Chile con queso, Texas' sixth food group, did the heavy-lifting for my mother. As far as crowd-pleasing party food goes, it is a sure thing: dead-easy, consistent, and good. A recipe for the dip in all its processed cheese glory was first published by the Woman’s Club of San Antonio, writes Queso! author Lisa Fain. After that, the recipe frequently appeared in Texas Junior League cookbooks, and First Lady Lady Bird shared her recipe with The Washington Post in 1964. Julia Child, sampling her first queso in Dallas, reportedly asked for thirds.
If a humble, down-home dish was celebrated by the grande dame of French cooking, women’s social clubs and, even, the White House, surely this party dip could cross cultural divides for my mother, too. She was a stranger in a strange land, attempting fluency in a language of laborious fried dishes and hot rollers, while she stumbled over subtleties about sororities and summer sleepaway camps. So here was a revelation—one can of Ro-tel tomatoes and a brick of Velveeta—easy-to-understand shorthand that meant instant party success. —Sarah McColl