Nothing warms us up on a chilly day like a steaming, fragrantly spicy bowl of chili. Topped with cheese or sour cream or avocado or crushed up tortilla chips, it is a treat for the tastebuds and the tummy. This humble bowl has interesting beginnings and quite a heated controversy among chili purists.
The origin of chili, or chili con carne (chili with meat), dates back to the mid-1800’s in the US. Trail cooks in and around California and Texas devised a brick of dried beef, suet (beef fat), salt, pepper and chilis that they could boil in pots of water along the trail. The ‘bricks’ were lightweight and stackable, thus lending to their ease of portability. They were also hearty enough to feed hungry cowboys at the end of a long day on the trail.
Chili parlors were a popular staple in Texas in the early 1900’s and wove their way into other states, generally through Texans who emigrated from their home. In the late 1800’s in San Antonio, chili stands were operated by ‘chili queens’ (latino women) in the town center marketplace. The women would make the chili at home and then bring it to town in brightly colored wagons to feed the soldiers there. Offered in plentiful portions at cheap prices, the chili wagons soon became popular with all classes of people who came regularly to eat.
“Texas-style chili”, what chili aficionados refer to as ‘real chili’, is meat (usually beef) and chili peppers. The addition of beans is hotly contested amongst the chili elite and they consider chili with beans inauthentic. As a mandate for inclusion in their official chili competition, the Chili Appreciation Society forbids the inclusion of beans in any preparation of chili. Some even feel the addition of other vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, or garlic are a departure from true chili.
Beans, it seems, came onto the chili scene in the early 1900’s. The most commonly used beans in chili are small red beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, navy beans or great northern beans. They are simmered along with the meat, chilis and vegetables.
Today there are many variations of chili; with or without beans, white chili, chili verde, vegetarian chili, chicken or turkey chili. To many of us, chili refers to a stew made with beans, sometimes meat and generally an assortment of spices. For some, the hotter the better. Some folks have honed their chili recipes to perfection and guard them with their lives. We’re happy to share our chili recipe with you. While it may raise the eyebrow of some purists, we’re pretty sure you’ll think it’s delicious; with or without beans.