Texas Wendish Heritage Society Scholarship Fundraiser 2024

As long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to things that I instinctively seem to know are fading away. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to document one of those things with my camera.

The backstory… my part of Texas (located about midway between Austin and Houston) is populated by lots of folks with Wendish heritage (or, if you use the preferred European term, Sorbian – though the folks here still prefer “Wendish” – so I’ll follow suit here). They’re Slavs that came under the rule of the Saxons and Prussians during the latter years of the Holy Roman Empire. In the mid-1800s, a number of them settled in this part of Texas (others went to Australia), hoping to preserve their language and culture.

The last fluent speaker of Wendish in these parts died before I was born (and I’m almost fifty now), so that ship has sailed, but the Texas Wendish Heritage Society works to preserve their history and culture. And… every January, the Society has a drive-through meal in Serbin, Texas (an unincorporated town where many of the Wends that came to Texas settled) to benefit their scholarship program, which is open to students with documented Wendish ancestry. These pictures are taken at this year’s scholarship fundraiser meal.

Years ago, the dominant method of preparing barbecue in Texas was over direct heat… originally coals were dumped in a hole in the ground, and a grate was placed over it… and that eventually evolved into the sort of above-ground pits you see in these pictures. However, direct heat is disappearing fairly rapidly, and offset smokers that provide indirect heat (and are better suited to the “low and slow” style of cooking) are more popular these days. But you’ll still find the old-school direct-heat pits at many of the Lutheran churches around these parts… like these at the picnic grounds of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Serbin.

If you’re not familiar with this method of preparing barbecue, what’s going on is that wood is burned in the “burn barrel” (the ginormous tall metal structure you see in some of the pictures), and as it burns, coals drop down through a grate the wood is placed on. Those coals are routinely harvested from the bottom of the burn barrel using a long-handled shovel and scattered onto the bottom of the pits. The meat sits on grates about 30-36 inches above the coals, and as it cooks, the juices drip down onto the coals and burn, adding flavor to the meat.

In this case, the volunteers are preparing pork steaks.

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