MY NECK OF THE WOODS

That would be just about anywhere in Texas.

Corn-Kits. Manna from Denton.

Morrison Mill DentonAs I drove my friend around Denton, she turned to me and said, “Shelly, I have to ask … what areCorn Kits‘?” She was reading the large sign that dominates the south east side of the downtown area atop the Morrison Milling Plant. If y’all have been to Denton, you couldn’t miss it. The big red letters scream against the sky line, “MORRISON’S CORN-KITS.”

I screeched the car to a halt, as my jaw dropped and hit the steering wheel. “Do whut?” I asked incredulously. Then, I remembered that this poor gal was from Alaska and was unfamiliar with some of our culinary delights here in Texas.

For the uninformed, let me tell you: Corn Kits is the name of a pre-packaged corn-bread mix from right here in Denton, Texas. In the 1950s and 1960s, Corn-Kits were a staple of most pantries in this part of Texas. A package of them was the only “recipe” my Momma ever used to make her cornbread or hush puppies. Momma worked all day as a secretary for my Dad … well, actually she practically ran his company. When she got home, she didn’t have a lot of energy left to spend cooking meals for four kids. Like many women of her day, she relied on those pre-packaged meals, because they were fast, cheap, and easy. And, actually Corn Kits make a decent cornbread.

Momma often served “Mexican Cornbread,” which was an odd “cornbread pie” filled with cheese, ground beef, onion, and canned corn. No, it wasn’t all that good, but it’s what she put on the table. I’m not sure why that dish was called “Mexican” cornbread, because I’m pretty sure that no self-respecting Mexican person ever let this concoction pass their lips! I had at first intended to find an on-line recipe and link it here, but Mexican cornbread doesn’t deserve that much effort.

Who am I kidding? My Momma never learned to cook in the first place. If she had she would have realized that making delicious cornbread from scratch is almost as easy as opening that package; you still have to add egg and measure milk so it doesn’t save that much time.

Alliance Flour Mill ad 1890Those Corn-Kits are still manufactured in Denton at the Morrison Mill, which has loomed over the town since 1886 (one of several mills that were in operation in Denton at that time). Originally the plant was called the “Alliance Mill,” and was formed by the local Farmer’s Alliance. I know you can’t read that ad on the left, but click it and it will enlarge. It’s from Denton’s 1890 Business Directory. As you can see, they were pretty darned proud of their flour … with good reason! In 1888, the Alliance Mill entered their “Peacemaker” patented flour in the Texas State Fair at Dallas and won the first premium award. They continued to win with that patent for ten consecutive years … and then were barred from further competition with it! I guess the judges figured that someone else should get a shot at the prizes.

Historic Morrison Mill

In 1936, E. W. Morrison bought the mill and changed the name to “Morrison Milling Company.” As you can see from the 1954 photo above, he was still banking on that Peacemaker Flour. I’m not sure when they changed the sign atop the building and added “Corn-Kits” to the name, but it’s been there for quite a long time. At one time the sign was neon and the bright red letters illuminated the night sky. I don’t know whether the price of electricity or the cost of maintaining the neon caused them to stop turning on the lights, but I miss them.

As for those Corn-Kits, they are still available on store shelves, but evidently not in Alaska. I’m going to have to package some and mail them off to my friend, Barbara. When she visited, she fell in love with all things “Denton” and even blogged about “Dentoning.” She needs some Corn-Kits, so that she can make a pan of cornbread or a batch of hushpuppies … and if she says she doesn’t know what “hushpuppies” are, then there is no hope for her at all.


Resources:
Morrison Mill picture: Carruth Studio. Morrison Milling Company, Photograph, ca. 1954; digital image, (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth12425/ : accessed March 07, 2014), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Denton Public Library, Denton, Texas.
Advertisement: 1890 Denton Business Review and Directory, Book, May 1890; digital images, (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth21919/ : accessed March 07, 2014), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Denton Public Library, Denton, Texas.

Unexpected Texas. Tui Snider’s Travel Book (and a give-away)

tui-snider-unexpected-texasBless her heart, Tui Snider is not from Texas, but she has Texas in her heart. As I read the preview of her new travel book, UNEXPECTED TEXAS, a theme song was playing in my head. I was hearing that Texas treasure, Lyle Lovett crooning “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)… but Texas wants you anyway.”

This gal is a world traveler who writes about the exotic places she visits, yet she looks at Paris, Texas with the same excitement she would muster for Paris, France. That’s not surprising, because “even Moses got excited when he saw The Promised Land.” However, Tui writes with playful love for the Lone Star State. The result is a quirky travel book that will enlighten even Native Sons and Daughters. Yes, friends, Texas wants Tui, and you might not know it yet but you want this travel book!

tui-snider-acton-crockett“What’s in the book?” you ask. Well, a medley of wonderful North Texas towns are featured, with some attractions that might surprise you. She will take you from Rebecca Crockett’s grave to Lee Harvey Oswald’s final resting place. Tui will tell you where to find a mural made from postage stamps, a house made of beer cans, a life-sized “Last Supper” sculpted from wax, or the only Michelangelo Painting in America. She will lead you to dinosaurs, an alien grave, and a palace made of salt. She will guide you to a replica of the Munster Mansion, the Catfish Plantation, and she will even tell you where to find Jesus in cowboy boots!

I pride myself on knowing a LOT about Texas, which is “my neck of the woods,” but Tui told me about places that I have overlooked! She looks at Texas with a fresh eye. Whether you are a life-long Texan or a newcomer, this book is one you must have for reference. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t include any of Tui’s amazing pictures, but she promises a follow up. This multi-talented artist takes pictures with her iPhone that has professional photographers salivating!

The good news is that she doesn’t just tell you where to find it, she tells you a story! Tui tells some pretty darned good stories. We have been “virtual friends” for several years, as I have been following her blog called Tui Snider’s Offbeat & Overlooked Travel. I love her stories, and to hear her tell it, she has been writing stories since she was knee-high to a grasshopper. She was “quirky” back then, too.

I was 9-years-old, I dreamt about an angst-ridden hard-boiled egg and decided to write a book about him. His name was Earl Eggston and his deepest wish was to be scrambled.

All her friends wanted a sequel to the story of Earl Eggston, and we will all be begging for a sequel to UNEXPECTED TEXAS! As Tui explained, “Unexpected Texas only covers places within a day’s drive of the Dallas – Fort Worth Metroplex in North Texas, and it is by no means complete.” Dang! I hope she doesn’t make me wait too long for more.

Did I mention there is a give-away? You can go and buy UNEXPECTED TEXAS, which is now available on Amazon.com if you don’t win. First, you can enter to win prizes (which include a hard copy of the book)! Today’s Texas-themed Prize Pack is: a paperback of Unexpected Texas, an issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine, & an Unexpected Texas notebook. This could be your lucky day.

Prizes

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don’t just take my word for it, see what other writers have to say about Tui’s book by clicking the links below.



tui-snider-unexpected-texas-2

The Cave at Grapevine Lake

overlooking Denton Creek

We stood at the mouth of the cave looking out across Denton Creek and imagined what it looked like in the 1800s. My heart pounded as I thought of hiding in that cave and seeing pursuers on horseback loping across the prairie. There would have been no escape; to the top of the cliff above was another 25 feet with no footholds … and scrambling down the hillside would have dropped you right in the lap of your enemy.

I wrote about the cave and some of it’s fascinating history many years ago. Descendants of Robert Dolford “Bob” Jones, a man who was born a slave but became one of the wealthiest landowners in this neck of the woods, said that it had been used as part of the Underground Railroad. Other rumors indicated that Sam Bass, a notorious outlaw who frequented these parts had used that cave as a hideout.

I knew those stories, but never thought I would have the opportunity to see the cave. I’m told now that friends in High School partied at the cave on the lake (but, there is another on a different shore, and that might be the one they meant). I feel deprived because I never got invited to those parties!

Last month I received an e-mail from a man who had read my post about this particular cave. Stuart told me that he and his daughter had been to the cave … and that he could tell me how to get there!

With my friend, Laura Douglas (who is a Superhero Librarian/history buff), and her inquisitive son, Jacob, an adventure began.

Laura and Jacob

We wandered a path down to the lake with no idea what we might find. We weren’t even sure we would find the cave, because our map wasn’t interactive. What we found along our walk would have been worth the trip. There were hidey-holes for critters, wonderful rock formations, lovely views of the lake, and more. Jacob found, according to his mother’s count, “8 golf balls, 3 tennis balls, one golden shell, one fossil, two pieces of turtle shell, one unidentified piece of rusted bent metal, and an awesome fishing lure.” In truth, we also found fascinating fish heads, but I wouldn’t let Jacob take them home in my car. As Laura said, though, “Take a boy and you will always find treasure.”

It seemed like we had walked forever, scanning the hills and hoping to see it. Just when we were about to give up hope, we rounded a bend and voilà. We had reached our destination.

Sam Bass Cave

Jacob quickly climbed those slippery slopes and reached the mouth of the cave, with Laura and I right behind him … going much more slowly.

Jacob climbing to cave

Jacob at the cave

The cave was not deep at all, and I confess that Laura and I didn’t climb inside to explore further. We stood there in awe, hearing in our mind’s ear the echoes of the past.

cave interior

It was enough for us to just look inside and let our imaginations soar as we wondered what those walls would tell us, if they could talk. Actually, some of the walls were trying to tell us something.

cave graffiti

Over the years, visitors have carved messages into the rocks and defaced it (unless you see the beauty in it … then you can call it “art” if you choose). This, however, shows you exactly why I am not going to describe how to get there. I don’t want to see the cave further defaced; it needs to be preserved.

Did Sam Bass hide in this cave? Was it used for the Underground Railroad? I don’t know that those questions can be answered; I couldn’t see that Sam had signed his name on the wall. All I know is that it is a beauty of nature, and I’m glad that this cave is nestled far away from the beaten path.