The Spice Route
By June Naylor
Photos by Ron Jenkins
150 years old, Pendery’s arrived in Fort Worth via Cincinnati. Today, it’s still a go-to source for making chili — and other dishes — taste better.
When entrepreneur DeWitt Clinton Pendery arrived in Fort Worth by stagecoach from Cincinnati 150 years ago, he was wearing a fancy ensemble of frock coat and an elegant top hat. His welcome was a rude one. Carpetbaggers weren’t popular around these parts in those post-Civil War years, and supposedly somebody fired a shot at that fine silk hat.
But Pendery pressed on and began selling proprietary spice blends and teas from his new Cowtown home. By 1890, Pendery’s ground chile pods and other spices were a must in making a good pot of chili. In fact, the first chili seasoning blend, called Chiltomaline, remains a signature at Pendery’s World of Chiles & Spices — one of the oldest businesses in Fort Worth.
As a purveyor of spices, Pendery’s is actually closer to 175 years old, says the founder’s great-great-grandson, Clint Haggerty. “We’re just now willing to admit our Yankee roots,” says Haggerty, the company’s general manager for 21 years. “With more recent research, we’ve found that he established his business in 1845, then took what he’d learned up there and brought it down here.”
Pendery’s descendants continued to grow the business over the decades, making it one of the nation’s primary spice mail-order companies. Professional and home chefs from coast to coast browsed the Pendery’s catalog, filled with hundreds of ground and whole spices of all descriptions. The manufacturing plant originally was located on Belknap Street in downtown Fort Worth.
When Tarrant County College wanted to build its downtown campus, Pendery’s sold that property but remained as a retail business in Fort Worth.
The company relocated its storefront to a 1910 bungalow on 8th Avenue in the medical district of Fort Worth’s Near Southside neighborhood. They moved manufacturing operations in 1992 to an industrial area near downtown Dallas, where the family has lived — Haggerty’s grandfather married a Highland Park girl who wanted to stay there — since the early 1900s.
“Fort Worth has our history,” Haggerty says, noting that Pendery’s roots remain undisturbed. “We have a solid customer base here.”
Though business dipped during COVID-19’s early lockdown, foot traffic rose significantly in May and continues with the renewed popularity of cooking at home. Haggerty says sales to restaurants, which account for the bulk of Pendery’s nationwide business, dropped alarmingly at the pandemic’s onset but have rebounded recently to nearly 60 percent of usual numbers.
Indeed, a recent trip to the shop found a steady stream of customers wandering in to buy any of hundreds of spice packets, sealed in plastic zipper bags, each bearing the top-hat logo.
In addition to the chile blends, you’ll find turkey brine seasonings, meat rubs, citrus powders, gourmet salts and peppers, and ethnic blends: Asian, Greek, Jamaican, Italian, Moroccan and more. (Look for new packaging in 2021 that incorporates more jars.)
Browse the shop’s warren of rooms for kitchen tools and accessories, cookbooks and boxed gift sets.
As the weather cools, of course, chili heads seek out packs of everything from Pendery’s Original to Santa Fe Red to Fort Worth Light. “Our fourth quarter is financially sound,” Haggerty allows, with a smile, “because we invented chili blends.”
Pendery’s reputation is built solidly on its wealth of whole dried chiles and ground chile blends. But the store offers far more in terms of a global selection of spices and dried herbs. Whatever you want to cook or bake, the spices are here — no matter how exotic your preference. To showcase the diversity, we asked local chefs to use their imaginations and create dishes from some of the complex blends found on Pendery’s shelves.
When you taste the pizzas, salads, and sandwiches at Black Cat Pizza in Fort Worth’s Near Southside neighborhood (blackcatpizza.com), you know there’s a trained chef at work. That’s Jaime Fernandez, the owner/chef, who brings a history of classic cooking to his craft, which shows up in these Pilau-Spiced Fish Tacos. Using Pendery’s Pilau, an East Indian blend of cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, black pepper and cumin, he says, “I like that the spice is warm and savory and that the cinnamon gives it a nice, almost dessertlike quality even when used in a savory dish. And I really liked that the spice went nicely with avocado.” He advises using a meaty whitefish, such as grouper or redfish, but he says tilapia, snapper, halibut or cod will work fine, too.
Pilau-Spiced Fish Tacos
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced lengthwise
- 1 yellow onion, cut into quarters
- 2½ tablespoons Pendery’s Pilau seasoning blend, divided use
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon chopped oregano
- 2 (8-ounce) fillets meaty whitefish, skin removed
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup water
- 1 cup canola or peanut oil
- 8 flour tortillas
To season fish, combine garlic, onion, 1½ tablespoons seasoning blend, vinegar, brown sugar, salt and oregano in a plastic bag or dish with fitted lid, mixing well. Add fish to mixture (it’s almost a dry rub) and chill at least 2 hours but no more than 6.
Prepare avocado mousse, slaw, aioli and rice (recipes follow). Make your favorite black bean side dish using fresh or canned. Set all aside. To prepare fish, remove from marinade and drain. Cut into strips about 1½ inches wide.
In small bowl, beat eggs and water. In a separate bowl, mix flours, salt and 1 tablespoon Pilau seasoning. Add fish pieces to dry mixture, coating well; dip into egg wash and return to flour mixture for an even coating. In a deep saute pan, heat oil to 375 degrees on medium-high heat. Fry fish until golden brown in color and internal temp reaches 145 degrees. Drain on paper towels.
To serve, spread a warm tortilla with avocado mousse and top with pieces of fish. Drizzle with aioli and top with slaw. Serve two tacos per plate, with sides of rice and beans, garnished with chopped cilantro and queso fresco.
Avocado mousse Combine flesh from 2 avocados with 1 small cucumber, seeded and peeled; ½ cup cilantro, coarsely chopped; juice of 2 Key limes; 2 tablespoons olive oil; and 2 teaspoons salt. Blend in food processor until smooth. Cover tightly until time to serve.
Slaw In a bowl, toss together ¼ head purple cabbage, thinly sliced; 1 red onion, thinly sliced; juice of 1 lemon; and pinch salt.
Aioli Combine 1 egg yolk, 2 cloves garlic, chopped; 2 teaspoons lemon juice; ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard; 1 tablespoon Pilau seasoning; and ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a bowl. Whisk well until thickened.
Rice Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 2 sliced garlic cloves, cooking until just golden. Add 1 cup white rice, stirring to avoid burning, and cook for 30 seconds. Add 2 cups water or vegetable stock and ½ teaspoon salt, reducing heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly before fluffing with fork.
Hao Tran and Dixya Bhattarai are co-owners of The Table Market & Culinary Studio (thetablemarket.com) in Fort Worth, a retail and cooking class space known for goods made by the proprietors, as well as by local artisans. Hao, a Vietnam native, and Dixya, who came to the U.S. from Nepal, enjoy collaborating on exotic comfort foods from throughout Asia and the world. Working with Pendery’s spice mix called Masala-Trinidad — a West Indies-inspired blend of coriander, red chile, black pepper, anise, cloves, and cumin — they compiled a feast of Hao’s Moroccan Beef Koftas (you can substitute ground lamb or chicken) and Dixya’s Aloo Palungo Ko Tarkari, a potato-spinach curry that can be made with other vegetables (squash, kale, cauliflower), or with the addition of chickpeas or lentils. Serve with pita, naan or roti, the unleavened flatbread from India.
Moroccan Beef Koftas
Makes 6 to 8 skewers
- 1 pound premium ground beef
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 teaspoons Pendery’s Masala-Trinidad blend
- ½ cup finely chopped cilantro
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Vegetable oil for grilling
- Plain yogurt, sliced red onion, lemon or lime wedges, additional cilantro, for serving
Heat grill to medium-high heat. If using wood skewers, soak in water for an hour.
Combine meat, egg, herbs and spices in bowl, mixing well. Form meat in sausage shape around skewers. Spray with vegetable oil to prevent sticking on grate. Grill for 12 to 14 minutes, turning once during cooking. (If using oven, cook on rimmed baking sheet at 400 degrees, turning once.)
Serve with plain yogurt, red onion, lemon or lime wedges, additional cilantro and potato-spinach curry.
Aloo Palungo Ko Tarkari
(Nepali-Inspired Potato and Spinach Curry)
Serves 4 to 5
- 2 tablespoons canola or avocado oil
- ½ teaspoon cumin seed
- ¼ teaspoon fennel seed
- 1 cup finely chopped white or yellow onion
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic cloves (3 to 4 cloves)
- ½ teaspoon minced ginger
- 4 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly into half-moon shape
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt (or to taste)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1½ teaspoons Pendery’s Masala-Trinidad blend
- 1 medium Roma tomato, finely chopped
- 2 cups water
- 2 large handfuls baby spinach
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Heat oil in a Dutch oven or heavy pot. Add cumin and fennel, cooking over medium heat until fragrant, followed by onion, garlic and ginger.
When onion is caramelized, about 4 to 6 minutes, add potatoes and stir gently. Season with salt to taste and add turmeric, Pendery’s spice blend and chile powder.
Lower heat and cook 2 more minutes before adding tomato and water, stirring to deglaze the pan.
Simmer for 7 or 8 minutes, partially covered, until potatoes are just cooked but not mushy.
Add spinach and allow to wilt. Adjust seasonings to taste and finish with lemon juice before serving.
Rena Frost, owner-chef at Mac’s on Main in Grapevine and Mac’s Bar & Grill in Arlington (macsteak.com), loves working with lamb from Australia. Her spice assignment was Pendery’s Epices Fines, a French blend also called Spice Parisienne, that combines finely ground white and black peppercorns, basil, thyme, paprika, cinnamon, ginger, mace, cloves and nutmeg. “This recipe relays my feeling of comfort food and fall. I was thrilled that I could easily access this spice mix without buying each individual one, and it got the flavor profile just right for this dish.”
Lamb and Cremini Pie
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil
- 2 pounds Australian lamb sirloin, cubed
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1½ teaspoons Pendery’s Epices Fines
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 3 cups Hop & Sting Sir William’s brown ale (if you can’t find this Grapevine-brewed beer, use your favorite English-style brown ale)
- 2 cups beef (or beef bone) broth
- 1 pound cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, quartered
- 1 (17-ounce) package puff pastry sheet, thawed
- 1 egg, beaten
Over medium-high heat, warm oil in a heavy-bottomed pan until it shimmers. Add lamb to pan, season with salt and cook until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes.
Combine flour and seasoning mix in a small bowl and add to hot pan, along with garlic, stirring until meat is thoroughly coated. Cook 5 minutes and add beer. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes (be sure to scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan). Add broth, return to boil, then reduce to medium-low and cover. Cook 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
Add mushrooms and adjust seasonings to taste. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes, until juice reduces and thickens.
Divide mixture among 4 wide, oven-proof bowls. With a sharp knife, cut 4 rounds of pastry to cover each bowl. Transfer pastry-topped bowls to refrigerator for about
Heat convection oven to 350 degrees (375 for a regular oven). Brush refrigerated pie tops with beaten egg and bake on a rimmed baking sheet 20 minutes (25 minutes in a regular oven) or until crusts turn golden.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes and vegetables.