I was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley in deep South Texas.
We lived in the country.
We had a small grapefruit and orange orchard, my grandfather was a mechanic and had his own garage. He was a really good mechanic:) Could fix anything from a sports car to a backhoe to a combine lol.
My great grandparents lived across from us and ran a small general store. It was the only store and gas stop for 10 miles, so they did a huge amount of business!
They opened at 5am, closed at 7pm. Except Sunday when they only opened from 2-5 because we had family dinner after church every Sunday.
When I was a little older (12 lol), the would let me “run” the store a couple of hours a week. It was a great honor because they didn’t let anyone else do it lol.
It was never an imposition. They never asked, I offered and they would take it up.
My brother helped stock the shelves.
The store grew and they had to put in more freezers when they got a contract with a local farmer for fresh beef and chicken.
They bought grapefruit and oranges from our orchard (small, was never profitable, but it was a family thing).
Since it was out in the country, farmers and ranchers were the bulk of their business.
They always had pots of fresh coffee for the farmers, and a local family made breakfast tacos and tamales and they sold them in the mornings. Great food!
I remember when I was about 15, my great grandmother decided to turn the old “house” part into a kitchen.
When she did, she started serving breakfast for the farmers, along with the local family that made the breakfast tacos and tamales.
It was a fantastic idea, but a lot more work for them both since my great grandfather had to handle the store because Nona was tied up in the kitchen.
The reason I said the old “house” part, when they built the business enough, the built a proper house behind the store.
They finally sold it when I was about 17. The work just became too much for them.
The guy who bought it was really cool, but he was all about modernizing.
That didn’t go over well with the regulars, and business slacked off, then just stopped after about 3 years. It wasn’t that he was a bad owner, he was just bad at reading people.
I moved away, to the Houston area, when I was 18. I’ve been back a few times. My family sold their land about 10 years ago; most of my friends I grew up with moved away (though facebook makes it easy to keep up with them); many of the family members grew old and passed away.
Totally non-family related: we had an amazing cook/maid names Lillida that came once a week. She made the rounds in our small country community. For $50 you got her ½ day a week.
Her husband, Sulli, was a day laborer(you’d call them now). He worked the farm harvests.
Since that’s a year round thing in the Valley, it was hard work, but a decent steady living.
For that ½ day she would clean, do the laundry (if you wanted her to), and cook. Oh my God this woman was an amazing cook.
She would make 3-4 dozen fresh corn tortillas. If you’ve never had fresh tortillas, that’s something to put on your bucket list.
She would make enchiladas (beef, chicken, cheese, pork, didn’t matter) or carne guisada.
I have not been able to replicate her carne guisada, but this is close.
I know Lilli is not around any longer, she was in her 60s then, and that was 35+ years ago. But Lilli: thank you for being a huge inspiration in my learning to cook!
DotRen’s version of Carne Guisada
(no nutritional info because it depends on your brands)
- 2lbs beef roast, cut into 1/2” cubes
- 2 large onions, cut about the same size as the roast
- 2T olive oil, coconut oil, whatever you like. Lard is best if you can find a good one
- 14oz can diced tomatoes in juice
- 14oz can tomato puree
- 1 can diced tomatoes and green chilis
- 1 can water (any of the cans)
- 1-2 fresh jalapenos, remove caps
- 2 beef bullion cubes, liquid concentrate or other beef flavoring
- 2T chili powder
- 1 heaping teaspoon cumin
- 1 heaping teaspoon garlic powdered
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional -can add last if it needs the heat)
- 1 heaping teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
Heat oil in a deep pan over high heat and saute the onions until they just start to look glossy, then add the beef and stir often until the beef is no longer pink.
Add all the spices and stir (still over high heat) for 2-3 minutes until you can smell the spices.
Add everything else, cover and turn heat to low and simmer for at least an hour, until the meat is very tender.
Remove the meat with a slotted spoon, taste the sauce and add additional salt if needed.
Turn the heat back up and reduce the sauce, if it’s too watery (to taste).
Put the beef back in, reheat if needed, and serve.
Typically this would be served with tortillas, but it’s really good all on its own.
Top with some fresh diced onion and a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds (shelled) if you like.
This makes about 7 servings as a stew alone, 7-10 servings of tacos.