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About A Week: Chilli And Cowboy Hats

Peter Hinchliffe and his wife Joyce dine with the locals on Texas home cooking.

Lunchtime at Crackers café in Paducah, Texas A hungry throng wearing cowboy hats and baseball caps are tucking into the special buffet.

These are the real Texans. Wiry, leathery men, who look as though they’ve spent a long morning wrestling with steers - and they probably have.

The food is plentiful and delicious. Real home cooking. A thousand times better than a franchised hamburger or a dish from a fancy-phrase menu.

I settle for a bowl of chilli. No beans in Texas chilli. It’s all meat.

Then Joyce and I go in search of her family history. We find the house on a dirt road at Seventh and Breckenridge where her grandparents Murphy and Alma Cantrell lived. A squirrel blinks a greeting then races up a pecan tree.

The Cantrells ran a chicken hatchery on this site. Murphy was agricultural agent for Cottle County, advising farmers in the days when the high plains were still attracting new settlers.

In 1900, acting on a hunch, the 19-year-old Murphy and his sisters caught the last train out of Galveston before the coastal town was hit by one of the worst storms in American history. Six thousand people died when a hurricane drove water ashore. Having got his sisters to safety Murphy returned to take part in rescue efforts.

Joyce recognises the Cantrell home which she visited as a child. Paducah itself hasn’t changed much. The old court house. Wood-frame houses sanded by the dust which blows in on the keen North Texas breeze…

Earlier in the day we had driven through Tulia, up in canyon country, where Joyce’s Uncle Wash and Aunt Beulah scraped a living as early-day farmers.

North of Tulia we dipped and weaved through the snake-pass roads of the Palo Duro canyon, the second biggest in the USA after the famous Grand Canyon.

Palo Duro means hard stick. Indian tribes - Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Apache - made bows and arrows from the hardwood juniper trees which grow there.

The Palo Duro is 120 miles long, 600 to 800 feet deep, and half-a-mile to two miles across. The rim is 3,500 ft above sea level and the canyon walls paint astonishing modern-art pictures in vivid lavenders, yellows, reds and whites.

Go there at this time of year and you can have the place pretty much to yourself.

Four days after the Paducah visit we are in Grand Prairie, mid-way between Dallas and Fort Worth, where members of the Watson clan - all descendents of Murphy Cantrell - have gathered to welcome us.

Texas talk rolls on melodiously, and I count myself lucky that the friendly drawl is now as familiar to me as broad Yorkshire.

On Sunday we share a barbecue lunch with Carl and Kim Watson and their children Shelby and Cole in Fort Worth’s famous Stockyards, where cattle were assembled before the Chisholm-trail-trek to the north. In Riskys restaurant you are still likely to hear the jingle-jangle of spurs.

Then it’s straight to Dallas Fort Worth airport, and the long flight home.

I am always glad to be back amid green Pennine hills - but what a bonus to have a second country in which to drawl, sprawl and feel at home.


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