Saturday, October 9, 2010

Back to the Country: San Saba

Since the 1940's my family has owned a ranch in a remote corner of San Saba County where the Pecan Bayou River and Colorado Rivers come together. The ranch is named the JDK Ranch, and it's 500+ acres of pure God's country. Most of the area is scrub land mixed with cacti, fescue, grass burrs, blood weed and covered in mesquite trees. All in all it's more like hell than God's country truthfully. It takes a special type of person to develop an appreciation for this stretch of earth. This is a rough area, hard to carve out a living, and almost impossible to cultivate crops. The most successful crop around here is pecans. San Saba self claims itself as the Pecan Capital of the World. But it's new fame has come from it's most notorious citizen, Tommy Lee Jones. This area of the state holds a special place in my heart, because this is where I practically grew up (other than Dallas). I have hunted, farmed, and worked this land since I was a kid. And one day, when I grow up I will pass this on to my kids, and hope that they have the same experiences that I had when I was a kid on the ranch. Eventhough the ranch lies within unforgiving country, it has always been a wealth of wild game to hunt. Herds of white tail deer roam the fields and river bottoms. Wild turkey gobble around in groups of 20-30. Squirrel and cotton tail rabbits are numerous if daring enough to eat them. Wild boar have been spotted around the area (hope they don't become a problem), and ducks, geese, dove, and quail also occupy the land. The river teems with several species of catfish, bass, carp, brim, and large alligator gars. Occasionally one can glimpse at bald eagles, red tailed hawks, owls, bats, cranes, foxes, bobcats, and a rare moutain lion.

(One of my pregnant Longhorns)

("Bubba" the 2300 lb. Angus bull on our ranch)

The ranch isn't just a livelyhood for some but more a retreat for others. My father and I have been getting away from the city as much as we can to head to the ranch and take little mini vacations. We always usually bring our guns and bring our appettites. Several weeks ago we spent the weekend to celebrate Labor Day weekend, but more importantly, opening day of dove season. My dad's old friend Bill accompanied us along with some relatives for the weekend hunting trip. Unfortunately, this year, the doves were thin, and our appetites exceeded our resources of wild game. So along with the few birds we shot, we bbq'ed some chicken, baked some beans, and cooked up fresh okra from our garden we have on-site. Some years when we had large numbers of hunters, we would kill a young barbado goat from the wild herds that run around our ranch and slow cook it in the smoker and make "cabrito tacos" with fresh onions, cilantro, lime, and accompanied by our home made salsas.

(The Barbado Rams)

Our family has been famous for our salsas for many years now, and some of us have even gone commercial selling "Texas-Texas Salsa" in the all the HEB's, Central Markets, and numerous other grocery stores throughout the country. But the little piece of food heaven that everyone wants a piece of is what our family calls "Texas-Bullets." These "Bullets" are pickled jalapenos and onions sandwiched between separated dove/duck breasts dusted with our special bbq rub and wrapped in smoked bacon. Once you get your lips wrapped around a few of these morsels you'll contemplate murder to practically get your hands on more of them (Yes! They are that good!). When we aren't eating our own cookin' we often head to neighboring Llano to eat bbq at Cooper's Old Pit BBQ, which is a former Texas Monthly #1 BBQ joint several years in a row. It continues, still, to churn out badass bbq day in and day out, accompanied by some of the best stewes pinto beans anywhere. Since I left Austin, to head to the ranch this time, I also got to eat at Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood just 20 minutes outside of Austin. Salt Lick has garnered huge amounts of fame in the last year by practically showcasing it's meat on every food and travel show known to man. It's products can be seen on the intro to Man vs. Food on the travel channel. What makes this place special is the old barn ambience, picnic style family dining and BYOB policy that allows me to wash down my meat with a sixer of ice cold Shiner Bock. Afterwards I headed down the road to Mandola's Trattoria Lisina to grab a to-go order of their house-made gelato (pistachio and german chocolate fo me) to consume on the road.
Of course, this is the place to be a man and get away from the women, and that ultimately means a lot of liquor and beer gets drank and tons of cigars, cigarettes, and many substances get smoked (we are talking about cowboys after all), usually all are done together while firing weapons at indiscriminant targets. I brought down a few bottles of wine, some Coor's Light, a 750ml bottle of Brooklyn Brewery Local 2 dark Ale, and some cigars like La Flor Dominicana's Double Ligero Chisel and Montecristo's Platinum Vintage 1999. I drank a few bottles of cheap malbec with the bbq'ed foods throughtout the weekend, nothing spectacular or of any significance. The Brooklyn Brewery Brown Ale at $10 was way over priced and tasted like BJ's Restaurant nutty brown ale,......nothing I would go home to tell mom about. Coor's Light is well,.....Coor's light, it's beer. It gets you drunk. But the cigars were very good though. The La Flor Dominicana Chisel was spectacular of a smoke as I have had all year. Had a dark, toothy wrapper, and smoked flawlessly with flavors of bitter chocolate, coffee bean, and hints of raisin,.....a sweet finishing cigar. The La Flor was one the best cigars of the year that I have had. Will definitely be buying more of these to stick in the humidor to age. The Montecristo was much like most non-cuban Montecristos I have smoked,......just eh. It had shitty construction, burned unevenly and was rolled very tight. Flavors were woodsy-nutty and overall medium in body. You can't finish off weekend at the ranch without some fireworks, so my dad's friend brought along his AK-47 for all of us to plink around. Bill (in picture) collects vintage rifles, and shown is him firing his Romanian AK-47. Very fun to shoot, hardly any kick, shoots very flat, and when kept oiled up and maintenanced, never fails to plug a bad guy. Unfortunately, it's also about the loudest damn thing you could ever pull the trigger on, therefore the use of the head gear.

Another opening weekend of dove season in the bag and I can say it was an enjoyable one. Unfortunately I had to head back to civilization, and my wife, shave, take a shower (I stunk), and lose my country accent. I'll be working a lot here soon, so I don't know when I will be able to get away again; I head to Chi-town in mid-November, but looking forward to duck season when I get back.

("Ms. Hamburger" with new calf)

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