What the Kreb? 

Ever wonder how two of the dishes most prevalent in this state's gastronomical landscape came to be lamb fries and spaghetti and meatballs? Do you love the nationally recognized libation that is Choc beer?

Then dig into Dave Cathey's A Culinary History of Pittsburg County for an inspiring and delicious ride through the trials of pioneer life and the triumph of some of its most colorful citizens that put the tiny town of Krebs on the map. The town that was almost named Bucklucksey is the result of what happens when tradition and necessity meet, with delicious results.

Dave Cathey, The Daily Oklahoman’s “Food Dude,” paints a vivid portrait of the harsh realities of life in Oklahoma Territory at the turn of the century. Lured by the prospect of rich coal deposits in Eastern Oklahoma, and driven by the scarcity of work to be found in their native Italy, these intrepid pioneers carved out a livelihood on the Oklahoma frontier with seldom more than their wits and the skills they brought with them.

Armed with little more than the food traditions of their homeland and a drive to carve out a better life, these men and women brought tasty changes to how this small community, and eventually the state at large, ate.

Newcomers found life in Eastern Oklahoma to be harsh and often unforgiving. Work as a miner was difficult, dangerous work that often resulted in tragedy. Settlers to this area carved out a meager existence, often relying on their creativity to make ends meet.

The three “first families” of Krebs each lost family in the mines and, as a result, were forced to seek another means of supporting themselves. What they discovered in the process was that mining was hungry, thirsty work. Coming from a culture with a rich culinary tradition, they were well-suited to the challenge.

Pete Prichard, who started life as Pietro Piegari, the founder of Pete’s Place, suffered an injury that prevented him from work in the mines. He resorted to selling home-brewed beer from his basement.

He was not the only person who realized brewing the illegal concoction of hops, malt and barley could be lucrative. Other families began brewing a variation of the local libation and selling it to thirsty miners. Prichard was, however, the one who perfected the process, establishing the Choc Beer we know today. It is still brewed on the premises of Pete’s Place — long having outgrown the basement of his house. One of the original microbrews is sought nationwide by connoisseurs.

The sprawling Pete’s Place had its humble beginnings in the kitchen of his house, where Pete provided cool basement-brewed “choc” beer and hearty fare for the hardworking men of the area after a long day in the mines.

In addition to the colorful history of Choc Beer, the book examines how the Oklahoman-Italian tradition deviates from the recipes of their country of origin, a fascinating exploration of the origin and history of “lamb fries” — a unique delicacy that’s popularity continues to astound newcomers, until they try them.

These anecdotes are part of what makes this book such a fun read.

Cathey portrays the players with warmth and wit, and with his genuine enthusiasm for his subjects, you couldn’t ask for a better tour guide.

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