How to weather a dreary winter Sunday night -- without resorting to football. Cook a new dish, show up at the old school, and turn your appetite on.
If bread is the staff of life, then pineapple, jalepenos, and bacon are the pitchfork.
So declare the people of Winchester, Texas. On Sunday January 22, they spoke with their cooking, bringing 39 appetizers, main courses, sides and desserts out on a rainy night for “A Taste of Winchester” – the town’s competitive pot-luck.
Bobbie Hajek and husband Billy talked the Winchester Area Civic Association into staging the event, the fourth annual, in Zilss Memorial Hall, Winchester’s former elementary school. Unlike most of the food-happenings in this region – and there are hundreds – “A Taste of Winchester” isn’t a fundraiser of any kind. It’s just a good excuse to get out on a winter night, socialize, eat three dozen hot, sweet, and/or fattening dishes and cross pitchforks in friendly contest.
The Hajeks used to own a burger and “beer joint” in Winchester; that’s when they began holding these meet-and-eat-ups on a quarterly basis. Now A Taste of Winchester happens just once a year. Just!
By 4:30, about 50 people had arrived (The Handbook of Texas records Winchester’s whole population at 50). With help from Mary Lehmann, Pat Kleiber, and others, the Hajeks began checking all the dishes in and arraying them on tables.
A very incomplete list of the entries: pineapple pie, tufted with whipped cream; tamale and jalapeno dressing (delicious, winning our vote for best side dish but losing honorably to a vegetable casserole); etouffee served in individual mini-Dixie cups; and “BLT pasta.” Joyce Herzog brought herb stuffed jalapenos, oven roasted a la Winchester (i.e. on a bed of bacon strips), and – speaking of pitchforks – Bobbie Hajek entered her “Sinful Dessert,” a previous winner.
At about five p.m. Billy Hajek turned to Rev. James Herzog of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church for a prayer. “A long one or a short one?” the pastor asked. With ten plates of appetizers waiting, his blessing was sincerely brief.
Each dish had been numbered to hide the cook’s identity, or at least make a show of that. “Everybody here’s kin to everybody but me,” Bobbie said. “You can’t talk about anybody in this town,” much less keep a secret of who made the deer nuggets (Clayton Kleiber) or the Chocolate Éclair Cake (Thelma Kieschnik). Still, people knew not to dwell on who cooked what. This is a Texas-German community, after all; discretion lives on. Just take a bite small bite of everything and then vote for your favorite in each category on a slip of paper.
“She’s our taster tonight,” laughed Betty Ritcher, pointing to a tiny baby girl. Betty’s great-niece Raynee was there, bouncing in grandmother Linda Hart’s arms. Linda’s and Betty’s sister Evelyn Parker was on hand too, as were Raynee’s parents, Jon and Amanda Hart.
With strong familial support and two of Winchester’s three pitchfork ingredients, it’s no wonder that Linda’s appetizer — bacon pineapple wraps – ran away with first prize.
Very fine, though nobody much cares about winning. For a mood any more laid-back, you’d need a recliner. Clayton Kleiber says that most people are apt to try a new recipe out here and discover whether neighbors go for it – safer, maybe, than home experimentation. And if any dish isn’t appealing, move on down the buffet line. Nobody’s going home hungry tonight.
Thanks to Rhoda Gersch for sharing her winning recipe. Rhoda debuted Date Nut Bars and managed to take first place in desserts, the most competitive category of all, without bacon, pineapple or jalapenos.
Date Nut Bars
Crust: 1 cup flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 stick butter, softened
Filling: 1 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick butter
1 egg well beaten
2 cups rice cereal
1 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
Frosting: 2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3-4 oz cream cheese, softened
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup, level and place in small bowl with brown sugar and butter. Mix well until crumbly. Press into ungreased 11×7 or 9 inch square pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool.
In a medium saucepan, combine dates, sugar and butter. Cook over medium heat until mixture boils, stirring constantly. Simmer 3 minutes. Blend about 1/4 of hot mixtures into beaten egg and then return all to saucepan. Cook until mixture bubbles stirring constantly. Remove from heat stir in rice cereal, nuts, and vanilla. Spread over cooled crust. Cool completely.
In a small bowl combine frosting ingredients, beat at low speed until smooth and spread over filling.