Let’s Talk Food: Life is a bowl of chili

When we think of chili, depending on where you were raised, you would probably have a different idea of what chili is.

If you are from San Antonio, Texas, your recipe for chili may have some original roots, as it seems that chili started there.


J.C. Clopper, the first American known to have written about San Antonio’s chili, wrote in 1926: “When they have to pay for their meat in the market, a very little is made to suffice for a family; this is generally into a kind of hash with nearly as many peppers as there are pieces of meat-this is all stewed together.”

The first recipe for chili con carne was put on paper in the 17th century by Sister Mary of Agreda of Spain. Her recipe called for venison or antelope meat, onions, tomatoes and chili peppers.

In 1731, the first group of 16 families established San Antonio and the women made a spicy “Spanish” stew that is very similar to chili.

A group of Texans known at “Lavenderas” or “washerwoman” followed the 19th-century armies of Texas and made a stew of goat meat or venison, wild marjoram, and chile peppers. In 1860, residents of the Texas prisons in the mid to late 1800s claim they created chili. It was said that the prisoners rated the prison by the quality of their chili. So good was the chili that when the prisoners served their time and were released, they said what they missed most about leaving the prison was the chili.

In New Mexico, it may be chili verde with pork shoulder.

If you taste a hint of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove, and cumin, you are eating chili from Cincinnati, and the chili may be on top of spaghetti with lots of cheddar cheese on top.

In Illinois, the spelling is “chilli” with an extra “l,” from Springfield style chilli: Dew Chilli Parlor. This chili has no tomatoes.

Kansas City chili is made of brisket or pork shoulder, topped with cheddar cheese and saltine crackers.

My husband remembers eating chili as Frito pie. Frito chips are layered in the bottom of a casserole dish, then topped with chili, beans, and topped with shredded cheese.

The Coney chili dog is famous in Michigan and eaten with a hot dog.

With lots of Cajun seasoning, the Cajun chili is the New Orleans style of chili.

Chasen’s Chili in Hollywood had a famous chili that Dave Chasen kept a secret and took to his grave. His customers included Jack Benny, J. Edgar Hoover, Elenor Roosevelt, Clark Gable, and Elizabeth Taylor. The original Chasen’s closed in April 1995 and the new Chasen’s on Can Drive closed in April 2000.

Some interesting tidbits, did you know that:

• Will Rogers called chili a “bowl of blessedness,” and declared the finest chili was from a small cafe in Coleman, Texas.

• Jesse James, outlaw, refused to rob a bank in McKinney, Texas, because his favorite chili restaurant was located there.

• Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to get the recipe for Chasen’s chili but was refused.

• Clark Gable’s last meal before he passed away was Chasen’s chili, which was sent to his hospital room.

• There is a song by Ken Finlay called “If you Know Beans About Chili, You Know That Chili Has No Beans.” (Yeah, Roy Kaneko would be happy about this!)

I found Chasen’s Famous Chili Recipe online, (sorry Eleanor Roosevelt) so it will live on! Chasen’s Famous Chili Recipe

1/2 pound dry pinto beans

1 (28-ounce) diced tomatoes in juice

1 large green bell pepper, chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 cups onions, coarsely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 cup parsley, chopped

1/2 cup butter

2 pounds beef chuck, coarsely chopped*

1 pound pork shoulder, coarsely chopped

1/3 cup Gebhardt’s chili powder

1 tablespoons salt

1-1/2 teaspoons pepper

1-1/2 teaspoons Farmer Brother’s ground cumin**

*Chasen’s used the best beef chuck, center cut, trimmed completely of fat. The restaurant used a special meat grinder, but for the home cook, meat chopped into one-quarter to one half-inch chunks is much better than ground meat for the chili.

**Can replace with cumin seed in place of ground cumin. It is a matter of personal preference.

Rinse the beans, picking out debris. Place beans in a Dutch oven with water to cover. Boil for two minutes. Remove from heat. Cover with lid and let stand for one hour. After one hour, drain off liquid and discard.

Rinse beans again. Add just enough fresh water to cover the beans. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered, for one hour or until tender. Stir in tomatoes and their juice and let simmer for five minutes.

In a large skillet, saute bell pepper in oil for five minutes. Add onion and cook until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in the garlic and parsley. Add mixture to the bean mixture. Using the same skillet, melt the butter and saute beef and pork chuck until browned. Drain. Add to bean mixture along with the chili powder, salt, pepper and cumin.


Bring mixture just to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for one hour. Uncover and cook 30 minutes more or to desired consistency. Chili should not be too thick-it should be somewhat liquid but not runny like soup. Skim excess fat and serve.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.