Food & Drink: July 2024

By Abby & Kevin Tankersley

A Taste of History

When Pat Neff retired after two terms as governor of Texas, there was an elaborate dinner held in his honor. It took place at 7 p.m. on Saturday, January 17, at the Longhorn Roof Garden.

On July 13, that dinner will be partially recreated at the Pat Neff Walking Food Tour, which will be at the Earle-Harrison House and Pape Gardens, 1705 North Fifth Street. It’s a collaborative effort between Historic Waco Foundation, Baylor University’s Texas Collection and the Academy of Culinary Arts at University High School.

“We’re utilizing old recipes that were found in Pat Neff’s papers that we have at the Texas Collection,” said Jeff Pirtle, who is director of the Texas Collection, University Archives and the W. R. Poage Legislative Library. “The Pat Neff collection is a huge collection. We’ve got all of his family papers, all his gubernatorial papers and all of his papers related to his time as president of Baylor. We knew that there were some menus for events that he’s had at all the different roles that he’s played throughout his life. And it was actually Daniel McKnight and Erik Swanson from Historic Waco who came to the Texas Collection and found some material that would be applicable for this event.”

The idea of the culinary tour came from McKnight, who is the events and volunteer coordinator at Historic Waco. Before moving to Waco nearly two years ago, he worked at a historic site in Nashville, and visitors raved about food tours there.

“They love the connection between history and culture and taste,” he said. “So once I moved here, that was one of the first ideas that I pitched to my boss, Eric. He loved the idea, and so he coordinated with Jeff and Chef Reannon Ruark to help make this possible.”

Ruark, who oversees the culinary arts program at University, said that her students will be preparing most of the food that will be served during the event. And it didn’t take much to convince the students to help with an event in the middle of their summer break.

“My kids love me,” she said, laughing. “I do have a very tight crew.”

The culinary students will handle three dishes: Shrimp Cocktail with Administration Sauce, Chicken Stuffed Squash — a la Neff and Pineapple Fritters with Orange Crème Anglaise. Ruark herself will be making Rum Truffles from a recipe that was traced to Pat Neff’s mother, Isabella Eleanor Neff.
(Mother Neff State Park is named for Isabella Neff, who owned that land. Pat Neff created the park, the first state park in Texas, when she died in 1921.)

It’s doubtful that Pat Neff, who was president of Baylor University from 1932 until 1947, ever indulged in one of his mother’s Rum Truffles. McKnight shared that Neff once said at a Baylor chapel service that he would “get rid of anyone who drinks, smokes or carouses with women.”

There will be two food tours offered on July 13: one at 10 a.m. and one at noon. Tickets for the tours are $20 each, and available through the Historic Waco Foundation.

Guests on the tours will be given a program that contains the recipes found in the Texas Collection, but with a caveat: “Historically, shared recipes withheld steps or ingredients, to ensure the dish could only be prepared properly by the originator…While the dishes you enjoy on this experience are based on the following historic recipes, results may vary. Experimentation may be needed to achieve desired taste.”

We’re providing modern takes on a couple of the recipes. It took us a few tries to get the pineapple fritters to cook to a nice golden brown, but it was worth the wait. For the photo, we served it with the Orange Crème Anglaise. Later that night, after a meal of spicy Chinese food that you can read about in this space next month, we served the fritters with a scoop of homemade tutti frutti ice cream, which we made with fresh strawberries, blueberries, watermelon and pineapple. Every time we take it out of the freezer, I do my best Chico Marx impression from the movie “A Day at the Races”, where he’s supposedly an ice cream vendor at a horse track. In reality, he ends up selling Groucho Marx a series of betting tips, code books, master code books and jockey guides. It’s one of my favorite Marx Brothers scenes.

The Recipes

Pineapple Fritters

  • 1 fresh pineapple, sliced into rings (canned pineapple slices will also work)
  • Juice from 1/2 orange
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 12 ounces sparkling water
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes
  • Oil, for frying

Trim the husk from the pineapple slices, then use a small round cookie cutter to remove the core from the middle of each slice.

Place the pineapple slices in a bowl, then add the orange juice and brown sugar. Allow to marinate for 10-15 minutes.

Heat the oil in a saucepan or skillet to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour and sparkling water to make a thick batter. Stir in the coconut.

Remove one pineapple slice from the marinade and place between several layers of paper towels. Gently press down on the slice to remove as much liquid as possible.

Dip the pineapple slice into the batter, then carefully add the ring to the hot oil. Fry for about 4 minutes or until golden brown, flipping the pineapple over about halfway through.

Remove and place on a rack set on a baking sheet. Let cool slightly, then serve with Orange Crème Anglaise. Makes about 4-6 servings.


Orange Crème Anglaise

  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

In a small saucepan, bring the half-and-half to a simmer. Add the vanilla.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Slowly add the warm half-and-half to the egg mixture, whisking continuously, until the egg mixture has warmed to the temperature of the half-and-half. Once all the half-and-half has been added, pour the mixture back into the saucepan.

Stir the liquid until it thickens and reaches a temperature of 185 on an instant-read thermometer, about 5-10 minutes.

Immediately remove from the heat, then add the orange zest, orange juice and heavy cream. Stir to combine. Pour into a clean bowl. Cover and let chill overnight. Serve with Pineapple Fritters. Makes about 6-8 servings.


Shrimp Cocktail

  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 lemon, cut into wedges
  • 1 pound (about 13-15) fresh shrimp, cleaned and deveined
  • Bowl of ice

Add the water and salt to a large saucepan. Squeeze the juice from 3 or 4 wedges into the water, and drop the squeezed lemon into the water. Cover the pan and let the water come to a boil.

Place some ice in a large bowl.

When the water is boiling, carefully add the cleaned shrimp to the sauce pan. Allow to boil just until the shrimp begin to curl and turn brighter pink, usually no more than 1 minute.

Use a slotted spoon or strainer to remove shrimp from the pan as they’re cooked. Place them in the bowl of ice to stop the cooking process and cool them down quickly. Once all the shrimp are cooked, serve with the chilled Administration Sauce. Makes about 4 servings.


Administration Sauce

  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 2 cups chili sauce
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 6 drops of Tabasco, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup prepared horseradish
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery (optional)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Refrigerate until cold before serving. Makes about 4 cups.