Feel the Burn

How hot is hot?

New Mexicans today like their ancestors revere the fiery chile cultivated centuries ago in Pueblo and Hispano communities up and down the Rio Grande from Taos to Vado.

Chiles at Las Cruces Farmers and Craft Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The varieties consumed today trace their lineage to an heirloom variety, the 6-4, bred in 1894 by Fabian Garcia at Las Cruces’ New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, known today as New Mexico State University (NMSU). His pepper rated 1,786 Scoville Heat Units. Today’s most popular chile varieties—Rio Grande, Sandia and Big Jim—clock in at from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville Heat Units.

Hatch chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile shares the State Vegetable honor with frijoles (pinto beans). The State Question, often heard at restaurants when customers order a dish that includes chile is: “Red or Green?” 

Red chile pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Flame-roasted green chile is typically spicier than dried, rehydrated, and ground red chile. In addition to traditional green and red chile Mexican dishes, chile-infused foods run the gamut from green chile chicken wontons and green chile chocolate bars to green chile wine and green chile milk shakes.

More chile-infused products © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the most revered among chile-loving New Mexicans is the green chile cheeseburger which has been elevated to superstar status in the Land of Enchantment. In 2009, the state’s tourism department initiated the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. Each year, chefs compete to see who wins the state’s Best Chile Cheeseburger crown.

Visitors to Las Cruces can enjoy cheeseburgers adorned with chopped or “slabs” of green chile grown locally as well as revered chiles from sacred ground zero in Hatch some 33 miles north.

Chiles by the sack © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From sweet bell peppers to spicy jalapeños and the super hot Trinidad Scorpion, chile peppers are popular around the world for their various shapes, sizes, colors, and heat levels. According to New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute that popularity goes back thousands of years.

Hatch chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile peppers have chemical compounds called capsaicinoids. When humans or other mammals eat or even touch capsaicinoids it sends a sensation to the brain that the pepper is hot. In addition to food purposes, capsaicin is used in pain relief patches to relieve muscle aches and pains.

Las Cruces Farmers and Craft Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, chile peppers are used in a wide variety of cuisine depending on the heat level produced. The bell pepper, or the sweet pepper, has no heat at all. Those can be used fresh in salads or cooked in various dishes. Mild to hot chile peppers include poblanos, New Mexico chile pepper varieties, and jalapeños. Those can be eaten fresh, dried, or cooked and used in traditional Mexican dishes and salsas. Further up the heat scale are tabascos and similar peppers used in hot sauces. Habaneros and chiltepins are considered very hot. Anything above one million Scoville Heat Units including the Bhut Jolokia and the Trinidad Scorpion are considered super hot.

Chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile peppers tend to be rich in vitamins A and C and have other nutritional values as well. The purple pigment present in some peppers is produced by anthocyanin, an antioxidant that can help prevent cell damage in the body. Red chile peppers are rich in carotenoids and is considered good for eye health.

A green chile pepper compared to a red chile pepper isn’t going to be as sweet,” Coon said. “Once you get into the red stage, it’s going to produce more sugar so it’s going to be a little sweeter.”

Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Chile Facts

Though often categorized as a vegetable, chiles are really a fruit as evidenced by their seeds.

Chile peppers originated in South America and then spread to Central and North America.

The Indians of the American tropics cultivated the chile pepper for centuries for both its culinary and medicinal uses.

Hatch chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On his first voyage to the Western hemisphere, Christopher Columbus mistakenly called the fiery chile pod “pepper” an unrelated spice native to the subcontinent.

All chile peppers are edible even ornamentals. Ornamentals, however, have been bred for their appearance and usually have little to no flavor or can be very hot.

Chile peppers are relatives of tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants which all belong to the nightshade family.

The color extracted from very red chile pepper pods, oleoresin, is used in everything from lipstick to processed meats.

There are 26 known species of chile pepper five of which are domesticated.

Worth Pondering…

Delectable chile-con-carne… composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile—a compound full of singular saver and a fiery zest.

—O. Henry, The Enchanted Kiss

Find Your Passion: What Type of Road Trip Is Right For You?

The open road is calling

After an unpredictable first half of 2020, we can all agree that we’re itching to travel. Road trips have been a huge summer trend in the current climate mainly because it’s safer than flying. You’re in complete control of your adventure—there’s no waiting in airport security lines, sitting in crowded spaces, or fees for missing your departure. There’s a sense of adventure that’s so satisfying, discovering all that America has to offer…right in your backyard.

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A recent survey conducted by Ford Motor Company found that people are really looking to reconnect with friends, family, and the great outdoors in their travels this summer. More than a third of the respondents ranked wanting to visit family or friends who live within driving distance as their top reason for taking a road trip. Considering the impact of social distancing and restrictions on being able to travel this makes sense. The survey also found that people are looking to slow down and make the most of their time away from home. More than 20 percent wanted to take a road trip just so they could explore and see the sights along the way to their destination.

Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning an RV road trip has endless opportunities from camping beside a lake or river, visiting national parks, roadside attractions, tasting the local cuisine, or even taking some time for well-deserved relaxation. You’re not restricted to flying on a schedule, renting a car, and booking a hotel like other vacations. And it’s okay if it doesn’t go as planned—it might actually be more fun. Veering off on the road less traveled also makes for a great adventure. Not sure what type of road trip to take? Here are three different themes around which to plan your summer road trip.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Park Road Trip

Yes, we all know the Grand Canyon (it’s breathtaking) and Joshua Tree (it’s amazing) but did you know that there are 419 National Park Service sites in America? Of these, 62 have a national park designation. Planning a road trip to visit national parks is for the history buff and outdoorsy type who enjoys hiking and camping.

Mount St. Helens National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover hidden gems like El Moro in New Mexico, Mount St. Helens in Washington, and Cumberland Island in Georgia. Explore the Mighty Five in Utah planning a camping adventure along the way. Chances are there are lesser-known national parks within a few hours of your home that you’ve never visited, possibly Cedar Breaks in Utah, Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, or Montezuma Castle in Arizona.

Texas BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taste America Road Trip

As much as tourists want to see the sights, they also want to taste the local food. For the foodies out there, that’s what road trips revolve around. They’re known for finding the best restaurants, seeking out underground spots, and trying cuisine that they can’t get back home.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creating a road trip around food can literally go anywhere. Definitely make some stops down south for some true southern hospitality. Texas barbecue pitmasters provide an excuse for a road trip to just about any far-flung corner of Texas.

Cracklins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana’s food is legendary. Rôder (pronounced row-day) in Cajun French means to roam, or run the roads and Lafayette is the perfect destination, Southern Living’s Tastiest Town in the South. Where else can you tour a rice plantation, a crawfish farm, and a pepper growing facility before enjoying a dish that combines them all? Avery Island’s Tabasco Experience is perhaps the most well-known foodie attraction. And the area also has its own Boudin Trail. Don’t miss the opportunity to chow down on dishes like crawfish etouffee, cracklins, and gumbo.

La Posta in Historic Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No adventure in New Mexico is complete until you have experienced their unique cuisine. Unlike any other, it is a blend of flavors from Spanish and Native American cultures that has been perfected over the course of 400 years. At the center of it all is the New Mexican chile in both red and green varieties which is used in everything from enchiladas to ice cream and wine. Whether you’re looking for a dining experience that’s received a James Beard award or an authentic dive off the beaten path, you will find it here.

Woodford Reserve Distillery tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with food, add some brewery tour stops to explore local beer and spirits too. Take a trip on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to discover heritage sites, working distillery tours, tasting rooms, a whiskey museum, and the rolling green pastures of Bluegrass Country.

Giant Peachoid © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roadside Attractions

All manner of strange and interesting pit stops are found across the country. Road trips wouldn’t be nearly as exciting without these alluring, wacky, and fun landmarks. America plays host to some of the weirdest off-beat roadside attractions found anywhere. Check out these six strange roadside attractions on your next road trip across the country: Paisano Pete (giant roadrunner) in Fort Stockton, Texas; Peachoid in Gaffney, South Carolina; desert sculptors in Borrego Springs, California; World’s Largest Killer Bee in Hidalgo, Texas; World’s Largest Roadrunner in Las Cruces, New Mexico; and World’s Largest Pistachio in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

World’s Largest Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Better stock up on boudin and pork cracklins, kolache and doughnuts, and other snack foods—there are going to be many, many detours in your future.

World’s Largest Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No matter which way you road trip, you’ll get to see America through a lens that perhaps you didn’t experience before. After being kept home for months with previous trips cancelled, it’s a journey of self discovery and learning more about off-beat places in America. It will demonstrate that you don’t need to hop a plane and fly across the ocean to seek adventure. Who knows where the road will take you, but I’m sure it’ll make for a great story. And don’t forget your camera!

Worth Pondering…

Destination is merely a byproduct of the journey.

—Eric Hansen

Chile Peppers 101

From sweet bell peppers to spicy jalapeños and the super hot Trinidad Scorpion, chile peppers are popular around the world

Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

New Mexicans today like their ancestors revere the fiery chile cultivated centuries ago in Pueblo and Hispano communities up and down the Rio Grande from Taos to Vado.

Chile peppers in Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The varieties consumed today trace their lineage to an heirloom variety, the 6-4, bred in 1894 by Fabian Garcia at Las Cruces’ New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, known today as New Mexico State University (NMSU). His pepper rated 1,786 Scoville Heat Units. Today’s most popular chile varieties—Rio Grande, Sandia, and Big Jim—clock in at from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville Heat Units.

Dried chile peppers in Las Cruces Craft and Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile shares the State Vegetable honor with frijoles (pinto beans). The State Question, often heard at restaurants when customers order a dish that includes chile is: “Red or Green?” 

Flame-roasted green chile is typically spicier than dried, rehydrated, and ground red chile. In addition to traditional green and red chile Mexican dishes, chile-infused foods run the gamut from green chile chicken wontons and green chile chocolate bars to green chile wine and green chile milk shakes.

Dried chile peppers in Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the most revered among chile-loving New Mexicans is the green chile cheeseburger which has been elevated to superstar status in the Land of Enchantment. In 2009, the state’s tourism department initiated the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. Each year, chefs compete to see who wins the state’s Best Chile Cheeseburger crown.

Chile peppers in Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to Las Cruces can enjoy cheeseburgers adorned with chopped or “slabs” of green chile grown locally as well as revered chiles from sacred ground zero in Hatch some 33 miles north.

Dried chile peppers in Las Cruces Craft and Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From sweet bell peppers to spicy jalapeños and the super hot Trinidad Scorpion, chile peppers are popular around the world for their various shapes, sizes, colors, and heat levels. According to New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute that popularity goes back thousands of years.

Chile peppers have chemical compounds called capsaicinoids. When humans or other mammals eat or even touch capsaicinoids it sends a sensation to the brain that the pepper is hot. In addition to food purposes, capsaicin is used in pain relief patches to relieve muscle aches and pains.

McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, chile peppers are used in a wide variety of cuisine depending on the heat level produced. The bell pepper, or the sweet pepper, has no heat at all. Those can be used fresh in salads or cooked in various dishes. Mild to hot chile peppers include poblanos, New Mexico chile pepper varieties, and jalapeños. Those can be eaten fresh, dried, or cooked and used in traditional Mexican dishes and salsas.

Chile peppers in Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further up the heat scale are tabascos and similar peppers used in hot sauces. Habaneros and chiltepins are considered very hot. Anything above one million Scoville Heat Units including the Bhut Jolokia and the Trinidad Scorpion are considered super hot.

Dried chile peppers in Las Cruces Craft and Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“There’s a lot of people out there who love that burn,” Danise Coon, a senior research specialist at the Chile Pepper Institute said. “We can make sauces out of those kinds of peppers but they really are incredibly hot. The good news, every one of those is edible. As long as it’s a true capsicum, it’s edible. Even if it’s an ornamental chile pepper, it’s edible.”

Louisiana hot sauce © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile peppers tend to be rich in vitamins A and C and have other nutritional values as well. The purple pigment present in some peppers is produced by anthocyanin, an antioxidant that can help prevent cell damage in the body. Red chile peppers are rich in carotenoids and is considered good for eye health.

Dried chile peppers in Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A green chile pepper compared to a red chile pepper isn’t going to be as sweet,” Coon said. “Once you get into the red stage, it’s going to produce more sugar so it’s going to be a little sweeter.”

Tabasco hot sauce © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Chile Facts

  • One fresh, medium-sized green chile pod has as much Vitamin C as six oranges.
  • One teaspoon of dried red chile powder has the daily requirements of Vitamin A.
  • Hot chile peppers burn calories by triggering a thermodynamic burn in the body which speeds up the metabolism.
  • Teas and lozenges are made with chile peppers for the treatment of a sore throat.
  • The Capsaicinoids (the chemical that make chile peppers hot) are used in muscle patches for sore and aching muscles.
  • Wild chiles are easily spread by birds because birds do not have the receptors in their mouths to feel the heat.
  • Born somewhere in the Amazon where the borders of Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil merge peppers were one of the first cultivated plants in the Western Hemisphere. Chile pepper remnants found at a pre-agricultural site in Peru are evidence that the pepper was the first spice used anywhere on Earth.
Tabasco hot sauce © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Delectable chile-con-carne… composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile—a compound full of singular saver and a fiery zest.

—O. Henry, The Enchanted Kiss

The Charms of Julian

There is always a reason and a season to visit Julian

Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

Julian is a small mountain community in Southern California located at the intersection of California highways 78 and 79, about 50 miles northeast of San Diego and 100 miles south of Palm Desert. This historic gold-mining town is nestled among oak and pine forests between the north end of the beautiful Cuyamaca mountains and the south slope of Volcan Mountain. Take a step back in time to the days of Julian’s beginning rooted in the 1870s gold rush and discover the charms of Julian.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original mining-era buildings in Julian are now home to unique shops—but my interest lay elsewhere, in the gold mining history of this small town and the famous apple pies of the region.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Confederate veterans from Georgia headed West to seek their fortunes in a new, mostly unsettled land. Among these were cousins, Drue Bailey and Mike Julian, who found a lush meadow between the Volcan Mountains and the Cuyamacas to their liking. The town was named Julian, in honor of Mike, who later was elected San Diego County Assessor.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town was never big, at the most it boasted a population of about 600. Rumor has it that Julian almost became the San Diego County seat.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A cattleman, Fred Coleman, found the first fleck of gold in a creek in early 1870. It was San Diego County’s first and only gold rush. The gold rush was short lived, near over in less than a decade. But the pioneers stayed and turned to the land for their livelihood. While many crops were planted and animals pastured, the rich land and mountain weather proved to be ideal for apples and orchards cropped up around the town.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apples continue to be produced in Julian. Their sweet, fresh flavor lures thousands to the mountains each fall, when visitors will find fruit stands overflowing with crisp fruit, homemade cider, pies, and other delicacies.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 4,235 feet, Julian’s high elevation provides clean air, blue skies, and four distinct seasons, unusual in sunny Southern California. The first cold spell of fall prompts a blanket of color as the trees prepare for a winter of gentle snowfalls. Sledding and snowball fun add to the season’s activities.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its tiny, four-block-long Main Street is home to country stores, wineries, bed and breakfasts, galleries, and fine restaurants.

A year-round getaway, Julian has a wide variety of activities for visitors. Enjoy a cool summer evening riding down Main Street in a horse-drawn carriage or explore the many gems that dot Main Street.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy a tour, sample wines from the local wineries, visit the historical museums, ride a horse through serene meadows or hike to the top of Stonewall Mountain for a panoramic view that goes on for miles. Julian has something for everyone’s taste regardless of the season.

The entire township of Julian is a Designated Historical District. Its image as an early California frontier town with pioneer store fronts, historic sites and guided tours of Eagle and High Peak Mines accounts for much of its modern appeal.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Housed in the restored walls of the Treshil blacksmith shop, Julian Pioneer Museum offers artifacts from the Julian of yesteryear―wall to wall photos of local pioneers, examples of mining equipment, an old carriage, clothes, and household items. You’ll leave with a taste for what life was like when the town was established.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike other gold rush towns, Julian never became a ghost town. Maybe it’s just too pretty to leave. Whatever the reason, today’s Julian exudes small-town charm and country friendliness.

I enjoy visiting Julian for its laid-back charm, historical buildings, beautiful surroundings, and the delicious apple pies.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During our recent visit, we bought four pies, one each at Julian Pie Company, Mom’s Pies, Julian Cafe, and Apple Alley Bakery. It’s all for the sake of science; taste testing required to determine a favorite. And, that my friends, is the subject of another post.

Worth Pondering…

Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.

―Yogi Berra

Czech Please: We Gotcha Kolache!

This tasty Czech pastry is now a Texan tradition

Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

Czechoslovakia is probably not the first country that comes to mind when people set out to identify the ethnic influences on Texas food. However, any Central Texan who has ever sunk their teeth into the soft, yeasty cloud of a fruit kolache knows that Czechs bring a delicious contribution to the Texas culinary table.

Czech immigrants began arriving in Texas during the mid-to late nineteenth century entering through the busy port of Galveston and spreading out though the central part of the state. At one point that area had over 200 Czech-dominant communities.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They settled in rural areas and became farmers and craftsmen whose society revolved mostly around family life and the Catholic Church. The Czechs rich cuisine was based on roasted meats with noodles and dumplings; homemade sausages, potatoes, and sauerkraut; and baked goods such as fruit strudels and kolaches.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kolaches came to the Lone Star State with 19th-century immigrants from Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia and continued making their native pastries over wood stoves when they settled in Central Texas. The kolache is the most prominent edible symbol of Texas Czech culture.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kolaches are made with sweetened yeast dough formed into rolls and filled with fruit or cheese before baking. Classic Czech fillings are prune, apricot, poppyseed, and cottage cheese though other fruit fillings such as cherry, peach, and apple have become popular as well.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just as the Czech koláč became “ko-lah-chee” on the tongues of Texans, kolache fillings evolved over time. As the pastry grew in popularity bakers developed new flavors from cream cheese and lemon to Philly cheese steak and the distinctly Texan sausage known as Klobasnikies (Pigs-in-a-Blanket) even though no kolache would contain meat in Eastern Europe. It is a taut-skinned, rugged-textured kielbasa sausage fully encased in a tube of tender-crumb bread that is finer than any hot dog bun we’ve ever eaten.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No true Czech wedding feast would be complete without a bountiful supply of kolaches on the dessert table and the homemade varieties are always a fixture at Czech church functions and heritage society gatherings. Now that kolaches are also available in local bakeries, they can be a delightful everyday treat.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just north of Waco the small town of West (known for clarity’s sake as “West Comma Texas”) is the state’s kolache capital where descendants of Czech immigrants make these little square pastries that hold a dollop of fruit rimmed by a puffy pillow of supple dough.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Koláče are sold warm from the oven,” assures the sign above the counter at the Village Bakery, a shop with three small tables and one circular ten-seat table that hosts a community coffee klatch most mornings. Apricot and prune are the flavors favored by old-timers along with poppy seeds and cottage cheese. Tourists tend to like fruitier versions—apple, strawberry, blueberry—as well as those made with cream cheese.

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like any baked pastry the fresher the kolache the better it is. Philip Weikel, of Weikel’s Bakery in La Grange once had a customer pay $80 for overnight air shipping of $5 worth of kolaches. But ground service works too—Weikel’s dough defies the laws of staleness. It stays light, moist, and soft for four or five days something he attributes to the way it is made and handled. “That’s the secret that separates us from bakeries that buy kolache mix in fifty-pound bags: tenderness,” he says. “Tenderness now and tenderness tomorrow.”

Kolaches at the Original Kountry Bakery in Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Czech-Americans throughout Texas have given Weikel’s kolaches the thumbs-up.

There are no kolaches anywhere more beguiling than Weikel’s little apricot rectangles in which the fruit’s sunny sour taste accentuates the sweetness of the pastry around it.

Original Kountry Bakery in Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A word of warning: Weikel’s bears little resemblance to the charming old-world kolache shops in West and elsewhere in Texas. You could walk in for a Coke and a beef stick and not notice that there is something extraordinary at the back of the store where the bakery does business. The place looks like a gas station, which is what it is.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weikel’s Bakery prides itself in making authentic, from scratch, Czech pastries. Weikel’s second location in Brenham features a full-scale baking operation, indoor seating for 16, and a menu of an extensive assortment of kolaches, klobasniky (pigs-in-a-blanket), sweet rolls, pies, bread, muffins, cookies, and cakes as well as a coffee, tea, and soft drinks beverage counter.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering… Eat dessert first. Life is uncertain.

—Ernestine Ulmer

5 Things I Learned While RVing The American South

Y’all come back now, ya hear?

The American South has a mixed reputation in U.S. popular culture: it’s home to sweet tea, gravy and biscuits, country music and the blues, barbecue and soul food, friendly and helpful people, and beautiful and diverse landscapes.

Historic Savannah Carriage Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first time we visited the South was in 1986 on a working road trip across the U.S. We found an incredible region of helpful people, a countryside dotted with rolling hills, farms, and forests, and hearty food rich in flavor. From Charleston to New Orleans and Nashville to Mobile and everything in between, the South was extraordinary.

Historic Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the past 18 years we have further explored the region. There is prodigious variety here, a region of many impressions.

The food will make you happy

Cajun hot sauce © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Food plays a central role in Southern life and is rich in both flavor and diversity. Each region has its own specialties—barbecue in Memphis and North Carolina, Creole and Cajun food in Louisiana, seafood along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, soul food in the Low Country, and fried chicken and gravy most anywhere in the region. And there’s pralines and pecan pie, both Southern traditions.

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many picture Southern food as greasy, fried, and heavy fare. While much of it is hearty, the richness in flavor and variety is outstanding. There is something for everyone, and if you go hungry while visiting, it is your own fault.

Crawfish pie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I could spend a lifetime eating my way through the South. (Mental note to future self: Do that.)

Music makes the region go ’round

Music of the region © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Music is a way of life here. The sound of live music fills the air everywhere. Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans are famous music haunts, but even the tiniest towns throughout the South have robust live music scenes. From jazz to country to blues to bluegrass, there’s a music soul to this region. One can dance, jam, and sing the night away.

The people really are friendly 

Louisiana Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s a common belief that the South is home to the friendliest people in the country. And along with Texans and small-town America they probably are. They are cheerful, talkative, and incredibly helpful. Strangers wave hello, inquire about your day, and generally go the extra mile to make visitors feel welcome. The folks here have hospitality down to an art.

Bye, Ya’ll come back now! Ya hear?

The landscape is stunning

Edisto Island, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Southern landscape is beautiful and diverse. The Smoky Mountains are a vast, dense forest filled with inviting rivers, lakes, and trails. The Louisiana bayou is haunting with moss-covered trees and eerie calm. The hills of Appalachia stretch for wooded miles and the Mississippi Delta, with its swamps and marshes is gorgeous. And the beaches of the Florida Panhandle the Alabama Gulf Coast are so white they sparkle.

To understand The South, you have to understand its past

Magnolia Plantation near Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a student of history, I was excited to explore the area’s colonial cities and Civil War sites. Cities like New Orleans, Vicksburg, Savannah, Memphis, Pensacola, St. Augustine, Mobile, and Charleston helped shape the country—and their history and influence are important to the story of America.

Jekyll Island Club, the Golden Isles, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was in these cities that many American cultural and political leaders were born, the Civil War began, battles were won and lost, and the rise and fall of slavery was sown. Voodoo, alligators, wild horses, African culture, and the wealthiest families in the United States are all part of the history of the Golden Isles of Georgia. These cities and their history help explain a lot about Southern pride and culture.

Mississippi Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I love the area more with each visit. It’s one of the most culturally rich areas in the country. There’s a reason why its cities are booming.

Football is a way of life © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go visit the region, get out of the cities, travel through the mountains, and find your way into the small towns. You’ll discover friendly people, heavenly food, amazing music, and an appreciation for a slow pace of life.

Worth Pondering…

Y’all Come Back Saloon 
She played tambourine with a silver jingle
And she must have known the words to at least a million tunes
But the one most requested by the man she knew as cowboy
Was the late night benediction at the y’all come back saloon

—written by Sharon Vaughn and recorded by The Oak Ridge Boys

Getting in our Licks on National Ice Cream Day: Sunday, July 21, 2019

What’s the scoop on National Ice Cream Day?

Everyone’s familiar with it—the classic, delectable treat that’s such a staple of summertime that any hot July day might feel like National Ice Cream Day. 

We all scream for ice cream, especially when the frozen treat is free or cheap. Today is National Ice Cream Day and restaurants across the U.S. are celebrating with discounted ice cream desserts. It’s a perfect time to appreciate the sweet treat and its fascinating history.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the summer reaches peak temperatures in July, Americans celebrate National Ice Cream Month as a way to cool off and enjoy the nation’s favorite frozen treat with friends and family. Ice cream has historically been a key feature of American communities.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ice cream dates back thousands of years. It’s long been beloved by Americans and people around the world. Modern statistics show just how much people adore the dessert today. 

In celebration of National Ice Cream Day, here’s a look at 12 things you probably didn’t know about the creamy summertime favorite. 

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ice cream is older than you think. Alexander the Great reportedly enjoyed snow and ice flavored with nectar and honey while the Roman emperor Nero Claudius Caesar sent runners into the mountains for snow which was flavored with juice. In the 1300s, Marco Polo brought an early version of ice cream—resembling a modern-day sherbet—back to Europe after his global travels. By the late 1700s, American high society enjoyed ice cream as a delicacy. And in 1776, America’s first ice cream parlor opened in New York.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even ice cream cones are more than a century old. During the St. Louis World Fair in 1904, a vendor ran out of ice cream cups to serve visitors. He quickly enlisted the help of a neighboring vendor who provided rolled-up waffle cones in which to serve the sweet treat—and the ice cream cone was born!

Ben & Jerry’s © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The day became official 35 years ago when President Ronald Reagan declared the third Sunday of July as National Ice Cream Day and the month of July as National Ice Cream Month.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s a considerable amount of science behind ice cream. Ice cream contains microscopic air bubbles that keep it nice and fluffy. When it melts, the air bubbles collapse. So, if you refreeze melted ice cream, it’ll be less soft.

Ben & Jerry’s © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ice cream is adored around the world. Americans consume a whopping 23 gallons of ice cream per person every year on average, making Americans the No. 1 ice cream consumers worldwide. New Zealand is second, followed by Australia, Finland, and Sweden.

Americans really, really, love ice cream. Eighty-seven percent of Americans have ice cream in their freezer at any given time. 

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The top five ice cream flavors enjoyed by Americans? That would be vanilla at 27.8 percent, followed by chocolate (14.3 percent), strawberry (3.3 percent), chocolate chip (3.3 percent), and butter pecan (2.8 percent).

American presidential history and ice cream are closely intertwined. Thomas Jefferson, while not responsible for introducing ice cream to the United States, did help popularize it. He’s credited with the first known recipe recorded by an American, and there are six references to ice cream being served at the President’s House during the Jefferson administration. In 1813, Dolley Madison served a famous strawberry ice cream dish at her husband’s second inaugural banquet. 

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A cow provides enough milk to make two gallons of ice cream per day—or 730 gallons per year. In fact, about 9 percent of milk produced in the U.S. is used to make ice cream.

According to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) ice cream companies help support the U.S. economy, contributing more than $11 billion directly to the national economy and supporting more than 26,000 direct jobs that generate $1.6 billion in direct wages. In 2017, about 1.4 billion gallons of ice cream and related frozen desserts were produced in the United States.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas takes pride in its ice cream. And we’re not just talking about Blue Bell—though the Brenham-based brand is brag-worthy. Blue Bell fans travel from all over to see the making of their favorite ice cream. At The Little Creamery in Brenham, visitors can watch the manufacturing process from an observation deck while attendants narrate and provide fun facts and then check out the Visitors Center to read up on the company’s history and see artifacts. The self-guided tours conclude with $1 scoops from the parlor.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In honor of National Ice Cream Month, Blue Bell introduced a new flavor. Key Lime Mango Tart is a combination of key lime ice cream, a mango sauce swirl, and graham cracker crust pieces.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“We like to think of our new Key Lime Mango Tart as sunshine in a carton,” said Joe Robertson, executive director of advertising and marketing for Blue Bell. “You can taste the key lime flavor in the first bite of ice cream, but with a hint of sweetness from the mango sauce. The graham cracker pieces will remind you of eating a Key lime pie.”

The new flavor is available in half gallons and pints for a limited time in stores NOW!

Worth Pondering…

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

—Howard Johnson