On The Range is a weekly exploration of the history and lore of Texas menu items.
Growing up, the most magical place in the world was not Six Flags, Playland Park, or Disney World. Nope, not even the State Fair of Texas. You see, the place near and dear to every child's heart--before the invention of XBox--was the corner convenience store.
Whether you grew up in North Texas, where it was called 7-11, or Central and South Texas, where it was known as Utotem, no Saturday would be complete without spending some of your allowance on candy bars or Dr Pepper. Those wanting to appear tougher than the others could even pop for a packet of beef jerky.
Time just can't pass beef jerky by. Other treats come and go, but dried beef has been around for centuries. In fact, you can go into many Mexican restaurants these days and order a variation of beef jerky with eggs, known as Machacado con Huevos.
In her cookbook, The Cuisines of Mexico, Diana Kennedy reports that Machacado became a breakfast staple in such Northern Mexican states as Nuevo Leon and Chihuahua, primarily because these were cattle-raising areas:
"Before the days of refrigeration, practically the only way of preserving beef in the arid cattle states of North and Northwestern Mexico was to make beef jerky. The meat is cut into thin slices, sprinkled with lime juice and salt, and then hung up in the sun to dry. It is then pounded into shreds and becomes carne machacada--from the Spanish word machacar, to pound."
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Actually, she adds in her book My Mexico that the carne seca (dried beef) was traditionally dried on the family clothesline:
"The good cooks of Chihuahua do not, of course, call the USDA Food Safety Hotline to ask if it's OK to dry their uncooked beef on a clothesline, the way it's been done for generations. But if they did, they'd be informed that it's most definitely not OK from a microbiological point of view, unless you're planning to cook the beef for a long time...."
You can get non-clothesline Machacada con Huevos at Casa Navarro Restaurant in North Dallas.
Casa Navarro has been turning out excellent Mexican meals for many years, but when it first opened, the space was so tiny that you couldn't count on getting a table, even if you showed up early. Luckily, they've since expanded, and their Machacado Con Huevos features scrambled eggs and beef, and very good corn and flour tortillas to wrap them in.