The chili debate might be one of the most passionate food debates out there, especially if you are from Texas. The main debate is about what ingredients make up true chili. This debate does not include chili recipes that have originated from other countries, or about where and when chili came to be in the USA, but whether beans belong as an ingredient in true American chili. If you are from Texas, Texas chili is all that you need to know and Chili Con Carne does not contain beans.
As I understand it, American chili was a meal born out of necessity and survival, and made popular with the cattle drive from Texas to California. Each cook had to make a small amount of meat stretch to feed hungry cowboys with whatever ingredients they could find along the trail, such as chili peppers, wild onions, and garlic. I learned that cattle drive cooks would plant onions, garlic and peppers in the mesquite bushes by the trail so they could replenish their supply along the way. (International Chili Society)
In the beginning of the 20th century, chili’s popularity spread across the nation and was no longer a regional food in the western United States. Chili joints were everywhere in the nation and provided cheap food for the poor. During the depression people believed because chili was inexpensive and so widely available, “… and the crackers were free,” chili saved more lives from starvation then the actions of the Red Cross. (Whats Cooking America, History and Legends of Chili)
American chili has an interesting history and probably a tall tale or two associated with its name. What is consistent is chili came from humble origins designed out of a need for survival. It started as a simple stew using any available meat, dried chili peppers and wild vegetables and has grown into a stew with multiple ingredients focused on developing deep, rich and spicy flavor. This humble stew, with or without beans, has a devout following from all walks of like, who are ready to defend chili’s honor in Showdowns, Throw-downs, Cook-offs, and State Fairs across the landscape of this nation. Not bad for food that started out as an inexpensive means to feed the poor and the incarcerated.
© 2016 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.