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History of Texas Chili – Fact and Legend
Chili con carne was officially designated the state food of Texas by the state legislature in 1977, but for most Texans the fact that a true “bowl of red” can only be found in Texas has never been in doubt.
It is generally accepted that, despite its Spanish name, chili con carne (chillies with meat) originated in San Antonio, Texas. According to a popular theory, the Texas chili is an adaptation of a spicy stew that was introduced to the region by immigrants from Spain’s Canary Islands, who came to the area now known as San Antonio in 1731. in what was then the Spanish province of Texas.
Supporting this theory is the fact that all of the spices used in early versions of chili con carne: chili peppers, oregano, and garlic grow wild in South Texas; with the exception of cumin, which was imported from the Canary Islands by the aforementioned Spanish settlers. These spices were boiled down with the available meat to concoct a cheap, simple, and satisfying peasant stew.
From the earliest days, chili was used as the perfect trail food. Cowboys in cattle drives took chili with them on the trail. A simple method was to pound beef, suet, chili peppers and spices together to form bricks which, when dried, were easily packaged. Chilli bricks can easily be boiled in a pot of water and serve as a convenient, instant food. Alternatively, the range cooks planted chili peppers, oregano, and onions in mesquite patches along the trail for future livestock movements (the mesquite bushes protected the grasses from foraging cattle). Here is one of the earliest versions of chili con carne on record, a stovetop recipe from the early 1800s:
“Cut as much meat as you think you’ll need (any kind will do, but beef is probably best) into pecan-sized pieces. Put it in a pan, with suet (enough so that the meat won’t stick to the sides of the pan) and cook it with about the same amount of wild onions, garlic, oregano and chili peppers as you have meat . Add a little salt. Stir occasionally and cook until the meat is as tender as you think it’s going to be.”
Over time, chili con carne became popular in small towns in Texas that grew up along cattle trails. In this way, the dish spread throughout the state.
San Antonio chili queens are another colorful feature of the Texas chili tradition. They were enterprising Hispanic women who made large pots of chilies by day and, dressed in brightly colored dresses, dragged their carts to the military plaza of San Antonio, dumping their salables in pots in cast iron heated over a wood or charcoal fire in the evening. . This tradition began in the 1880s when San Antonio hosted soldiers from the Spanish army, who camped in Military Plaza; the fact that it was also a cattle town and a railroad town ensured that the Chilli Queens had many potential diners willing and able to feast on their fiery wares. In 1887, the Chilli Queens were moved to the Market Square by the city government, where they remained a popular feature in downtown San Antonio until 1937, when they were required to comply to the health regulations established for all food establishments in the city. Many chilli queens have moved indoors in order to continue their business, but San Antonio has lost one of its unique and colorful attractions.
Frank H. Bushick, the San Antonio tax commissioner, wrote an article about the chili queens that appeared in the July 1927 issue of Frontier Times. According to Bushick:
“The Chili Stand and the Chili Queens are unique features or institutions of the Alamo City. They started there when the Spanish army camped in the plaza. They started feeding the soldiers. Every class of people in every station of life once. Some were attracted by the novelty, some by the cheap. A large plate of chili and beans, with a tortilla on the side, cost a penny. A Mexican bootblack and a tourist in silken hats line up and eat side by side, oblivious or unaware of each other.”
Chilli Queens returned to San Antonio, all the rage, in the 1980s, when the city began Chilli Queen pageants as a tribute to Texas’ state food: chili con carne. Merchants of El Mercado sponsor the annual “Return of the Chili Queens Festival” held in the Market Square during May Memorial Day celebrations.
Of course, chili con carne isn’t just popular in Texas. The tangy dish first gained national exposure when it was served at the San Antonio Chili Stand set up in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, where it was a big hit with patrons. crowds.
Chili cookoff is a popular form of delicious and good-natured competition all over the United States. In fact, cuisines officially sanctioned by the International Chili Society take place as far away as Canada and the Cayman Islands. But the ancestor of all chili contests is the one held every year in Terlingua, Texas, created in 1967 with the help of Carroll Shelby, famous Texan and father of the Cobra sports car.
Terlingua’s first chili contest was held in response to a challenge from H. Allen Smith, a New York writer who had written a story called “Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do” for the issue d August 1967 from Holiday. Magazine. In the article, he claimed that “…no living man, I repeat, can prepare such an ambrosial pot of chili, so delicate and savory as the chili I prepare.” And, to add insult to injury, his recipe included beans!
Beans are not considered an ingredient in true Texas chili. As the title of the unofficial anthem sung each year at the Terlingua kitchen would say: “If you know beans on chili, you know chili has no beans.” Texas chili champion Homer “Wick” Fowler, unable to bear this outrageous claim, challenged the cocky New Yorker to a showdown, and the great chili cuisine was born. Unfortunately, the results were inconclusive as the third judge excused himself from service after spitting the spoonful of chili he had tried to swallow onto the referee’s foot. According to a witness, Sports Illustrated writer Gary Cartwright,
“Then he had a convulsion. He shoved a white handkerchief down his throat as if cleaning the barrel of a gun, and in an agonizing whisper Witts declared himself unable to continue.”
So the first chili contest ended in a tie, but the Texans didn’t give an inch on the bean-in-chili issue, at least in sanctioned chili contests. Rule 1 of the International Chili Society Official Competitor Rules and Regulations states that:
The following rules and regulations for cooks at World Championship, State, Regional and District competitions are as follows:
1. Traditional red chilli is defined by the International Chili Society as any kind of meat or combination of meats, cooked with red chillies, various spices and other ingredients, except BEANS and PASTA which are strictly prohibited.
The second rule of Chili Appreciation International’s Official Chili Cooking Rules, the organizers of the Terlingua Chili Cookoff says:
2. NO FILLING IN CHILE – Beans, macaroni, rice, hominy or other similar ingredients are not allowed.
Either way, even many Texans enjoy beans in their chili. Chili con carne is the kind of dish that invites creativity and experimentation and an endless number of delicious variations are possible. But, even though there are almost as many chili recipes as there are stars in the sky, not all of them are considered the true article of the Lone Star State. I leave you with a quote:
“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 back to Texas is have a bowl of red. nothing better.” – Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th President of the United States.
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