By Dave DeWitt
Everyone has an opinion about chili. Arguably, it is the most contentious food in the world, triggering debates as to its origin, authenticity, preparation, and influence on international culinary practices. While researching chili for this exclusive SuperSite report, I found a treasure trove of controversial opinions and observations. It is my pleasure to share them with readers with a literary bent–or those who are just bent, period. But first, all of you bow your heads.
A Not Socially Correct Chili Prayer
This prayer was preached by Matthew "Bones" Hooks, a famous African-American range cook, who obviously felt honored to cook his favorite food.
"Lord God," he shouted, "you know us old cowhands is forgetful. Sometimes, I can’t even recollect what happened yestiday. We is forgetful. We just don’t know daylight and dark, summer, fall, winter, and spring. But I sure hope we don’t forget to thank You before we eat a mess of good chili.
"We don’t know why in Your wisdom, You been so doggone good to us. The heathen Chinee don’t have no chili ever. The Frenchmens is left out. The Rooshians don’t know no more about chili than a hog knows about a side saddle. Even the Meskins don’t get a good whiff of it unless they stay around here.
"Chili eaters is some of Your chosen people. We don’t know why You been so doggone good to us. But Lord, God, don’t ever think that we ain’t grateful for this chili we about to eat. Amen."
An Antacid Sponsor of ICS Cookoffs
The Chilosophers Speak: Definitions
"Chili is a complex dish made up of a conglomeration of meats, spices, and vegetables that are cooked and joined together into an amalgamation that takes on the unique characteristic of a dish that has been prepared and enjoyed for centuries." –R.F. Carlisle
"...The delectable chile con carne, a dish evolved by the genius of Mexico, composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile colorado–a compound full of singular savor and a fiery zest to the palate." –O. Henry
"Chili mania is an international subculture with thousands of chiliheads all striving to promote one simple culinary idea with its infinite variations." –Frank X. Tolbert
He Was, Of Course, Referring to Chili Cookery
"Cookery means knowledge of Medea and of Circe and of Helen and the Queen of Sheba. It means the knowledge of all herbs and fruits and balms and spices; and all that is healing and sweet in the fields and groves, and savory in meats. It means carefulness and inventiveness and readiness of appliances." --Essayist John Ruskin
The Chilosophers Speak: The Basics
"The 'basics' are to chili-making what the scales are to music. Once known, the various culinary tunes that can be played are endless." --Johnearl Rae and James McCormick
"Chili--real chili--chili Texas-style, must have the strength to chin itself, even with a big rock in the bottom of the pot. It is an all-purpose invigorator, a reliable antibiotic for melancholy, and a prime mover when one's world seems to stand on dead center. It is a panacea to man in want or woe." --Joe E. Cooper
"I have a theory that real chili is such a basic, functional dish that anyone can make it from the basic ingredients--rough meat, chile peppers, and a few common spices available to hungry individuals--and they'll eventually come up with pretty much the same kind of recipe that was for most of a century a staple of Texas tables. So all we have to do to get back to real chili is to get rid of the elitist nonsense." --Sam Pendergrast
How Sam Pendergrast
Dreamed up Zen Chili
Our Favorite Names for Chili Teams
Tail End of Texas
Snake Pit Chili
I'm Too Sexy for This
The Partial Texans
Law West of the Pecos
Masthead of the Legendary Chili Publication
The Most Unusual Chili Products or Recipes
Chili on a Stick
The Chilosophers Speak: Proverbs
"Any man smart enough to steal a horse can whip up a passable batch of chili." --Anonymous
"Chili is a stew that can sit on a cold stove and boil gently." --Wally Boren
"Good chili is harder than the Devil to find and almost as rare in restaurants as Braised Unicorn." --Floyd and Bessie Cogan
"Good chili must not perish from the earth." --Joe E. Cooper
"Chili should have the warmth of a New Mexico sunset and the bravado of a Texas stampede." --David Schwadron
Our Favorite Names for Chilis
Blazing Saddles Chili, Dragon Fire Chili, Boiled Cigar Butts and Sheep Dip Chili, Triple XXX Chili, Brother Willy & Sister Lilly's Traveling Salvation Army Chili, Voodoo Chili, Chicken Lips Chili, Warlock Chili, Happy Heine Chili, Brimstone Broth, Hillbilly Chili, Scorpion Breath Chili, Wildfire Chili, Capital Punishment Chili, Terk's Tekil-Ya Chili, Vampire Chili, Buffalo Butt Chili, Werewolf Chili, Pineal Nectar Chili, Mephistophelean Chili, Satan's Soup Chili, Ragin' Cajun Chili, Bubba's Big Bang Recycled Chili.
Famed Navajo Artist R.C. Gorman’s
Illustration for the ICS World Championship
The Chilosophers Speak: Chili Contentions
"It is difficult to recall a single characteristic of good chili not faulted by the critics. Everything seems to be wrong with it one time or another, and occasionally all at the same time." --Joe E. Cooper
"Put a pot of chili on the stove to simmer. Let it simmer. Meanwhile, broil a sirloin steak. Continue to simmer the chili and eat the steak. Ignore the chili." --Allan Shivers, former governor of Texas
"There are three distressing physiological mistakes made by nature: the veriform appendix, the prostate gland, and the utter inability of many people to eat chili because of delicate digestive tracts. I bleed for them." --H. Allen Smith
A Chili Embarrassment
Jack Curry of the Chili Darters team tells of the time he was fixin' his bowl o' red at the Malibu cookoff when TV star Larry Hagman sampled his chili. "While he was letting it cool off," Curry explained, "I tried to engage him in conversation by asking where the ranch that was featured on his large belt buckle was located. I was quickly told that it was the Southfork Ranch on the Dallas television show--thus letting him know I had never seen his popular television series!"
The Chilosophers Speak: Chili Argumentation
"Chili, chili con carne, Texas red--whatever you call that savory concoction of meat, grease, and fire--is the natural child of the arguing state of mind. There's no recipe for it, only disputation, and almost anyone's first thought after a taste of somebody else's version, no matter how much it pleasures the throat, is that they could make it better." --John Thorne
Cover of John Thorne’s Chili Treatise
"The chief ingredients of all chili are fiery envy, scalding jealousy, scorching contempt, and sizzling scorn." --H. Allen Smith
"There is more confusion and misunderstanding on the subject of chili than surround the metric system, and more sorry opinions than becloud the making of a martini." --Ed Wallace, New York Daily News
The Chilosophers Speak: Strange Ingredients
"There are fiends incarnate, mostly Texans, who put chopped celery in their chili, and the Dallas journalist, Frank X. Tolbert, who has been touted as the Glorious State's leading authority on chili, throws in corn meal. Heaven help us one and all! You might as well throw in some puffed rice, or a handful of shredded alfalfa, or a few Maraschino cherries." --H. Allen Smith
"I like chili made out of shrimp, oysters, crayfish, beef, wild duck, lamb, goat, opossum, venison, javelina hog, horse, burro, Mexican Chihuahua, catfish heads, beaver, moose, and elk, but my favorite is swamp rabbit." --Earle Wyatt
"One man's chili is another man's axle grease. If a guy wants to toss in an armadillo, I don't argue with him--I just don't eat with him." --Carroll Shelby, co-founder of CASI
From chili cook John "Professor Fosdick" Foster comes this true story: "From the start we have had a tradition of making up humorous labels for our team and putting them on soup cans for display purposes, or selling them for $1.00 each to raise money for the charity at hand. We would always tell the people that it was only soup that was in the can itself. We found that on more than one occasion, people would steal our cans, probably assuming our chili was inside. So, we started putting our labels on cans of dog food. Hopefully, those that tried to circumvent the charity donation got an unpleasant surprise."
The Chilosophers Speak: Chili Egos
"Without chili I believe I would wither and die. I stand without peer as a maker of chili, and as a judge of chili made by other people. No living man, and let us not even think of woman in this connection, no living man, I repeat, can put together a pot of chili as ambrosial, as delicately and zestfully flavorful, as the chili I make." --H. Allen Smith
"Always remember that anyone can cook your recipes, but no one else can cook your chili." --Ray Calhoun
"Chili has become more like a religion than a comestible. Its zealots congregate each year in Texas' Big Bend Country for the ultimate cook-offs. Note the plural. There are two of these giant contests and they don't speak to each other. Chilidom split into two factions several years ago. Some compare chili to the Baptists because of that." Thom Marshall, former Houston Chronicle columnist
In a full-page ad for Montezuma Tequila in first issue of the ICS publication, Chili, Barton Distillers ran some copy about how Montezuma, king of the Aztecs, invented the first Quetzalcoatl Chili Cook-off. The Aztecs starved themselves for six weeks just to "sharpen their taste buds." Then at the cook-off, there was a maize-throwing contest, a throw-the-maiden-in-the-volcano contest, a wet loin cloth contest, and a Chiligula (god of chili) Look-Alike Contest that was one by Montezuma, Jr. "Then came the chili judging," went the copy. "Montezuma himself deigned to taste the chili and awarded the winner with a lifetime supply of leg irons."
The Chilosophers Speak: Commercial Chili
"Chili should not be a commodity in commerce. It’s place is in the home." –Harry Benge Crozier
"The man who makes and sells a good bowl of chili is a benefactor to mankind." –Dr. Herbert Gambrell
"I judge a town by its chili." –Will Rogers
The Chilosophers Speak: Heat Levels
"Chili of the ranch country, especially Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, California, Oklahoma, and Arizona, is much too hot with [chile] pepper for those living farther to the north, and progressively so until the [chile] pepper almost disappears in the effete, tender-mouthed East and North." --Joe E. Cooper
"To relish chile con carne when eaten for the first time, it is indispensable that the would-be junketer have his throat lined with some uncombustible substance, and a ceiling of fire-proof bricks inserted in the roof of his mouth." --Alexander Sweet, 1885
You Forgot the Beer
"During the early days of the last war, when a lot of people were buying up sheets, pillow cases, sugar, and razor blades, I invested my money in the "necessities of life"--bourbon whiskey and Texas chili, and my safe return from the wars was evidently influenced by the good physical condition which that diet produced." --Gen. C.R. Smith, former president, American Airlines
The Chilosophers Speak: Texas Chili, Part 1
"The editors have never believed that the inventive and tasty dish known around the world as chili con carne was invented by the braggarts of Texas. If it had, the tasteless and vapid product known as Texas-style chili would never have gotten off the ground." --Johnearl Rae and James McCormick
"Chili concocted outside of Texas is usually a weak, apologetic imitation of the real thing. One of the first things I do when I get home to Texas is have a bowl of red. There is simply nothing better." --Former President Lyndon B. Johnson
"Texas has nothing to be proud of when it comes to chili. Texas chili--and I can prove this--is greasy meat and beans with chili powder thrown in. I call that beef stew, not chili." --Jeanne Croft, New Mexico Department of Agriculture
But He'd Rather Drink Beer Than Make Chili
"Now this is what I propose: That the Congress of the United States make it mandatory for all restaurants, hotels, drive-ins and other eating places serving chili, to have the chili prepared by a Texan, who would rather make chili than money. Further, that Congress appropriate sufficient funds to establish a large missionary force in Texas, and to send out accredited Texas chefs to the far corners of the United States to take over all chili making. Only in this way can we hope to wipe out the present deplorably bad chili being served every day." --Bandleader Harry James
The Chilosophers Speak: Texas Chili, Part 2
"Texas chili is a bowlful of attitude. It is ornery, rude, and starts fights and feuds. It inspires homesickness, chauvinism, braggadocio, tears (of agony as well as longing), dozens of tumultuous cook-offs each year, and more philosophizing than Marcel Proust's madeleines." --Jane and Michael Stern
"What really spoiled Texas chili was the same thing that used up Elvis Presley and John Belushi and made young martyrs of the likes of Joan of Arc and Jesus of Nazareth and the Kennedys and Dr. Martin Luther King: success." --Sam Pendergrast
"I like beans in my chili, but not enough to argue about it with Texans." --Calvin Trillin
A Chili Poem
"I've eaten Antoine's Crepe Suzettes,
A joy beyond compare;
I've dined at old Delmonico's,
Where famed gourmets repair;
But no chef has ever challenged
The high gastronomic point
That was mine in early childhood
In Bob Sears' Chili Joint."
--Carlos Ashley, Sr., Texas Poet Laureate, 1949-51
The Chilosophers Speak: Chili Reverence
"Chili has become more like a religion than a comestible." --Thom Marshall, Houston Chronicle columnist
"Let others be a facetious as they want about chili, but for my part I would rather discuss it in the dignified tone that it deserves." B. C. Jefferson, former editor, Dallas Daily Times Herald
"We will never stop cooking chili until every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth, in the Galaxia of the Universe, has had the opportunity to sample a taste from the Bowl of Blessedness." --Dedicated Crusaders for Texas Chili
Breaking the Gender Barrier
Because H. Allen Smith believed that "no one should be permitted to cook chili while then and there being a female person," women under the age of 90 were banned from most early chili cook-offs. But chili changed with the times when Allegani Jani Schofield and some friends created the Hell Hath No Fury Chili Society and held the women-only Susan B. Anthony Memorial Cook-In in Luckenbach. Allegani Jani went on to win at Terlingua in 1974 with her famous Hot Pants Chili.
The Chilosophers Speak: Exaltations
"We thought for years that if there's such a thing as a national American dish, it isn't apple pie, it's chili con carne.... In one form or another, chili in America knows no regional boundaries. North, South, East, and West, almost every man, woman, and child has a favorite recipe." --Craig Claiborne
"Chili. A standard item of diet in the Texas cornucopia of succulent comestibles...the most glorious concoction that ever soothed the inward man, put the glow of health in his cheeks, and calmed his baser instincts, like throwing a meat cleaver at the cook for burning the toast, or shooting the hostess for putting sugar in the cornbread." --Abilene Reporter News
The Chilosophers Speak: Visuals
"A true Texas bowl of red is a stunning vision, reminiscent of a Technicolor sunset created in a Hollywood studio: opaque currents of molten mahogany, lustrous orange, and cordovan are flecked with grains of spice and swirled with rivulets of limpid grease." --Jane and Michael Stern
Rating the Canned Chilis
Texas Monthly magazine once published an article entitled "Yeccchh! We Taste Thirteen Kinds of Canned Chili," and they did not speak kindly of the can of red. However, Chuck Thompson, a Houston chili aficionado, has been collecting and rating canned chilis for years. In 1992, he gathered together a panel of tasters and rated sixteen brands of canned chili. There were three four-star winners: Championship Recipe Chili, New Prospector Premium Chili, and Wolf Brand Chili.
Mary Jane’s Short Rib Chili
This chili recipe, from my wife Mary Jane Wilan, will not win any cook-offs because it fails to conform to the prejudiced, inbred standards of contest chili. I love it because it hearkens back to the early origins of Mexican chili-like dishes such as Mole de Olla (see "Part 1: The Evolution of Chili") with its corn. And it has beans–real, flavorful black beans, not those insipid pinto beans. This chili is easy to make, cooks in 2½ hours, and combines the best of both red and green chiles. Serve it with fresh bread or corn bread and a big green salad. It is a nutritious meal in a bowl. And it’s chili, no matter what anyone else says.
4 pounds beef short ribs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeds removed, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups homemade beef stock
2 tablespoons New Mexican red chile powder
1 can stewed tomatoes, crushed
1 cup chopped New Mexican green chile
½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
2 cans black beans, drained
1 can whole kernel corn or 2 cups freshly cooked corn off the cob
Trim any excess fat from the short ribs. Heat the oil in a large pot and brown the ribs over high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and the garlic and saute for one minute. Add the beef stock to deglaze the pot and stir well.
Add the remaining ingredients--except the beans and corn--and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 2 ½ hours, stirring occasionally.
Just before serving, add the drained corn and the drained beans and heat through. Remove the ribs from the pot, trim the meat off the bones, coarsely chop the meat, return it to the pot, and stir well. Heat everything through and serve.
Yield: 8 servings
Heat Level: Medium
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