|by Ki Hackney
In the last few weeks, when the temperature wasn’t stretching up to seventy degrees, it was so cold that I couldn’t resist the idea of whipping up a big pot of chili, as a sort of ceremonial farewell to winter. My son-in-law, John “Hoss” Hossenlopp, who has mastered the art of stews, sent me the introduction to his well-used copy of the Chili-Lovers’ Cook Book (Golden West Publishers, 1984) in which the authors, Al Fisher and Mildred Fischer, refer to this slow-cooked amalgamation of meat and chili peppers as “the ambrosia of modern man.”
Maybe it is. Legendary chili heads have included trumpeter Harry James, president Lyndon B. Johnson, comedian Jack Benney, former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, outlaw Jesse James, actor Clark Gable, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, etc. And while filming Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor didn’t miss a bowlful, as Hollywood’s Chasen’s Restaurant just shipped their famous chili to her in Rome.
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Chili con carne is the state dish of Texas and San Antonio seems to be the agreed-upon home of the hot pepper and meat stew. Legend has it that chuck-wagon cooks in the southwest even planted chili plants among the mesquite, along the trails so that the cattle wouldn’t eat them and there would be plentiful supply of ripe chilies when they returned. And I believe that San Antonio still celebrates the famous “Chili Queens” chili market at Military Plaza in honor of the original woman of Spanish-Canary-Island heritage who, for more than fifty years, from dawn until dusk, cooked, refined and sold their homemade chili in the downtown plaza. In 1937, health laws put an end to this primitive food court.
While a pot of chili recipes has always had meat (beef, pork, venison or other hearty meat) and an equal amount of chili peppers as the mainstay, along the way, ingredients including oregano, onions, garlic, cumin, salt, and tomatoes, even paprika, have become standard additions.