Chili when it’s chilly

Chili Con Carne, Food, Warm, Bread

In fact, I love chili anytime of the year, but during cold weather it’s especially good, or as Bat Droppings said,”Chili is not so much food as it’s a state of mind. Addictions to it are formed early in life and the victims never recover. On chilly, blue days in October, I get this passionate yearning for a bowl of chili, and I almost lose my mind.”

There are probably thousands of different chili recipes and I love making and eating a number of chili recipes. For me, it is a great food adventure. And although I might have my own favorites, such as my version of a traditional chili, I really don’t get too excited if someone else gets his favorite that is much different than mine.

Some people like it hot and hot and some prefer it mildly spiced. Some cooks use ground beef while some insist that the beef ought to be chopped. There are chili recipes that use chicken, turkey, pork, venison or other quite exotic meats. Some chili recipes use meat or beer stocks as part or all the cooking liquid.

There are many vegetarian versions of chili also. Using vegetable stock and/or tomatoes eliminates the need for meat.

What sorts of beans, if any, should be in a chili? Here, too, you will discover a huge assortment of preferences. Pinto beans, red beans, kidney beans, black beans or white beans – there are recipes which use each or them or even a combination of several, such as the Three Bean Enchilada Recipe on the website. However, you should also understand that there were no beans in chili originally!

What kind of chile peppers or chili seasoning ought to be used and how much? With this the terrific chili debate actually heats up – so to speak. ( Chile refers to the pepper pod. Chili to the creation. )

And the terrific chili debate isn’t limited to what chili or chili recipe is greatest. Some of us are so enthused about where the bowl was made and who made it that they almost come to blows.

In America, chili is something many men and women love to cook and eat, and a few love to argue about. My Texas friends will undoubtedly defend their chili as the best ( and possibly the only real chili) from the world.

In his book,”Simple Cooking,” John Thorpe wrote,”It can only really be Texas red if it walks the thin line just this side of indigestibility: Damning the mouth that eats it and defying the gut to digest it, the components are barely willing to lie in exactly the same pot together.”

What’s amazing to me, however, is that even among residents of Texas there is debate as to the single best chili recipe. That has helped keep”chili cookoffs” alive and well, not only in Texas, but in a number of areas throughout the country. I’ve never wanted to be a chili judge. If their life is not in peril, their digestive systems may be. When my husband once thought about accepting an invitation to judge this type of competition I told him he would sleep outside that night when he did.

Is there such a thing as”the original Texas chili?” The history of chili is very unclear about this. There’s a recipe that is at least traceable to a cattle range cook, or perhaps it was from the combined offerings of many old cowboys straddled up to a Texas bar. Nobody will swear that this is the first true Texas chili recipe, but most say it sounds pretty close. Notice . . .no beans.

Chili con Carne Recipe

An “Original” Chili Recipe

Cut up as much meat as you think you will need (any kind will do, but beef is probably best) in bits about the size of a pecan

Cook it with about the same amount of wild onions, garlic, oregano, and chiles as you’ve Got meat

Put in some salt

Stir it from time to time and cook it till the meat is as tender as you think it’s likely to get

Some chili recipes today are rather”tame” or mild because this is the way some people like it. But the history of chili is pretty clear that there never was anything really mild about chili and there was an excellent reason.

Consider It. Even if chili did not originate in Texas, the cattle drives and range cooks certainly helped popularize it.

On the road, the cook used what meat he had available. If if wasn’t fresh-killed beef or buffalo or deer then it was probably jackrabbit or rattlesnake. The range cook certainly feared his own lynching if he tried to feed the cow hands freshly killed beef or buffalo without aging the meat. Out of necessity he had to try to disguise the meat’s taste and for this he used what he had on hand: onions, garlic, salt and chile peppers. The range cook also knew that spices helped keep the meat from spoiling. Chili became the meal of the day. And the term”Chili con Carne” is Spanish for”peppers and meat.”

Some food experts and historians say that San Antonio should be given credit for popularizing chili because it was there that women called”Chili Queens” occupied parts of the Military Plaza and sold their highly seasoned stews called”chili” from little carts. Although these women sold chili from carts for many years, it became highly popular by 1880. In fact the plaza became known as”La Plaza del Chile con Carne.”

And it was then that the”Queens” began to refine and add sophistication to the dish they were selling. They brought it somewhere near today’s stage because every one was always striving to enhance her chili recipe, simply to attract more clients than any of the competition. The urge to cook the best bowl of chili in the world is at least that old. Apparently chili cookoffs were created.

Here’s an example of a Chili Queen’s recipe: (Again, no beans)

Original San Antonio Chili


3 medium-sized onions, chopped

1 quart water

4 ancho chiles

1 serrano chile

6 dried red chiles

1 tbsp comino seeds, freshly ground (cumin)

Place lightly floured beef and pork cubes in the pork and beef fat in a thick chili pot and cook quickly, stirring often.

Add garlic and onions and cook until they are tender and limp

Add water to mixture and simmer slowly while preparing chiles

Remove stems and seeds from chiles and chop very finely

Grind chiles in molcajete and add oregano with salt to combine

Remove fat bits and skim off some fat

Never cook frijoles with chiles and meat

Serve as separate dish.

(Institute of Texan Cultures)

Again the background of chili simply indicates there may not be a response. We are aware that peppers and spices have existed since the beginning of time. Chile peppers Appear in the early foods of China, India, Indonesia, Italy, the Caribbean, France, and the Arab states. The green chile pepper was brought to what is now New Mexico in 1598.

But it is reasonably clear how chili has been popularized. The credit has to go to the cattle trail hamburgers and certainly to the Chili Queens of San Antonio.

As a food, how important is chili to certain elements of American life and culture?

Will we ever be able to crown one single recipe as the ideal? I don’t believe so, and that’s fine with me. I think everyone has great fun attempting to do so.

The history of chili as well as its development makes me think the great chili debate is destined to continue forever.

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