AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Everything’s bigger in Texas – including an enthusiasm for themed gifts.
Whether it be for an office party or a family gathering, holiday gift baskets are reliable ways to compile smaller, often tasty, treats and gifts aimed at a general theme or a specific person’s interests. However, while bombast and the love of festive fun can be greater in Texas, that also means a longer list of options for people aiming to make a basket themed for the Lone Star State; it can be difficult to know where to start.
Viewers weighed in on what they think an official Texas-themed holiday gift basket should include and used those responses to help compile a list of 10 popular options for consideration.
Beef, barbecue and leather are all iconic products (and smells) for the Lone Star State, which combine to form one of the most commonly loved snacks in the state: Beef jerky.
Traditionally, beef jerky is made from meat cut into thin strips that are dried, dehydrated, and seasoned with a mixture of salt and spices. Like with Texas-style barbecue, the flavors and methods to make Texas beef jerky vary between regions and brands – though often one might find Texas jerky smoked with hickory, mesquite, or pecan wood. Most communities promote having a supply of locally-made jerky offered at gas stations and stores alongside better-known brands such as Clint & Sons, Texas Slabs, Texas Aggie Brand, and Texas Joes, among others.
Blue Bell Ice Cream and Dr. Pepper
As noted by Blue Bell Creameries, the company was founded in Brenham, Texas in the early 1900s and remained a Texas exclusive until the 1980s; even afterward, the brand remains a staple around the supermarkets of the southern US.
However, as it’s only available in 23 states, more than half of the US may see Blue Bell products as a rare Texan-born treat. While this may make it a perfect addition to a Texas-themed holiday basket, though, the gift-giver may want to take extra care to make sure any included Blue Bell items aren’t at risk of melting.
Similarly, even though it’s not localized to the Lone Star State, brands like Dr. Pepper have their origin in Texas – so those products were also popular suggestions for the list.
Buc-ee’s gifts and treats
Exemplified in the enthusiasm of the Amarillo community with its own upcoming location, Buc-ee’s is a beloved staple of road trips and tourism across Texas. While the company has expanded to other states in the US, including Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and Florida, most of its locations are local to the Lone Star State.
Because of its status as an often Texas-exclusive experience, Buc-ee’s has become a cultural icon when referencing the state; and its products have become popular additions to Texas-themed holiday collections. Beaver Nuggets – bites of caramel, sugar, and butter-coated corn puffs – are one of the company’s most popular items, but it offers a broad range of other branded snacks and products as well.
Chips and Salsa
The first treat on this list with a government-recognized designation, tortilla chips and salsa are together considered the state snack of Texas. With corn, peppers, and tomatoes all having origins in the west and cultivated along the Rio Grande, tortillas and tortilla chips have been dietary staples as well as eating utensils throughout the history of the Texas region.
Much like beef jerky, the ingredients and seasonings used to make tortilla chips and salsa vary by region and community around Texas – farmers’ markets and local storefronts tend to have numerous local brands for each, making the iconic pair of southwestern foods a great choice for an addition to a hometown holiday gift basket.
Hatch Green Chiles
Although the chiltepin and the jalapeño hold the titles for the official Texas state native pepper and Texas state pepper, respectively, the Lone Star State loves its fair share of Hatch green chiles. Further, while the peppers aren’t a Texan specialty, they are a symbol of cooperation and a special southwestern enthusiasm shared with New Mexico.
As noted by Southern Living, H-E-B coordinated with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture in the late 1990s to sell Hatch green chile peppers – grown in the nominal Hatch Valley in New Mexico – during August and September each year. Evolving from the association with one of the Lone Star State’s favorite grocery store chains, the Hatch green chile became a focus of agricultural enthusiasm for Texas summers and numerous Texas recipes.
During the winter season, Texans who stocked up on Hatch green chiles often share around salsas and seasonings prepared with the preserves.
Taking its place among the other treats of Texan origin on this list, Peanut Patties were popularized by the confection company Tyler Candy in the 1940s, according to the company, which began in Tyler, Texas. Made with ingredients including corn syrup, sugar, butter, evaporated milk, and peanuts, the candies have been an iconic Texan treat since their introduction.
While the old-fashioned treat has been on hand in innumerable gas stations and general store counters for nearly 80 years, Tyler Candy also offers their original patties on their website for mail-order.
The second of three official Texas state symbols on this list, the plentiful pecan is known as the state health nut, the state pie, and the state tree. Fresh, salted, candied, chopped, shelled, boiled, standalone or as a part of a larger recipe, the Texas pecan is a reliable treat to add to a holiday gift basket, whether it’s staying local or being sent on a long trip.
The pecan is also unique, like many other Texan phrases and places, in how the word itself is pronounced. Subject to contentious debate across American linguistics, different regions of the US – and even Texas on its own – have a range of ways to say it: “Pee-can,” “Pih-kahn,” “Puh-kahn,” “Pee-kahn,” and many others.
As a bonus of adding pecans to a Texas-themed gift basket, one also has the opportunity to explain why Texans tend to say “puh-kahn” – and why that’s the correct way.
As noted by the Texas State Historical Association and the American Pecan Council, the pecan is the only major tree nut indigenous to the US, growing in the southern US and on the banks of the Rio Grande as far back as 1600 BC. The most commonly known name for the plant came from the Algonquin word used to describe “a nut too hard to crack by hand,” or “pacane.” The original pronunciation was, “puh-kahn,” which is still the one most widely used in Texas.
The third official state symbol on this list is the prickly pear cactus, the Texas state plant, which has both edible fruits as well as branches and pads that act as vegetables in a wide array of southwestern dishes. For those raised in Texas or with experience visiting the state, a common local product to see offered around the year is a jar of prickly-pear jelly – often also mixed in some recipes with other state symbols, such as jalapeños or red grapefruit.
Homemade preserves like prickly-pear jelly are a staple of bake sales, holiday deserts, local marketplaces, and neighborhood kitchens; the prickly-pear preserves are also a delicious and versatile ingredient rooted in Texas history and culture, making them a simple and effective Texan treat for a gift.
To be a Texan is to know, and often love, Whataburger. Founded in Corpus Christi in the 1950s, the orange and white stripes of the Whataburger brand have fed and delighted both locals and visitors to the state for generations. Not only is Texas the birthplace of the modern hamburger, but its beefy pride has been fed by brands like Whataburger offering well-loved food and Texas-sized branding to claim a place in the state’s cultural identity.
According to Whataburger, the company has more than 730 locations across the Lone Star State, and is otherwise mostly only found in the southern US. With most of the Whataburger locations found in the areas with the highest population densities in the state, they are ubiquitous in the eyes of most people who encounter any sizeable community or major road.
Because of their distribution, like Buc-ee’s, people beyond the reach of Whataburger tend to enjoy the novelty, to the point that Whataburger’s “fancy” and “spicy” ketchup products have started to populate some stores in recent years and many Whataburger-related anecdotes include the theft of its iconic table tents for posterity. While those seeking to add Whataburger products to a holiday gift basket should come by them honestly, they are a solid choice for an undoubtedly Texan collection.
As noted in previous reports, Texans tend to love Texas. State pride and hometown brand enthusiasm go hand-in-hand, leading many companies to emphasize their Texas origin or otherwise Texas-loved traits to leave an impression.
In one of its campiest forms, this strategy and general attitude have led to a multitude of Texas-shaped items. Food, waffle makers, mugs, grills, pillows, blankets, plates, utensils, ornaments, yard signs – if an item exists, there is very often a version of it available in the shape of the Lone Star State.
While this means “Texas-shaped anything” isn’t an overly specific suggestion for a Texas-themed holiday gift basket, it does offer the most freedom and opportunity. Whether the basket is for a barbecue enthusiast, a coffee lover, or simply someone with a Texas-shaped sense of humor, a long search won’t be necessary to find a thoughtful set of goodies with a distinct southwestern flair to wrap up for the holidays.