They were a variation, but I always thought the gherkins were a nice touch. Frances gave a handwritten copy of the recipe to a close friend who subsequently moved to Arkansas and who may, just may, be the source of that errant citation from Arkansas noted at the beginning of tins article.
Variations continued, and in the Honey Grove Signal-Citizen for Friday, March 15, 1991, we find mention of an entry by Mrs. George D. Carlock, Jr., of Honey Grove, that won Honorable Mention in August 1950 in a Dallas Morning News salmon recipe competition.
One can of salmon; 1 large can of tomatoes; 1 small can of oysters; 1 medium sized onion; 2 large pickles; salt, pepper and pepper sauce (to taste). Flake salmon and mix with tomatoes and oysters in a large bowl. Add chopped onion and pickles. Use salt pepper and pepper sauce generously to taste. Add a few ice cubes to chill and keep cold. Serve with crackers.
On the Honey Grove, Texas, Web site at www.honeygrove.org Mary Anne Thurman, an authority on the matter, comments as follows:
Slang Jang is a dish peculiar to Honey Grove. The legend says that a group of men in a grocery store concocted it for lunch one day. Its popularity grew until there were many people who had Slang Jang picnics at the City Lake. As a child, I can remember many weekends we spent at the lake playing and then eating the delicious chilled Slang Jang. I was a blue ribbon winner in die Slang Jang Contest during the Honey Grove Centennial in 1973.
Mix undrained canned tomatoes with chopped dill pickles and chopped onion to taste. Add a can of oysters, chopped. Add Tabasco, salt and pepper to taste. Add ice cubes to chill. Serve with saltine crackers.
Many people vary this recipe. Some add canned salmon or Vienna sausage in place of die oysters, or in addition to the oysters.
You can see the trend developing. While Mary Anne’s recipe is classic, other cooks are following different pathways. Slang Jang is becoming thicker—more like a cold stew than a cold soup. With Shirley Ausbum’s 1974 recipe, mentioned earlier, you see how it has become something resembling a seafood platter:
Diced dill pickle with a dash of die juice; a can of tomatoes chopped and dumped in with all die liquid; a diced onion; half pint of raw oysters; pound of boiled shrimp; and a quarter pound of boiled crab meat. Salt and pepper to taste.
Sad to say, but by the 1980’s Slang Jang has ceased to be a soup, or even a stew, it has become a relish. I’ll hit you with a couple more recipes, the first from Eats: A Folk History of Texas Foods, by Ernestine Sewell Linck and Joyce Gibson Branch (Texas Christian University Press, Fort Worth, 1989):
1 tomato, fresh from the garden, chopped; 1 sweet green pepper, chopped; 1 medium onion, chopped; 2 stalks of celery, sliced; about 54 pod of hot red pepper; a pinch of salt and sugar; 3/4 cup vinegar; 54 cup water. Combine all ingredients. Add pepper and seasonings to taste.
The second comes, from all places. Maine, or so I determine from a Web posting by a lady named Jackie who, if this site is still active, appears to be from Maine. How far Slang Jang has traveled! (See <http://www.recipelirtk.eom/nrf/6/i864>
Put equal amounts of fresh chopped tomato, green (bell) pepper and onion in a dish. I usually use 1 tomato. Cover with white cider vinegar and add quite a lot of black pepper or to taste. Let the flavors blend for a couple of hours and serve in dish, letting each person put the amount of Slang Jang they want on top of their beans.
This, undeniably, is a relish or a condiment, fulfilling that high school annual statement of 1914. Today, or at least as of the time I write this, if you Google “Slang Jang” you will find more references to relish or salsa than you will to a cold soup. The noble, oyster-laden, national dish of Honey Grove and its folk-history roots are all but forgotten.
My personal, prejudiced, and completely unscientific theory is that the advent of home air conditioning and the ice-making refrigerator-freezer brought about the demise of the old Slang Jang. With ice no longer a rarity and the air inside the house much cooler than the air outside, who wanted a cup of something cold for lunch or supper?
But there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. For the town’s Davy Crockett Day celebration on October 4, 2008, the Honey Grove Chamber of Commerce sponsored a Slang Jang contest to refocus attention on its honored dish.
And who knows? With global warming looming and the outlook for Texas summers getting even hotter, maybe the true Slang Jang will rise again.
Honey Grove Slang Jang
Mix together two 3-pound cans of tomatoes and three 2-pound cans of oysters, 1 large onion, 2 large pickles chopped, add vinegar, salt, red, and black pepper to taste, 1 large lump of ice to chill just before serving. Add crushed crackers to thicken.
Years later, in her mastery of the kitchen, my own dear wife (Frances Clark of Honey Grove) added her variations on this theme in her:
28 oz. can tomatoes, cut up; 8oz. can oysters; 1 onion, chopped; 1 or 2 dill pickles, chopped; 1 or 2 tbsp. pickle juice; 3 gherkins; Tobasco, 1/2 tsp.; Worcester sauce, 1 tsp.; Salt and pepper. Mix. Chill. Serve with ice in bowl, with cheese and crackers.
By John W. Wilson
Those among you who don’t relish oysters—canned or raw—are free to leave the room.
For those of you who choose to stay, I’ll tell you a tale about the origins, the rise to popularity and fame, and the decline, almost to obsolescence, of a delicious, invigorating, summertime concoction known as Slang Jang and referred to by many as the national dish of Honey Grove.
Honey Grove is a town in the Top of Texas, in Fannin County midway between Bonham and Paris, and how the town got its name is another story, well-based in legend and so often told that I won’t bother with re-telling it here. Suffice it to say that Slang Jang originated in Honey Grove some fifty years or so after Davy Crockett camped in the area while on a hunting side-trip and wrote a note about the several bee-trees his party found there. Had it been available, however, I’m sure Slang Jang would have been a welcome addition to their regular diet of branch water and buffalo hump.
The exact date is difficult, if not impossible, to pin down, but the origin of the dish appears to date to about 1888, although there is evidence that there might have been a predecessor, or at least a hint of what was to come, in a recipe from an earlier year.
In January 2003 the Newsletter of the American Dialect Society (NADS), carried an item requesting examples of usage of a list of words to be included in an upcoming volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English. “If you are familiar with any of the following words or expressions,” the article requested, “please let us know.” Leading the list was:
slang-jang - a dish containing oysters, onions, pickles, peppers, etc. We have a single citation from Arkansas, but a Google search suggests that this is still known, especially in the South and South Midland. Is this part of your culinary background?
You bet it was! I married a Honey Grove girl and, of course, Slang-Jang became a treasured part of my culinary background. But a single citation from Arkansas? That could not be tolerated. It must have been due to a trickle-down effect from some misguided North Texan who had happened to wander across the state line. So I fired off a response giving ample evidence of the Honey Grove origin of the simple but delicious dish. I find that dialecticians more experienced than I also responded, but since I have not seen Volume V of the Dictionary of American Regional English, I cannot tell you whether Slang Jang has been properly defined therein, as anticipated that it might be in a much earlier publication.
For that definition we turn to the Honey Grove high school annual for 1914. It was the school’s first annual and the name chosen for it was, proudly, "The Slang Jang," set in ornate, black-letter type.
“The word Slang-Jang is not found in the dictionaries, ” the introduction to the annual notes, “but it will be given its proper place when the lexicons are revised. We say this confidently, for the makers of dictionaries are progressive and anxious to keep their works up-to-date; therefore they will not fail to include in their next editions the popular:
Slang-Jang. n. A delectable mixture of liquids and solids which originated in the city of Honey Grove, Texas, about the year 1888. A dish that everybody likes and nobody can get enough of. Never known to make any person sick, no matter how much of it was consumed. It is claimed that this dish can only be compounded correctly in Honey Grove, or by a native of Honey Grove.
We are not permitted to print information regarding the origin of Slang-Jang, neither can we make public the formula thereof; these are secrets that have been sacredly guarded all these years. We must say, however, that it is both food and drink, a digestant, a stomachic and a condiment. It is a mixture that does everybody good and nobody harm.
This being true, we can find no good reason why our Annual should not be given the name of Slang-Jang. It is a Honey Grove publication, a mixture of beauty and homeliness, photography and fun, business and burlesque, which, we feel sure, will injure no one, but make those who partake of it feel better. Therefore, we christen our Annual “Slang-Jang, ” and send it forth with the hope that it will prove as delightful a mixture as the great dish from which it takes its name.
The editors of the high-school annual were a little coy in claiming that the recipe for Slang Jang was a secret, though even then the ingredients might vary somewhat from maker to maker, depending on what was conveniently at hand. And Slang Jang’s origin may go back even earlier than 1888, according to recipes in the KKK Cookbook published in 1894 by Robert Clarke Co. for the ladies of the Kute Kooking Klub of Honey Grove. The club had been organized October 29, 1886, and contained recipes that pre-dated that event.
One, in particular, involved hollowing out a big block of ice and dumping in canned tomatoes, canned oysters, chopped-up pickles and onion, and salt and pepper seasoning to taste. When properly chilled, the mixture was ladled up, as from a punch bowl, and served in cups.
It should be noted that Slang Jang was principally a warm weather dish, often bought outside to serve from a picnic table in the back yard in the cool of the evening. And where, you might ask, did one get a block of ice in North Texas during the 1880’s? Cut during the winter from a frozen lake, it came by train, packed in sawdust, from some northern state such as Wisconsin.
As natives of Honey Grove prepared their gazpacho-like summer soup and served it to family and friends, its popularity grew, and legends of its origin began to arise. Probably the most popular tale has the invention occurring in Fritz Messerer’s store some time after the aforementioned high school annual was issued and forgotten. Why Messerer’s store? Because, so the story goes, Fritz not only was a member of the band of inventors, but his store could furnish the essential equipment and ingredients. And, of course, he had the only ice-making machine in town at the time.
Evidence of the persistence of this legend is given by outdoors-writer Tom Lepere in a July 12, 1974, column in the Dallas Times Herald. On a break from fishing in Lake Crockett, a few miles north of Honey Grove, Tom was served Slang Jang for lunch by Shirley Ausbum of the Davy Crockett Lodge. “Every one around Honey Grove has his own idea about what goes into Slang Jang, but Shirley’s is about the best formula I’ve sat at a table with, ” Tom wrote.
He listened to her explanation of how the dish came to be.
“It seems” he wrote, “as though long ago there were three cronies in Honey Grove who fished and hunted together. They also were known to imbibe of the grape, sniff of the hops and luxuriate in the squeezings of the corn plant.
“They fished in the heat of the sun one day and naturally were forced to keep their innards cool by taking long pulls at icy brown bottles.
“They quaffed enough that they didn’t realize they had failed to bring lunch with them. As darkness fell, they all decided they were beginning to get hungry. There wasn’t any place around to eat, but one had a brilliant thought. He owned a grocery store so what would be a better place to get a mess of grub?
“They went to the store, got a dishpan, and started walking down the aisles, opening cans and dumping them into the pan as they went.
“Thus Slang Jang was born. ”
(It is worthy of note here that the dishpan remains a key part of Slang Jang lore. Early in our domestic life, my beloved bride from Honey Grove had us invest heavily in a blue enamel dishpan and eight matching enamel cups for the proper brewing and serving of Slang Jang.)
Could Slang Jang have been invented more than once? Indeed it could, though it seems to owe its true origin to members of the Kute Kooking Klub, and its popularity expanded rapidly enough to gain this notice in the August 23, 1901, issue of the Commerce Journal, published in a neighboring Northeast Texas town: “About fifteen couples enjoyed a ‘slang jang’ party at Iceland Monday night, where dancing and music was had until a late hour. All report a most pleasant time with the ‘slang jang’ as delicious. ”
Not everyone had the same high opinion of Slang Jang, however. Preceding the story of the three beer-guzzling fisherman by many years is the origin-story attributed to J. H. Lowry, editor of the Honey Grove Signal. According to reports in both the Dallas Morning News and the Galveston Daily News issues of March 2,1907, “Not long ago the editor of the Honey Grove Signal went to Austin, and while there he appears to have regaled his friends with a dish about which much has been said and little is known. The Bonham Herald mentions the matter in this way:
“The Honey Grove dish, their national dish, is slangang. It is said to be made up of what generally gets in the receptacle for a pig’s dinner, and it produces all sorts of things, including nightmares and new candidates. Editor Lowry introduced it at Austin the other night, when the effect was electrifying, we hear. ”
(Warning: Lowry’s story is lengthy and rather tedious, so feel free to skip it if you like.)
“There may be and there are people who are interested in this new culinary concoction, known in the locality of Honey Grove as ‘slangjang’. Editor Lowry, once upon a time, set down and told State Press all about the discovery of the dish, if such an expression is permissible, and also did the best he could do to introduce him into the mysteries of its making. Told in his way, a graven image would have become interested in it, and it is almost profane to attempt to repeat what he said, so despicable must be the attempt.
“He said that some years ago a party of well-fed Honey Grove men went into the Territory to hunt. They took with them much food, such as could be carried in tins. Moreover, they appear to have taken other things. The weather was beautiful and game scarce. The party remained in camp waiting for bad weather, having concluded that only when the deer were so depressed by climatic influences that they would cease to run about and would finally lean against trees, they could be killed.
“Lying around camp for several days, they became full of lassitude and other things, and the terrible condition was finally reached when each declined to cook. Starvation stared them in the face, though they reclined or were stretched in the midst of that plenty which the canned goods represented.
“Thus flew one, two, even three days, when some one of them, less obstinate than the others, concluded to minister to his own appetite. He made a fire. He placed a kettle of water on it. He attacked the canned goods; he emptied them of their contents of tomatoes, com, beans, pineapple, peaches, blackberries, ochre (sic), deviled ham, pickled pork, pickled beef and all the cove oysters into the pot. Then added pepper and salt ad libitum. He removed the pot when it began to boil.
“His companions arose, every one of them, with such appetites as perhaps never man had before. They shook hands across the steaming agent of reconciliation. They drank deep drafts of branch water, and other things, to the eternal health of all. They crowned the genius who had conceived the great dish before them, and crowned him with oak leaves, one of the members having asserted that this is what they did with conquerors and public benefactors in the Roman days. Having eaten up everything they had brought with them, being physically unable to pursue even a squirrel, they pulled for home.
’’They brought back nothing but a reminiscence, and that was of the dish they had eaten. Confused in tongue, down and out in head, they stumbled on a name for the new conception, and ‘slangjang’ was born. It is a great dish, so Editor Lowry assured State Press; but a man must prepare himself for the enjoyment of it.
“He must refrain from all other food for at least three days. During this time he must drink copiously of that which will make horseradish and sauerkraut indistinguishable to him. He must cultivate a sullen, obstinate and mean disposition. Then, when having undergone the ordeals mentioned, he will eat ‘slangjang ’ and call it something beside which the nectar of the gods is cold, stale and funky beer. ”
From whence came the word “slangjang” is anybody’s guess, but I suspect it was somehow related to “tanglefoot” Alcoholic beverages figure prominently in the creation stories and, indeed, in Shelby County of East Texas in 1912, “Slang Jang” meant “whiskey.”
Let’s back off some from the boiling pot that nourished the starving hunters in the Indian Territory, for we have seen conclusively that Slang Jang is most palatable when well-chilled. The true recipe does not vary greatly from the original used with that hollowed-out block of ice in the 1880’s. To me, the classic one is set forth on Page 73 of the Cook Book of the Westminster Guild of the Presbyterian Church, published by the Citizen Press, Honey Grove, in 1922.