But let us get back to Chili that
is Chili, as opposed to Chili that isn't Chili. Clear as mud, right?
Talking about the goodness of Chili give me chills and makes me chilly.
Hmm. I'm getting carried away so I'd better chili . . . er . . . chill
Anyway, I have noticed that restaurants
always list Chili on their menus along with soup. Chili is not really
soup. It is, in fact, a stew consisting of mainly meat and sauce of
a viscous nature, with some onions and a few beans and spices thrown
But, Chili, like soup, has many
variations and incarnations and this is what makes it so hard to define
Chili's origins. However, if you said that Chili unquestionably has
a 'Western' flavor, you would be pretty much on the money.
There are various twists and turns
in the history of Chili and various stories. For example, one story
told is that Chili was invented by chuck wagon cooks who traveled along
with the cowboys on long cattle drives across the rugged hills and deserts
of the great Southwest. The story goes that, as they traveled in one
direction, the cooks planted oregano, chiles, and onions among patches
of mesquite to give them protection from extreme sun, foraging cattle,
and other critters. Then, on their way back along the same trail, they
would collect the spices, combine them with chopped beef and call it
"Trail Stew"or "Trail Drive Chili."
Another version claims that Chili
was an invention of the Texas prison systems in early times because
the prisons bought the cheapest and toughest cuts of meat. To make them
more palatable, they took cleavers and knives to the meat to create
little pieces that were then boiled, along with chiles and spices to
create a cheap and satisfying meal.
Chili, as with most of the foods
we know and eat, does not spring from the place that would seem the
most obvious: Mexico. However, I do not think that anyone can deny that
Spanish and Mexican cuisine had a profound influence on its development.
There is little doubt that Texas
is the birthplace of the popular American stew known as Chili, and I
think there can be little doubt that Mexican cooking and spices contributed
to its development. After all, the area of Texas was once Mexico (Remember
the Alamo!). So, even though the US eventually took over and claimed
the territory, the original Mexican people and their spices and traditions
were still in place.
All my research into Chili tends
to make me think that three cultures combined to, eventually, give us
the Chili we know and love today.
Besides the Mexican influence in
the area, there were also Native Americans. They commonly made a high-energy
food, called Pemmican, which they carried in leather pouches when they
hunted or traveled long distances. Pemmican was the Indian fast food;
McDonald's in a pouch, kinda, sorta.
White hunters', trappers', and trail
drivers' mommas didn't raise any dumb kids, and they knew a good thing
when they saw it, so before long they, too, were making and transporting
this combination of bear grease or buffalo fat, chopped buffalo meat,
berries and nuts. Eventually, beef came to be used in place of buffalo,
but the recipe essentially remained the same. And I have read account
after account of how these folks used to take Pemmican, chop it up,
put it in a pot, and add whatever spices were at hand to make a soup
Now, hold that thought while I give
you one more fact. In all my researches into Chili, it keeps coming
back to Texas and, in particular, San Antonio. And, indeed, history
records that, somewhere in the early 1700s, some colonists arrived from
the Canary Islands and settled in the San Antonio area. Care to guess
the ancestry and heritage of these folks? Yup, Spanish. It is said that
these women would make stews of their native homeland but, lacking the
spices they normally had, they tried to imitate the flavors they knew
by substituting local spices and flavorings. So, this is where the Mexicans
and Indians come in. It seems likely that they borrowed from both the
cuisines using berries, Mexican spices, chopped buffalo, and possibly
wild peppers that grow in the area. They are called 'Chiliquitas' which,
if my Spanish is still passable, means 'little chiles' or 'small peppers.'
Somewhere along the way, someone
made the whole process easier by inventing chili powder. But, there
is even debate over that. One candidate seems to be a German immigrant,
William Gebhart, who, in 1902 (or thereabouts) at New Braunfels, Texas
(not far from San Antonio) created chili 'powder' which helped popularize
chili and eventually was sold under the brand name Gebhardt's Chili
Powder. In fact, Gebhart's Chili powder, with a Mexican Sombrero bearing
the name on the label, is still sold in the area.
But life is never simple.
Therefore, there just had to be
a fly in the ointment or, in this case, the chili powder. The fly's
name is DeWitt Clinton Pendery. He was a grocer in Fort Worth, Texas
and in the late 1800s was selling a crushed blend of Chiles (or Chilies)
under a brand name. Pendery spices, a label bearing a picture of a Gentleman's
Top Hat imprinted with the date '1870', are still sold today.
So there, as best as I can decipher
it, is the history of Chili, at least in most of the country. There
is another place, however, where Chili that is not like any other Chili
you have ever tasted, is sold by the millions of gallons yearly. But,
you will just have to wait for part two of the history to find out about
it. As they said in the old radio days: "Stay tuned."
Chili con Carne. . . composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic
herbs and the poignant Chile Colorado - a compound full of singular
savor and a fiery zest!" . . . . O. Henry, The Enchanted Kiss
"Next to Jazz music, there is nothing that lifts the spirits and
strengthens the soul more than a good bowl of chili . .
. . Harry James, Trumpeter