 15, 2013  •  Austin, Texas  •  Press Release

As part of his ongoing efforts to spur competition between states and recruit jobs and employers to Texas, Gov. Rick Perry is taking his message of low taxes, predictable regulations, fair courts and a skilled workforce to employers in Chicago with a week-long web and print ad buy in Crain’s Chicago Business Journal and on chicagobusiness.com. Paid for by TexasOne, the $38,450 mixed media advertising buy includes a two-day takeover of the website, email marketing and a full page ad in Monday’s edition of Crain’s Chicago Business Journal.

The governor’s latest business recruitment efforts coincide with a new, Illinois-targeted section on Texas Wide Open for Business, and come just two months after Gov. Perry launched a radio ad inviting California business owners to check out Texas’ strong jobs climate.

TexasOne is a public-private partnership that markets Texas nationally and internationally as a prime business destination.

To view the Texas web ads, please visit Chicago Business.

TEXAS STILL GROWING

CROWD CONTROL: TEXAS STILL GROWING

April 12, 2013

COLLEGE STATION (Real Estate Center) – Texas is again a top destination for many people.

According to the results of U-Haul International Inc.’s latest National Migration Trend report, more families moved to Houston in 2012 than any other U.S. city. This marks the fourth year in a row that Houston has claimed that honor.

Other Texas cities landing among the top 50 were San Antonio (5), Austin (6), Dallas (17), Plano (25) and Fort Worth (26).

The rankings reflect more than 1.6 million one-way U-Haul truck transactions in 2012. A corporate release states that the findings are not reflective of overall growth.

However, the company also calculated the percentage of inbound moves versus outbound moves for each city to get an idea of which cities had the most overall growth. Austin ranked third with a 7.3 percent growth rate. Dallas was 14th at 3.16 percent, Corpus Christi 18th at 1.79 percent, Houston 20th at 1.43 percent and Plano 25th at 1.03 percent.

To learn more about Texas growth and the challenges that come with it, tune into this week’s Real Estate Red Zone podcast. Real Estate Center Research Economists Dr. Jim Gaines and Dr. Harold Hunt discuss their latest Tierra Grande article, “Crowd Control: Planning for Texas Population Growth.”

Texas Boasts More Jobs Than Last Year

Texas Boasts More Jobs Than Last Year

COLLEGE STATION (Real Estate Center) – All Texas industries and the state’s government sector had more jobs in February 2013 than in February 2012.

According to the Real Estate Center’s latest Monthly Review of the Texas Economy, the state’s construction industry ranked first in job creation, followed by mining and logging, leisure and hospitality, other services, professional and business services and trade.

The state’s economy was robust, gaining 355,600 nonagricultural jobs from February 2012 to February 2013, an annual growth rate of 3.3 percent compared with 1.5 percent for the United States. The state’s private sector added 336,800 jobs, an annual growth rate of 3.8 percent compared with 1.9 percent for the nation.

All Texas metro areas except Texarkana had more jobs. Odessa and Midland ranked first in job creation followed by Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Fort Worth-Arlington and Corpus Christi.

Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 6.4 percent in February from 7.1 percent the year before. The nation’s rate decreased from 8.3 to 7.7 percent.

The state’s actual unemployment rate was 6.5 percent. Midland had the lowest unemployment rate, followed by Odessa, Amarillo, Abilene, San Angelo and Lubbock.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, only 14 of the nation’s 100 largest metros have more jobs now than they did before the recession, and six of them are in Texas. They are Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, McAllen, Dallas and Houston.

Mobile Food Trucks of San Antonio

Eating on the Go

by Celia Hayes

Well, there is fast food, and then there is fast food – fast food that comes to the customer. When I was stationed in Korea such a convenience was called the ‘chogi’ truck, or as the local national employees called it ‘roooch-coachie’. It came around mid-morning to the building where I worked, dispensing hot sandwiches, snacks, candy bars, ice cream and bags of salted or sugared snack foods. But the chogi truck is to a food truck today as a Model T is to a Jeep Cherokee. They’re gasoline-powered motor vehicles, and they dispense food to the hungry … but the 21st century food truck tends to be a specialty gourmet kitchen on wheels. Certainly in a large and built-up city, there would be lots of hungry lunch-time customers.

Quite likely, a good number of those hungry workers would have exhausted all of the available and nearby restaurants and fast-food places. It’s an expensive and time-consuming operation, opening up a new restaurant in a profitable location in the big city. Conventional wisdom has it that the odds on a new restaurant venture failing within the first three years of operation are fairly high – so starting small with a food truck is a logical solution. Without the huge start-up expense of real estate and a building – all the budding chef-entrepreneur needs is a kitchen on wheels, a map of the city – and one which permits food trucks to park on streets relatively unhindered – and a lot of hungry customers. These days, it also helps to have a Facebook page.

Food trucks have a relatively long history, as these things go. According to the invaluable Wikipedia, the mobile kitchen/canteen had it’s origins in Texas – in the chuck-wagon developed by Charles Goodnight for use on the long-trail cattle drives after the Civil War, when the Transcontinental Railroad had pushed far enough into Kansas to make Texas cattle profitable in the larger markets of the East. From the horse-drawn chuck-wagon, came lunch trucks, which provided meals to shift-workers in the big cities, especially those working the night shift around the turn of the century. This trend continued, of lunch trucks serving meals at construction sites, and setting up at fairs and festivals. The US Army maintained mobile canteens – kitchens on wheels, which are most likely the direct ancestor of today’s food trucks.

According to the same source, the current popularity for food trucks coincided with the economic downturn; a plentitude of food-trucks with no construction sites to service, and a similar glut of hopeful chefs with no restaurants to work in. Necessity makes opportunities – and in this case, a very useful one. Out on 281 and Thousand Oaks, outside the 1604 Loop, a far-seeing local entrepreneur established a sort of gourmet food park – the Boardwalk on Bulverde, set aside for food trucks and customers to meet, greet, and eat. My personal favorite food truck is permanently parked on Nacogdoches, next to the Cordova Auto Center; Ericks Tacos, which has Mexican-style street food to die for and funky street-dining atmosphere to spare. Oh – and look out for the green sauce; nuclear fission in a small plastic cup. On a book trip up to Abilene, we ran across Short Bus Hot Dogs – which is a hotdog stand set up in a converted school bus. And yes, they have a Facebook page. Charlie Goodnight didn’t have any idea of what he set in motion, in 1866.

Texas Gifts

The Gifts of Texas Are Upon You

by Celia Hayes

It is that time of year again, isn’t it? It’s that happy season when custom commands that gifts large and small, yet always carefully and tastefully chosen, are bestowed upon spouses, children, families, kinfolk, co-workers, neighbors and sometimes even relative strangers. It doesn’t matter much that it’s Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanzaa; custom commands that suitable gifts be exchanged at this time of the year – and in fact, the relative health of our national economy often depends upon lively retail sales during the last fiscal quarter of the year. Coincidentally, I most always have good sales of the printed editions of my books during this time, although that may just happen because I bestir myself to go and participate in seasonal craft fairs then.

This is also the very best time to go out searching for Texas-themed gifts – that kind of gift that is completely and totally uniquely Texas. I mean, I have never in any of the other states I have lived in or visited, seen cake pans or blocks of cheddar cheese shaped like the state itself, or – with the possible exception of Hawaii – seen the state flag and/or map featured in such a wide array of garments.

And if one went for Texas-themed and Texas manufactured foodstuffs of an easily-transportable nature, the sky is the limit. There are so many small local gourmet firms manufacturing pickles, jams and chutneys, salsa, olive oil, BBQ and pasta sauces, herbs and spice mixtures … not to mention smoked and cured meats and sausages, and the output of Texas vineyards … that I firmly believe you could live entirely off the output of them year round. I believe about the only haute-gourmet foods not being produced locally would be Strasbourg-style goose-liver pate and true Russian caviar … and I would not be in the least surprised to find out that some ambitious and more than usually ambitious Texas capitalist is having a go at those, too. These enterprises have a happy knack of going large, too. Once upon a time, when we were newly-arrived in San Antonio, the only place where we could find Fisher & Weiser sauces and jams was a couple of outlets in Fredericksburg – and now they are in HEB stores everywhere, and even – miracle of miracles – available through Amazon.

This year, we are going to do good gifts for our neighbors again; last year, it was flavored olive oil and herb vinegar, with a little round of home-made cheese and a small baguette of home-baked bread. This year, it’s going to be a selection of home-made preserves, especially the ones that we made as a cheaper and healthier alternative … and then discovered that, wow, they were really good: A jar of mixed vegetable pickles, or okra pickles, packed in with spiced pineapple spears, and a small jar of either strawberry or fig jam. The jars will be packed into small craft-paper shopping bags, and padded with red and white gingham pattered tissue paper – something simple, tasteful and inexpensive. It’s always good to get back to basics – and something edible is always welcome.