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.

Korean Food Can Be Spicy

Korean Delights

by Celia Hayes

So, many of the headlines this week concern themselves with Korea, a country which I have some slight connection to; that is where my father was serving a tour when I was born. And a good few decades later, I did a year-long tour there myself. About the very first thing that I realized was that Korea in the 1990s looked nothing like the TV series MASH … and only very little like what my father remembered. Dad and his platoon with their mobile radar set-up lived in several different tent encampments near the DMZ. I spent the year living at Yongsan Garrison, in the heart of a bustling and very cosmopolitan Seoul. The garrison was itself a fairly un-crowded green island in the middle of a very built-up city – rather as if there were a substantial military base set up in half of New York City’s Central Park.

I very much enjoyed the year in Seoul, by the way – and I very much liked the Koreans that I met and worked with; tough, jolly, and rather outgoing. Someone once described Koreans as the Irish of Asia, which I don’t think was too far off. Being that San Antonio is a military-oriented town, and a lot of military – especially Army – have been rotating in and out of Korea for the last sixty years, there is a nice little Korean presence here in San Antonio. I know of no less than three different Korean church congregations in my immediate neck of the woods. Then there is the little ‘TigerPop’ fast food place that my daughter and I sampled a year or so ago. And when I first came to San Antonio, someone told me that the first and best Korean restaurants were all scattered along Harry Wurzbach, Austin Highway and Rittiman Road, in proximity to Fort Sam Houston – because those first restaurants were all started by the Korean wives of retired Army NCOs. Don’t know if it is true or not; but it looks like some the most assuming places with excellent food are along those streets.

Be warned, though – Korean food can be very, very spicy, even to Texas tastes. (Not as spicy as Thai food, though.) The dish that most of us have heard of is kimchee; basically pickled Napa cabbage, but with a kick – or as one of my military friends used to call it, “sauerkraut” with an attitude.” Very closely related to Japanese sushi is the Korean kimbab; cooked rice, and other things, rolled in a sheet of seaweed nori. The difference is that in the Korean version, the contents are most often cooked. And sometimes, they are made with a sliver of Spam. No, really – Spam is enormously popular in Korea; something that I had heard, but never quite believed until I saw assortments of Spam for sale in fancy baskets in Korean specialty groceries. The other very popular Korean snack food among my friends was yakimandu – pan-friend dumplings, which were as much like Chinese pot-stickers as to have no difference at all. Many of these delights were sold from street stalls, to the horror of the military health authorities, but to the best of my knowledge, I never heard of anyone getting sick from eating them, mostly because they came right from the burner to your plate. And against the red peppers and other hot spices, disease-causing organisms never had a chance.

And now I’m hungry for yakimandu … guess a trip down to Koreana on Harry Wurzbach is in order…


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.

Teashop at Bracken Village

Created Saturday, 09 January 2010 21:56

The Teashop in the Village

Yes, there is a tea-shop in the village; Bracken Village that is. A tea-shop, serving fresh-brewed pots of tea, and scones and all of that, in two Victorian-style rooms and on the veranda of a quaint little house, restored lovingly, and sitting among others of like, around a gazebo in a grove of oak trees, out on Nacogdoches Road, beyond 1604 in San Antonio. Originally it was a farmstead, known as the Wiederstein-Burkhardt home-place, a tiny house and a carriage barn, but over the last decade, other historic houses have been moved in, renovated and put to new use as shops and boutiques, an art studio, a salon/day spa and a gymnasium. There are garden plantings in between the houses; in the spring it all looks as gorgeous as the setting for a Disney movie set in a small American town. One place, “Country Gatherings” even holds regular classes in hooking old-fashioned woolen rugs, in what was once the hayloft of a quaint old barn.

Some of the houses are tiny – many are ornate, with deep, generous porches. All are historic, and from the local area. Not a few, including the Borgfeld House, which is in the process of reconstruction, are of a peculiar German style of half-timber construction called fachwork. The framework walls of the house, the openings for windows and doorways are made of heavy beams, fitted and braced – and then the interstices filled in with brick, or cut stone. Sometimes this was plastered over, entirely – or in the case of the Borgfeld house, covered with board siding.

There are, at present, two places to eat at Bracken Village – 23 Skadoo, which has Red Hat stuff galore, and does things like soups, salads and sandwiches, and then there is the tea-room, British Sensations, which is in the building which used to house another popular tea-room, Bawdsy Manor. British Sensations also has a stock of imported foods and candies – things like Marmite and the kind of steamed-pudding-inna-can that I remember fondly from a summer spent traveling in England and staying in Youth Hostels. You boil the can in a saucepan full of water for about twenty minutes, then open the can – and yes, this sounds odd, but it was very good. The chocolate puddings were particularly tasty.

The tea-room also offers staple British fare – you know, fish and chips, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, and that sort of solid and hearty fare. Which when it is bad, is pretty awful – but when it is good, is very, very good – even sublime. We tried out the fish-n-chips, and the shepherd’s pie, mostly because we were eating at mid-afternoon, and that was all that was available after the lunch rush; oh, and it was good, too, not interminably held over a steam table or something. The fish was tasty, cooked in a crisp crust, and the chips were fresh, too. Shepherd’s pie can be dreadful, but it also was good; a particularly British variant on meat and potatoes, with the meat pie portion baked with a mashed-potato crust.

And the best part – it’s not even all that far away; just up Nacogdoches Road, past the bridge over Salado Creek.








All the Tea in India

Created Wednesday, 23 December 2009 15:20

By Julia Hayden

All the Tea in India

Believe it or not, there are some food items that my family has a taste for, which just aren’t carried at the San Antonio HEB – bit of a shock to find that out, I know – but it’s true. Our very own local chain grocery store dynamo has a few of our personal food quirks left un-met. Some of those taste preferences were acquired through our eccentric family background and others through long service overseas, and so South Texas HEB can perhaps be forgiven for missing out. Since we have located a series of suitable subs – well, we won’t hold that against them.

The family legend has it that my very English Great-grandmother Alice carried around her own personal stock of tea – and when asking for hot tea in a restaurant, demanded that the staff supply her only with a tea-pot and a kettle of water – and said kettle had better still be bubbling when it was carried to her table. So, yes – tea is one of those absolutes. In my house, tea is made with bubble-boiling water, and loose tea leaves. As my Liverpudlian Granny Dodie used to say – it should be strong enough to trot a mouse over. (A completely unsanitary and perhaps revolting mental image – but still; a good cuppa must be strong, solid, powerful – the stuff that fueled the building of an empire. Tea bags are for sissies and people too lazy to bother with preparing a good pot of tea.)

And because we spent some wonderful years living in Greece, and my daughter had a TDY in Egypt – we like real yoghurt, that sort of yoghurt which is as sour and rich as sour cream, not adulterated with gelatin and disgustingly artificial fruit flavors. There were other foods that we had a yearning for – and even venues such as Sun Harvest Farms and Whole Foods just didn’t come close to meeting. Those yearnings were met, almost by accident, when we discovered an Asian grocery, in a cunning disguise.

From the outside, it looks like a completely ordinary gas station quickie-mart, on the corner of IH 35 East and Starcrest. It even has gas pumps outside, and a nearly defunct pay phone outside, adding to the illusion of being completely common-place, and even slightly sordid. A step inside – it still looks like a gas-station: cigarettes and lottery tickets, and all. But this is deceptive – farther inside, this is a cave of delights, stacked high with exotic good food of every sort; fresh or frozen, take-away, or in bulk; dairy, candy, dried, liquid . . . it’s all there, stacked up to the ceiling.

The only business establishment I have ever encountered with a better disguise was a money-exchange place in Itaewon, South Korea, which looked like a place selling exotic underwear. What I liked from the first moment I ventured inside the market, was how it smelled. It smelled pleasant and faintly perfumery; that would be the boxes of oriental incense.

All along the front windows are racks filled with twenty-pound sacks of rice, Jasmine and Basmanti rice, with it’s own faint sweet scent. And bags of black and herbal teas, of candy and spices, pastries, and frozen entrees and fresh vegetables . . . the owners and the regular staff are friendly and open, terribly helpful, happy to recommend this or that, explain what this spice is used in, or what brand is better than another. They recommended Wagh Bakri International blend tea – and sometime after Christmas I will get around to exploring some of their other food recommendations.


Remembering Scriveners Hardware Store

Created Wednesday, 02 September 2009 16:27

Sic Transit Scriveners

On a September day a few years ago, I drove the 410 loop for the first time in a good few weeks, and saw that there was a bulldozer busily scraping away on the site of one of north-east San Antonio’s best loved retail landmarks. What was physically left of Scriveners’ made heartbreakingly small piles, but then it was never all that large a building to begin with, or distinguished, architecturally speaking. It was one of those places which just grew, organically, incoherently sprouting departments to no particular plan. The gourmet chocolates abutted the garden supplies and the kitchenware, and ran straight into the hardware department. Describing Scriveners’ as a department store is kind of like describing Star Trek as an old TV show; technically accurate, but not even beginning to do justice to the reality.

Scrivener’s started as a hardware store, just after World War II: a local GI returning from the service teamed up with two of his buddies, and set shop when the location was the other end of nowhere, adjacent to nothing but the airport, the intersection of 410 and Broadway being respectively, a two-lane roadway and an unpaved lane. The manager of  my own local hardware establishment pointed out that independent hardware and department stores in small towns have a tendency- if they pay attention to what their customers ask for-to stock all sorts of oddments, because there is really no other place to buy them. The original founder adhered to the same philosophy; he bought out his partners and listened to the suggestions of his sales staff.

First, they branched out to patio furniture, and tiki torches and barbeques, and paper plates and picnic things in the early 1950ies; all those necessary accoutrements of post-war baby-boomer suburbia. Suggestions to stock this, that or the other inevitably resulted in another addition to an already rambling structure –   I don’t think there was a consistent ceiling or floor level throughout the place – and another department. Eventually, they sold collectibles, stationary, gourmet foods, embroidered baby and children’s clothes, and installed a wonderful fabric and notions department, chock-full of imported laces and silk ribbon.

/They retailed kitchenware, fine china and crystal, collectables, designer accessories, jewelry and handbags, Christmas ornaments, wind-chimes, bird-feeders, and ornamental brass fireplace accessories, and featured a tea-room that served dainty lunch dishes straight out of the 1950ies. Every menu item came with a little cup of consommé, and for the first course, the waitress came around with a tray of fresh-baked sticky buns, which were legendary in San Antonio homes, baked by a little elderly lady who came up on the bus from the South Side for years, to bake them specially.

For decades haute San Antonio registered at Scriveners’, bought their wedding-dress fabrics there, bought baby-clothes and barbeques. All of this, and still there was the hardware store; the gentle joke being that women could drop off their husbands in the hardware section, and shop for hours, undisturbed.

I came there mostly for the fabrics- lovely, quality stuff that I could barely afford, but the sales staff in the fabric and notions section knew me quite well as a discriminating customer, if not as rich as some of the other regulars, and one of the very few with the skill to tackle  the very difficult Vintage Vogue, and Vogue Designer patterns. There were just not many other places in San Antonio –  or probably anywhere else, where you could walk out with a spool of thread, an envelope of black cut-glass buttons from Czechoslovakia, a cookie press, a bag of bird-seed and a three-way light-fixture fitting.

Their eccentric and old-fashioned charm carried it into the 21st century as Broadway outside-the-loop was paved, and 410 became a ring-road, circling the metropolis, but their store hours, as admirable as they were for the employees probably cost them in the long run. They closed evenings at 5:30, and did not open on Sundays. These days, even clientele of up-scale retail establishments have Monday-to Friday jobs. When the original owner retired, the whole place was bought by Berings, of Houston, pretty much the same kind of retail business. They promised that nothing much would change, save the name which appeared on chic new green awnings. But they closed the fabric section, and remodeled the inside to accommodate more china and upscale housewares. I was distraught over that, but still patronized the hardware store, and the kitchenware department, until the spring of 2005, when suddenly, the inventory was marked down, and the notices went up. Everything was cleared out in short order, by generations of customers in deep mourning. A manager told me sorrowfully, they could not find a building large enough in Alamo Heights, since real-estate at the corner of 410 and Broadway was just too valuable in the present market.

The building sat empty for a couple of months, the brave new green awnings unfaded, but eventually the bulldozers came and went, and so did the construction crews: there is a Chili’s and a Wachovia bank branch on the site now. I don’t thing I will ever patronize either, for all unknowing, they desecrated one of my very favorite shrines, the place where San Antonio’s most eccentric retail establishment once stood.

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