10 Amazing Places to RV in November 2023

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in November

The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.

—C.S. Lewis

Though best known for his fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis was also an accomplished poet and literary scholar. During the Second World War, he hosted a series of radio talks for the BBC including a sermon aimed especially at young wartime scholars trying to find their paths (from which this quote comes). His words ring just as true now as they did in that fraught time: If we worry too much about the future, we might miss the opportunities waiting for us right here in the present moment.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in September and October. Also, check out my recommendations from November 2022 and December 2022.

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Oyster Lovers Experience

An evolution of Urbanna Days that began in 1957, the Urbanna Oyster Festival (67th annual, November 3-4, 2023) as we know it today hosts over 50,000 people in the square mile town over two days. Visitors flock from all over to celebrate the oyster!

In 1988 it was designated as the “official” oyster festival of the Commonwealth of Virginia and maintains that title today.

Come by BOAT or come by LAND! The charming Town of Urbanna closes its streets for this big celebration of everything OYSTER! It’s foodie heaven with over 50 food vendors and every kind of OYSTER! Raw, steamed, roasted, Rockefeller, fried, stewed, oysters in a pot pie and festival food fare like BBQ and crab bisque.

Arts and crafts, antique auto shows, children’s activities, and live bands are spread throughout the town.  The town marina offers historical boats and exhibits on the conservation of the Chesapeake Bay, watermen, and the oyster industry.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Wonderland of Rocks

It’s been more than two years since West Virginia’s New River Gorge became America’s most recent national park and since then outdoor recreation has continued to soar in popularity. The National Park Service manages more than 400 sites across the United States but less than 20 percent (63) are national parks with the scale and amenities that can support heavy visitation. Currently, 20 states do not have a national park.

There are many benefits to having a national park. They can be a boon for regional tourism and bring federal resources for conserving land that may be vulnerable to development or invasive species.

So where could the next national park be? The U.S. is full of worthy candidates. However national parks are created through congressional legislation, and many considerations include available infrastructure such as roads and restrooms. Community advocacy can help fuel the effort. With strong local and federal support, Chiricahua National Monument stands a good chance of becoming America’s 64th national park.

 It’s easy to see why the homeland of the Chiricahua Apache Nation is often called a Wonderland of Rocks. The monument is a labyrinth of towering stone spires (hoodoos) and eye-popping balanced rock formations. Arizona’s representatives in Congress have already introduced a bipartisan national park re-designation bill and advocates see the creation of such a park as an opportunity to establish a long-term working relationship between the NPS and tribes with ancestral roots in national park lands.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Chihuahuan Desert landscape

Gleaming gypsum crystal dunes roll as far as the eye can see at White Sands National Park. With waves towering up to 60 feet tall, the composition of the Northern Chihuahuan Desert landscape is constantly changing due to wind and weather patterns. Hardy plants like yuccas, grasses, and shrubs have evolved to survive in the shifting sands, adding texture to the spectacle of shapes and shadows that define the scenery.

This remarkable landscape is fit to be appreciated on camera, by foot, on Dunes Drive by bike (or car), and famously on saucer sleds down the dunes. Like many national parks in the country, White Sands is remotely located and can require around an hour or more of travel time from your accommodation. The journey is well worth it!

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Lake Martin

Tucked into the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun Country and part of The Nature Conservancy’s Cypress Island Preserve, Lake Martin is part of a larger cypress-tupelo swamp. Popular for fishing and general outdoor recreation, Lake Martin is a great place for spotting wildlife. It’s also a nesting spot for waterbirds including herons, egrets, neotropic cormorants, roseate spoonbills, white ibis, and anhingas. Check out the visitor center and adjacent boardwalk for a quick tour, or stroll the 2.5-mile levee walking trail.

Arizona 89A from Prescott to Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Outdoor activities and wine in small-town Arizona

Halfway between Prescott and Sedona, you’ll pass through the community of Cottonwood in the heart of the Verde Valley. Cottonwood makes a fantastic base camp to lace up your hiking boots and explore the outdoors. On the banks of the Verde River just outside of town, you can camp, swim, fish, and hike at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Just a short distance from there, discover American Indian history among ancient hilltop pueblos at Tuzigoot National Monument.

The Verde Valley is one of Arizona’s three nationally recognized viticultural (wine-growing) areas. Save some time to stop and sample the local wines in any of the tasting rooms in Old Town Cottonwood.

The above towns and attractions are just a glimpse of what you’ll find in North Central Arizona’s wild canyons and valleys.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Hit the road, Texas-style

Akoozie in the gift shop at the Spoetzl Brewery demands, Eat Meat. Drink Beer. That pretty much sums up any good day trip to Shiner, a small town that’s home to roughly 2,000 souls and the famed brewery that produces iconic Shiner beers.

For the meat, options abound along the route to Shiner. For lunch, consider a stop in Lockhart for some of Central Texas’s best barbecue. There’s Smitty’s Market where the line starts right next to the open pit and the ’cue is served on sheets of paper, old-school style like all the best Texas barbecue. Other celebrated Lockhart options include Black’s Barbecue and Kreuz Market.

There’s also City Market and Luling BBQ literally across the street from each other in the town of Luling.

The beer part of this adventure, naturally, happens most deliciously in Shiner. Czech and German immigrants founded a brewery here in 1909 after discovering artesian water. Bavarian Kosmos Spoetzel bought the operation, named it for himself, and continued using traditional methods as its brewmaster from 1914 to 1950. Today, Spoetzel is one of the largest independent craft brewers in the country selling beers in all 50 states and Mexico, every drop of it brewed here.

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

If you love outer space, this visitor center is a must-see. It’s one of the most highly-rated destinations in the country and almost everybody reports that they loved their experience. You could easily spend an entire day here learning about the history and the future of space travel.

Guests have access to a variety of activities and learning experiences. You can touch a real moon rock, speak to astronauts, and get up close and personal with a rocket.

Tons of tours, videos, and exhibits are suitable for all kinds of people. The only downside of this experience is the price point. It’s a bit discouraging to see that entrance fee, especially if you have younger kids who might not get their money’s worth. Overall, this place is worth a visit though!

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Why I LOVE Utah

If you have never been to Utah, make sure and put it on your list of places to visit! We fell in LOVE with Utah for so many reasons. Number one is all of the National Parks in the state like Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. But also so many state parks and the beautiful Scenic Byway 12. The scenery is constantly changing and each place has its unique beauty. From high in the mountains with aspens and cooler temps to down in the canyons or red or white rock faces and warmer temps. Utah is an adventurers’ paradise!

That’s why I wrote these five articles:

Tombstone Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Spending a perfect day in Tombstone

Start the perfect day in Tombstone with a hearty breakfast at O K Café Tombstone then visit the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park where the history of the Wild West comes alive.

Afterward, take a trip to Boothill Graveyard for a unique, albeit somber, experience, as it’s the final resting place for many of Tombstone’s early residents.

Have lunch at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon for a taste of authentic Western cuisine in a setting that’s straight out of the 1880s. After the meal continue the day’s excitement with a stagecoach tour around Tombstone offering a different perspective of this historic town.

The evening’s entertainment is a performance at the Bird Cage Theater, a haunted landmark that once served as a saloon, gambling hall, and brothel. Finally, end the day with dinner and a nightcap at Crystal Palace Saloon.

Celebrating pecans © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Louisiana Pecan Festival

This celebration of one of the South’s top crops offers a unique autumn attraction for up to 75,000 attendees each year in Colfax, Louisiana. Held on the first full weekend in November (November 3-5, 2023), the Louisiana Pecan Festival typically kicks off on Friday with Children’s Day which features a petting zoo, rock walls, games, and other free family-friendly activities. Festival attendees will enjoy a parade, live music, arts and crafts booths, a cooking contest, carnival rides, and fireworks throughout the weekend.

Visitors can sample and purchase pecan specialties including pies, pralines, jams, and candies as well as catch numerous live performances by the Louisiana Pecanettes dance team composed of local high schoolers. This event is also a great place to gobble goodies like funnel cakes, fried chicken, and alligator on a stick from vendors.

Worth Pondering…

When the Frost is on the Punkin

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,

And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,

And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,

And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;

O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,

With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,

As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

—James Whitcomb Riley

Celebrating a Beloved Dessert: National Pecan Pie Day, July 12

Grab a slice on July 12th and celebrate National Pecan Pie Day

I’m simply nutty over today’s honoree, National Pecan Pie Day on July 12. It’s pretty easy to get behind a day dedicated to one of my favorite desserts. Indeed, 90 percent of Americans surveyed believe eating a slice of pie is one of life’s simple pleasures indulging in 186 million commercially sold pies every year.

People who prefer pecan pie over the many other types of pies describe themselves as thoughtful and analytical. We’re not sure if this still holds true for those who add ice cream or whipped cream but, nonetheless, it’s time to celebrate the delicious dessert today.

Pies and other desserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of National Pecan Pie Day

It is uncertain how National Pecan Pie Day started but we certainly feel indebted to an unknown person because we couldn’t agree more with the idea of celebrating such a beloved dessert.

Pecan pie has a long, Southern history whose origins are highly debatable. Some believe pecan pie started in New Orleans by French immigrants turned Southern in the 1700s after being introduced to the pecan by Native Americans. Others believe pecan pie got its start in Alabama but this claim is unsupported by written recipes or printed literature. Of course, it’s not hard to believe many Southerners would love to lay claim to being the inventor of pecan pie.

Following the Civil War, commercial developers brought in a few varieties of pecans to grow in Georgia which is now the main commercial grower of pecans in the U.S. Grafted pecan trees also became prevalent in Louisiana in the mid- to late-1800s.

Pecans for your pie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name of the nut itself is derived from the French word pacane which is taken from the Algonquian word for a nut that requires a stone to crack. That may help explain why some believe the French invented the pecan pie after settling in New Orleans though there’s seemingly little evidence to support that.

Once people had pecans they started using them for baking. The earliest printed pecan recipes began popping up in Texas cookbooks in the 1870s and 1880s; the first recipe that most closely resembles what we know today as pecan pie was published in 1898 in a church charity cookbook in St. Louis but it was sent in by a Texas woman.

One of the earliest recipes for a pecan pie appeared in the Lady’s Home Journal in 1897. The recipe for the Texas Pecan Pie was later reprinted in several newspapers across the country. It included six ingredients—sugar, sweet milk, pecan kernels, eggs, and flour. The recipe is basically directions for a custard base unlike the pecan pies we know today. 

By the beginning of the 20th century, recipes for pecan pie had started appearing outside of Texas but the pie wouldn’t surge in popularity until the mid-1920s. That’s when the manufacturer of Karo syrup began printing a recipe for pecan pie on cans of the product as James McWilliams noted in The Pecan: A History of America’s Native Nut. Wide distribution of Karo syrup introduced many people to pecan pie who found it was quite simple to make. That is why, to this day, most of the recipes for pecan pie still use Karo syrup.

While most hold the perception that pecan pie remains a Southern dish, in reality, its popularity has swept across the U.S. with regions taking on their own ingredient preferences.

An assortment of pies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What are the typical ingredients in a pecan pie?

Technically classified as a sugar pie, the classic pecan pie recipe promulgated by the makers of Karo syrup uses a cup of the product in the mixture along with eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla extract, and of course, pecans. Alternatives for Karo syrup include brown sugar and molasses and some recipes add bourbon, whiskey, and chocolate into the mix. There are also pecan pie-cheesecake hybrids, pecan hand pies, and, strangely enough, pseudo-healthy versions involving chia seeds. Pecan pie is nearly always baked in a traditional pie crust verses a crumble crust or a cookie crust.

Since the recipe for pecan pie is so simple, there are really no stark regional divides when it comes to method or ingredients. Sweetness, however, is a different story: Folks from south of the Mason-Dixon Line generally prefer their pies on the sweeter side relaying an old Southern baker’s credo that a pie should be sweet enough so that the fillings in your teeth hurt.

How do you really pronounce pecan?

Pronunciation surveys have yielded as many as four variants on the pronunciation of pecan: pee-KAHN, pick-KAHN, PEE-can, and PEE-kahn. The story is told of a customer’s experience at a restaurant in Georgia where a waitress informed him: “Over here, we don’t call it pee-can pie. To us, a pecan is something that long distance truckers use when they don’t want to make many stops. We call it pick-kahn”.

Pies and more pies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Pecan Pie Day timeline

  • 6000 BC: Archeological findings discover that pecans were used in Texas by Native Americans for over 8,000 years
  • 1886: The first recipe is printed in Harper’s Bazaar although people agree pecan pie was a Southern favorite long before this
  • 1930s: The Corn Products Refining Company creates Karo, a corn syrup and in 1930 the wife of one of their sales executives discovers it can be used as a sweeter substitute to maple syrup
  • 1940s: Pecan pie becomes a regular recipe in cookbooks
Pecans for your pie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ways to celebrate National Pecan Pie Day

Bake a pecan pie: Making a delicious pecan pie is a great way to celebrate the day. Use your favorite recipe or try something new—you won’t regret it.

Enjoy a slice of pecan pie: Take a trip to your favorite bakery and enjoy a slice of this classic dessert. Make sure to savor every bite!

Share a pecan pie with friends: Gather up some friends and share a slice of pecan pie together. It’s always more fun when you can share the experience with others.

Send one to a friend: Pecan pies can be made and even frozen if you would like to give one as a gift but there are many bakeries online that sell fresh pecan pies available for delivery. It’s such an easy way to send a sweet treat to a friend who may not otherwise make or buy one for themselves. Definitely worth a try!

Pies and other desserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try a new twist on pecan pie: Get creative and try adding some unique flavors or ingredients to your traditional pecan pie recipe. It’s a great way to experiment and have some fun.

Try a new variation: It’s hard to beat the classic pecan pie recipe but if you’re looking for a change there are plenty of variations out there. One of the most common is chocolate pecan pie which simply adds chocolate to the main recipe. And when has adding chocolate ever ruined anything? Beyond that, you’ll find pecan pie cheesecake, pumpkin pecan pie, bourbon pecan pie, and cranberry-orange white-chocolate pecan pie (that’s a mouthful!).

Create a themed party: Invite your friends over for an evening of pecan pies, games, and fun! Decorate with festive colors and use plenty of pecans in your snacks and desserts.

Texas pecans © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun facts about pecans

The word pecan comes from an Algonquin word that means a nut that requires a stone to crack because of the hard shell

When Spanish explorers discovered them in the 16th Century, they named them nuez de larruga which means wrinkle nut

Native Americans ate pecans but also made pecan milk for infants and the elderly

Native Americans also made a fermented intoxicating pecan beverage called powcohicora

There are over 1,000 different varieties of pecan nuts

It takes 12 years for a pecan tree to reach maturity and begin producing nuts

Pecan trees lives for 300 years

Pecan trees can grow to over 150 feet tall and have trunks that measure over 3 feet in diameter

Astronauts took pecans to the moon two times in the Apollo space mission

Okmulgee, Oklahoma holds the world’s records for the largest pecan pie, pecan cookie, and pecan brownie

Pecan trees © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pecan capital of the world is Albany, Georgia which boasts more than 600,000 pecan trees.

The pecan is heart healthy and contains antioxidants, 19 vitamins and minerals, and healthy fat; one of the mineral components is zinc which is important in producing testosterone in both males and females.

It takes about 78 pecans for one pecan pie

Texas chose the pecan tree as its state tree in 1919 and the pecan pie as its state pie in 2013

​There are over 1,000 varieties of pecans

Worth Pondering…

I make a mean pecan pie and I have a great recipe for pralines—also using pecans. Pralines take a lot of patience, and patience is a must in the duck blind as well as in the kitchen. Good things come to those who wait.

—Phil Robertson

National Pralines Day: June 24

Do you say pea-can or puh-cun, pray-leen or praa-leen? National Praline Day is June 24 and it is time to celebrate the smooth, sweet candy!

National Pralines Day on June 24 celebrates a nut-based creamy confection that can be enjoyed in an assortment of ways. Pralines are a smooth and sweet treat made with nuts, sugar, and sometimes cream. They can be used in cookies, candy, and as a paste and they’re often made with pecans or almonds. The name is believed to have been inspired by French sugar industrialist and French diplomat César, duc de Choiseul, comte du Plessis-Praslin who used a powder called pralin made by grinding sugar-coated nuts.

Pralines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

History of National Pralines Day

During the seventeenth century, France’s Marshal du Plessis-Praslin was responsible for the fame and name of the praline but many believe that it was his chef, Clement Lassagne who was the true creator. 

In one account, the idea for pralines came from Lassagne’s children who snacked on the leftover almonds and caramel from earlier culinary projects which inspired the idea. In another, the children had caramelized almonds over a candle and Lassagne followed the scent and discovered the magic of the mixture. And in yet another, Lassagne’s apprentice accidentally knocked a container of almonds into a vat of cooking caramel.

Pralines were brought from France to New Orleans by Ursuline nuns in 1727. They oversaw young women called casket girls who under the request of Bienville were meant to marry New Orleans’ colonists. The casket girls were taught the art of praline making along with academics and domestic work for the purpose of becoming good wives to the settlers. Pralines became part of the local tradition in New Orleans and now they’re an essential part of creole cuisine. 

Pralines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In the nineteenth century, the ingredients switched from almonds to pecans because of their availability in New Orleans and cream was used to thicken the texture. Women in the French Quarter who sold pralines were called Pralinieres and selling pralines gave free people of color job opportunities when work was limited. Instead of being indentured servants or kept-women, women of lesser means were given more autonomy thanks to this alternate avenue of income. The praline expanded into other parts of the country and they became popular in Texas and Georgia as a favored southern confection but it all began in The Big Easy.

Pralines haven’t changed much from their original form. The ingredients still consist of pecans, dairy, and sugar and some have added vanilla and maple for more flavor. People have experimented with pralines in many different ways but the original is still just as loved as it was back then. The creamy sweetness of this confection still holds its own amongst many other tasty treats.

Pralines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

National Pralines Day timeline

  • 1600s: Marshal du Plessis-Praslin’s chef Clement Lassagne invented the praline by mixing cooked caramel and almonds
  • 1727: Pralines are brought over from France by Ursuline nuns who used young women to create them as they were molded for marriage
  • 1800s: Free women of color were permitted to sell pralines as Pralinieres offering them more economic security and better opportunity
  • 2000s: Pralines have remained very similar to their origins and are considered an essential part of southern culinary tradition
Pralines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

How to celebrate National Pralines Day

Make pralines: The best way to celebrate National Pralines Day is to make them yourself! Making pralines is not as hard as it seems. Get some butter, sugar, corn syrup, and pecans, and you are all set. Follow a recipe online or in a cookbook to get the perfect mixture of ingredients.

Visit a praline shop: Search for a local praline shop and sample all the treats they have to offer. From traditional flavors like pecan and chocolate to more unique combinations like peanut butter and bacon, you are sure to find something that will satisfy your sweet tooth.

Make a praline trail mix: Mix together some chopped nuts, dried fruits, and chocolate chips with some crushed pralines for a delicious snack that you can take on the go.

Go to a walking tour: A trip might be in order to truly appreciate the pralines American origins. Learn about the history of pralines on a walking tour in New Orleans’ French Quarter, the birthplace of pralines in the United States. The best part of it is that afterward, you can treat yourself to more pralines!

Pralines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

5 fun facts about National Pralines Day

1. After the praline: Chef Lassagne opened a sweet shop in France called the Maison du Praslin that’s still around today.

2. Three pralines: The three main types of pralines are Belgian Pralines, French Pralines, and American Pralines.

3. The Belgian praline: Belgian pralines have a hard chocolate shell with a softer or liquid filling.

4. Belgian names: Belgian pralines are also called Belgian chocolates, Belgeian Choclate fondants, and chocolate bonbons.

5. Sweet like candy: In New Orleans, pralines are sometimes called pecan candy.

Worth Pondering…

It was always easier for me to show love than to say it. The word reminded me of pralines: small, precious, almost unbearable sweet.

—Jodi Picoult

Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

In defense of the fruitcake

We all know what a fruitcake is, or at least we think we do. Culturally, it’s become a holiday punch line, the subject of a joke that is repackaged every Christmas. The food has seen ridicule the better half of a century but few people under 40 have even tried a fruitcake much less hated the taste enough to inspire such seasonal scorn.

Collin Street Bakery DeLuxe Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment fruitcake became a parody but many refer to a certain talk show as ground zero of its downfall. Johnny Carson famously quipped, “The worst Christmas gift is fruitcake… There is only one fruitcake in the entire world and people keep sending it to each other, year after year.” This single joke evolved into a Tonight Show holiday tradition of ripping on fruitcake, year after year.

Gladys’ Bakery Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since Carson’s joke happened in the ’60s, I needed to dig deeper. I needed to sink my teeth into the fruitcake’s mystique. Much of the resentment towards fruitcake stems from what Americans have come to believe it is. What we envision as fruitcake is a quickly assembled, cheaply constructed facsimile. Basing all your fruitcake hate on these assembly-line counterfeits is like saying you don’t like hamburgers because you aren’t a fan of McDonald’s. This is the problem.

Collin Street Bakery Fruitcake container © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conventional fruitcake really does suck. Like a tasteless brick of cake. But, made correctly with choice ingredients, fruitcakes are flavorful and moist. Mass-produced fruitcakes, the kind that most people are exposed to during the holidays, are nothing like what a fruitcake should be. A fruitcake should be rich, it should taste like dried fruit and nuts and spices. It should have a moist texture—it’s not supposed to be dry and crusty.

Gladys’ Bakery Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The practical definition of a “fruitcake” isn’t particularly obvious or apparent. A fruitcake is composed of a bread base, dried or candied fruit, and nuts. It can have myriad spices and flavorings but as long as it’s composed of those three essentials, it is a fruitcake. Shape—whether it’s a log, a bundt-cake situation, or something else entirely—makes no difference.

Gladys’ Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because fruitcake is so loosely defined, versions exist all over the world. The fruitcake was introduced to North America by way of Europe in the 16th century but it wasn’t until mail order fruitcakes became available in 1913 that it became the lazy man’s go-to gift.

Gladys’ Bakery Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These fruitcakes included lots of nuts which is where the expression “nutty as a fruitcake” was derived in 1935. Most American mass-produced fruitcakes are alcohol-free but numerous traditional recipes are saturated with liqueurs or brandy. The key to a perfect one are moisture and taste—and they do taste good when multiple flavors are combined.

Collin Street Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a modern fruitcake model consider the Collin Street Bakery’s classic. A family-owned-and-operated bakery, located in Corsicana, Texas, has been baking their “world-famous DeLuxe Fruitcake” since 1896. The Fruitcake and Pecan Cake they produce today is still baked true to the Old-World recipe brought from Wiesbaden, Germany by master baker Gus Weidmann. He and his partner, Tom McElwee, built a lively business in turn-of-the-century Corsicana which included an elegant hotel on the top floor of the bakery. Many famous guests enjoyed their fine hospitality including Enrico Caruso, Will Rogers, John J. McGraw, “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, and John Ringling.

Collin Street Bakery DeLuxe Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In fact, the bakery was thrust into the mail order business when Mr. Ringling’s circus troupe upon tasting the mouth-watering DeLuxe Fruitcake asked to have these Christmas Cakes sent to family and friends throughout Europe. And so began an international Christmas cake gift tradition.

Gladys’ Bakery Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Numerous variations of the Deluxe Fruitcake and Texas Pecan cakes are now available along with a variety of cheesecakes, specialty cakes, pecan pies, cookies, and gift sets.

Is a fruitcake revival possible? The big trick: getting people to actually try good, homemade fruitcakes. If you make it right, it takes considerable time. You should soak the fruit for days at a time to make sure they are plump and moist. It’s a noble dessert and it deserves another shot.

Gladys’ Bakery Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you think you don’t like fruitcake then it’s time for you to try one from Gladys’ Bakery in Weimer, Texas. It’s not your typical fruit cake! Ranging from 1 pound to 150 pounds, and in various shapes, these old fashioned Czech fruitcakes are the cream of the crop. 

Gladys’ Bakery Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gladys’ Bakery has created an original pecan cake whose tops are solidly covered with rows of cherries and pecan halves. Bitter citron, raisins, and dates are left out leaving a satisfying pecan taste mixed with fresh cherries and pineapples. Have a slice with a cup of coffee or your favorite tea or Blue Bell ice cream and you’ll be hooked. It is a cake to be enjoyed all year long, not just at Christmas.

Gladys’ Bakery roasted pecans © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gladys’ Bakery offers an amazing range of delicious baked goods including Pecan Pies, Texas Sized Cookies, Angel Food Cakes, Cinnamon Coated Pecans, and Apple Strudel. If you want to taste the goodness of home cooking, try one of these specialties.

When Gladys decided to try her hand at making a fruitcake her goal was to change the way the world thought of it. Gladys boasted that her fruitcakes were loaded with fresh pecans with just enough batter to hold it all together with no raisins, dates, spices, or citron. The first year, she mixed everything by hand and sold about 1,000 pounds worth.

Gladys’ Bakery Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1990 Gladys appeared on the Johnny Carson Show and the following year she was a guest on The David Letterman Show to show off her 150 pound Texas-shaped fruitcake. Gladys’ fruitcakes are shipped around the world and are in a class of their own. Fruit cakes seem to be Texas treasures and Gladys’ cakes are pure gold! 

Gladys’ Bakery Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The American palate is primed for a fruitcake revival. So, if there are any pastry chefs out there who are up to the challenge, I’m here, waiting to try your homemade fruitcake. I promise I won’t make fun of it.

Worth Pondering…

Friends are the fruitcake of life—some nutty, some soaked in alcohol, some sweet.

—Jon Ronson

Pecan Pralines a Sweet Tradition

Pralines, the sweet pecan candy with a buttery, brown-sugar smell

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Cultural influences played a factor in the innovation of the candy in the American South. French settlers introduced their version in Louisiana where sugarcane plantations were a dominant industry and pecan trees were prevalent.

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

The original praline was a 17th-century French dessert described as “almonds coated in boiled sugar.” According to popular accounts, they were originally created by the cook to French diplomat of César, duc de Choiseul, comte du Plessis-Praslin, a 17th-century sugar industrialist and were called “praslin.”

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Some believe the comte had his cook devise an almond-studded candy to woo his various love interests. Or perhaps it was his butler who created the treat to cure Praslin’s painful indigestion or a clumsy young apprentice who knocked over a container of almonds into a vat of cooking caramelized sugar.

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The praline that emerged in the South was markedly different from its contemporary European counterpart. African-American cooks working for French colonists adapted the recipe by using native Louisiana pecans and adding cream. Voilà, the velvety, sugary pecan patty was born.

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It is believed that pralines were brought over from France by the Ursuline nuns who came to New Orleans in 1727. They were in charge of the casket girls, young women sent over from France at the request of Bienville to marry New Orleans colonists. They were called casket girls (les filles a la casette) because each came to the city furnished with a casket-box filled with all their worldly possessions.

The nuns instructed the casket girls to be upstanding women in society as well as good wives to the settlers and in the course of their scholastic and domestic educations the girls were taught the art of praline making. Eventually the casket girls were married off and began to settle throughout southern Louisiana.

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In his 1919 book about pecans, the agricultural historian Rodney Howard True called the crop “America’s most important contribution to the world’s stock of edible nuts.” Native peoples consumed pecans before Europeans arrived in America but the pecan’s history as a harvested nut is linked to a formerly enslaved Louisianan named Antoine.

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The University of Georgia professor Lenny Wells wrote in his book, Pecan: America’s Native Nut Tree, that the nut had been harvested and perhaps even sold for centuries but that it was not viewed as capable of being industrialized. That perception shifted in 1846, Wells wrote, “thanks to the skill of a slave.” Antoine’s ability to produce high-quality nuts came through mastering the perfect combination of grafting partners to consistently produce premium nuts.

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By the mid-1800s, pralinieres were selling the candy in the French Quarter. Today, New Orleans tourists find it hard to leave the city without boxes of pralines.

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The Texas history of pralines is no less evocative. According to culinary historian MM Pack, the Texas praline’s ancestry came both from the east (New Orleans) and from the south (Mexico). Both France and Spain brought their sweet tooth to the New World “more or less at the same time,” Pack said. The pecan-candy traditions—pecans because they were plentiful and free—found a welcome home in Texas where industrious Mexican immigrants could make money from candy that was relatively cheap to produce.

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Pack cited the Texas-Mexican history of the border town candyman (men selling sweets from carts and baskets) as a natural link for pecan candy at Tex-Mex restaurants.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning in the early 1900s, pecans became a source of income for Mexican immigrants who gathered, shelled, and dried them. Pecan candy soon became a tradition. Mexican-American know-how for pecan pralines found its way into Tex-Mex restaurants where Mexican candies—dulces—were sold.

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Being a thriving port city, people from all over the world came through New Orleans to the rest of the country and the praline spread with them. Nowadays most people are unaware of the candy’s historical origin, and the praline is thought of as a southern confection not necessarily specific to New Orleans. Some believe the pecan praline is a Texan candy, whereas others assume it came from Savannah.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pronunciation of the candy is a point of contention as well. In New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast where there are many communities settled by the French, the pronunciation is prah-leen with the long aaah sound which is closer to that of the candy’s namesake du Plessis-Praslin. Other regions of the country including parts of Texas and Georgia have anglicized the term and pronounce it pray-leen. However you say it, they taste the same. Other terms for pralines include pecan pralines, pecan candy, plarines, and pecan patties.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I make a mean pecan pie and I have a great recipe for pralines—also using pecans. Pralines take a lot of patience, and patience is a must in the duck blind as well as in the kitchen. Good things come to those who wait.

—Phil Robertson