Chili is a stew-like soup made entirely with meat, chilies, or chili powder (or both) and according to what region of the United States that you live in, it can also include beans. "Con carne" means "with meat."
History and Legends of Chili by Linda Stradley, author of "I'll Have What They're Having - Legendary Local Cuisine". Visit her website at: www.WhatsCookingAmerica.Net
The only thing certain about the origins of chili is that it did not originate in Mexico. Charles Ramsdell, a writer from San Antonio in an article called San Antonio: An Historical and Pictorial Guide, wrote: "Chili, as we know it in the U.S., cannot be found in Mexico today except in a few spots which cater to tourists. If chili had come from Mexico, it would still be there. For Mexicans, especially those of Indian ancestry, do not change their culinary customs from one generation, or even from one century, to another."
There are many legends and stories about where chili originated and it is generally thought, by most historians, that the earliest versions of chili were made by the very poorest people. J. C. Clopper, the first American known to have remarked about San Antonio's chili carne, 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."
1618 - According to an old Southwestern American Indian legend and tale (several modern writers have documented -or maybe just "passed along") this old story, it is said that the first recipe for chili con carne was put on paper in the 17th century by a beautiful nun, Sister Mary of Agreda of Spain. She was mysteriously known to the Indians of the Southwest United States as "La Dama de Azul," the lady in blue. Sister Mary would go into trances with her body lifeless for days. When she awoke from these trances, she said her spirit had been to a faraway land where she preached Christianity to savages and counseled them to seek out Spanish missionaries.
It is certain that Sister Mary never physically left Spain, yet Spanish missionaries and King Philip IV of Spain believed that she was the ghostly "La Dama de Azul" or "lady in blue," of Indian Legend. It is said that sister Mary wrote down the recipe for chili which called for venison or antelope meat, onions, tomatoes, and chile peppers. No accounts of this were ever recorded, so who knows?
In the late 1600s and early 1700s, a handful of colonists arrived from the Canary Islands and settled in old La Villita just outside the Mission San Antonio de Bejar (known today as The Alamo) to build churches and cathedrals. The women of the village would make their "Spanish" stews at home in copper kettles. Around sundown, the women would take the kettles into the plaza and spread out their red cloths on the ground and build a little fire to keep the meal hot. People passing by were summoned to dine and they would sit on the ground and eat the "chili" from handmade earthen dishes.
Some Spanish priests were said to be wary of the passion inspired by chile peppers, assuming they were aphrodisiacs. The priest's warning probably contributed to the dish's popularity.
1850 - Records were found by Everrette DeGolyer (1886-1956), a Dallas millionaire and a lover of chili, indicating that the first chili mix was concocted around 1850 by Texan adventurers and cowboys as a staple for hard times when traveling to and in the California gold fields and around Texas. Needing hot grub, the trail cooks came up with a sort of stew. They pounded dried beef, fat, pepper, salt, and the chile peppers together. This amounted to "brick chili" or "chili bricks" that could be boiled in pots along the trail. DeGolyer said that chili should be called "chili a la Americano" because the term chili is generic in Mexico and simply means a hot pepper. He believed that chili con carne began as the "pemmican of the Southwest."
It is said that some trail cooks planted pepper seeds, oregano, and onions in mesquite patches (to protect them from foraging cattle) to use on future trail drives. It is thought that the chile peppers used in the earliest dishes were probably chili piquns, which grow wild on bushes in Texas, particularly the southern part of the state.
There was another group of Texans known as "Lavanderas," or "Washerwoman," that followed around the 19th-century armies of Texas making a stew of goat meat or venison, wild marjoram and chile peppers.
1860 - Residents of the Texas prisons in the mid to late 1800s also lay claim to the creation of chili. They say that the Texas version of bread and water (or gruel) was a stew of the cheapest available ingredients (tough beef that was hacked fine and chilies and spices that was boiled in water to an edible consistency). The "prisoner's plight" became a status symbol of the Texas prisons and the inmates used to rate jails on the quality of their chili. The Texas prison system made such good chili that freed inmates often wrote for the recipe, saying what they missed most after leaving was a really good bowl of chili.
1880 - San Antonio was a wide-open town (a cattle town, a railroad town, and an army town) and by day a municipal food market and by night a wild and open place. Frank H. Bushick describes the market in his book Glamorous Days as "an open air bazaar for fakers, peddlers, and every variety of Bedouins of the night. . . The houses and saloon bars in the adobe buildings on the four sides of the square were concealed by thirsty humanity bellied up two rows deep."
Latino women nicknamed "Chili Queens" sold stew they called "chili" made with dried red chilies and beef from open-air stalls at the Military Plaza Mercado. In those days, the world "chili" referred strictly to the pepper. They served a variation of simple, chile-spiked dishes (tamales, tortillas, chili con carne, and enchiladas). A night was not considered complete without a visit to one of these "chili queens." In 1943 they were put out of business due to their inability to conform to sanitary standards enforced in the town's restaurants.
1890 - Chili historians are not exactly certain who first "invented" chili powder. It is agreed that the inventors of chili powder deserve a slot in history close to Alfred Nobel (1933-1896), inventor of dynamite.
The Fort Worth chili buffs give credit to DeWitt Clinton Pendery. Pendery arrived in Fort Worth, Texas in 1870. It is said that local cowboys jeered his elegant appearance (he was wearing a long frock coat and a tall silk hat) as he stepped onto the dusty street. It is also said that he was initiated into the town by a bullet whipping through his coat. He casually collected his belongings and continued on his way, earning immediate popular respect. By 1890, after his grocery store burned down, he started selling his own unique blend of chilies to cafes, hotels, and citizens under the name of Mexican Chili Supply Company. Pendery's products are still sold today by members of his family. Pendery wrote of the medicinal benefits of his condiments and its acclamation from physicians: "The health giving properties of hot chile peppers have no equal. They give tone to the alimentary canal regulating the functions, giving a natural appetite and promoting health by action of the kidneys, skin and lymphatics."
San Antonio buffs swear that chili powder was invented by William Gebhardt, a German immigrant in New Braunfels, Texas (now a suburb of San Antonio) around 1890. He registered his Eagle Brand Chili Powder trademark in 1896, making it one of the oldest in the United States. In 1960, it was acquired by Beatrice Foods and is now known as Gebhardt Mexican Foods Company. The blend today is unchanged and is still one of the most popular brands used.
1893 - The Texas chili went national when Texas set up a state chili booth at the 1893 Colombian Exposition in Chicago.
1895 - Lyman T. Davis of Texas made chili in downtown Corsicana and delivered it by wagon to saloons where it was sold for five cents a bowl with all the crackers you wanted. He later opened a meat market where he sold his chili in brick form, using the brand name of Lyman's Famous Home Made Chili. In 1921, he started to can chili in the back of his market and named it "Wolf Brand" in honor of his pet wolf, Kaiser Bill. A picture of the wolf is still on the label. In the 1920s, Davis quit the chili business when his ranch was found to have lots of oil. The company is now owned by The Quaker Oats Company.
Around the turn of the century, chili joints appeared in Texas. By the 1920s, they were familiar all over the West. The chili joints were usually no more than a shed or a room with a counter and some stools. Usually a blanket was hung up to separate the kitchen. The Dictionary of American Regional English describes chili joints as: "A small cheap restaurant, particularly one that served poor quality food."
1922 - Cincinnati style chili is quite different from its more familiar Texas cousin. It is unique to the Cincinnati area and it was created in 1922 by a Macedonian immigrant, Tom (Athanas) Kiradjieff. He settled in Cincinnati with his brother, John, and opened a hot dog stand with Greek food called the Empress, only to do a lousy business because nobody there at the time knew anything about Greek food. So, it is said, that they called their spaghetti "chili." He created a chili made with Middle Eastern spices which could be served a variety of ways. His "five-way" was a concoction of a mound of spaghetti topped with chili, then with chopped onion, then red kidney beans, then shredded yellow cheese, and served with oyster crackers and a side order of hot dogs topped with shredded cheese.
1962 - Chasen's Restaurant in Hollywood, California probably made the most famous chili. The owner of the restaurant, Dave Chasen, kept the recipe a secret, entrusting it to no one. For years, he came to the restaurant every Sunday to privately cook up a batch, which he would freeze for the week, believing that the chili was best when reheated. "It is a kind of bastard chili" was all that Dave Chasen would divulge.
During the filming of the movie "Cleopatra" in Rome, Italy, famous movie star, Elizabeth Taylor, had Chasen Restaurant in Hollywood, California send 10 quarts of their famous chili to her. She supposedly paid $200 to have it shipped to her in Rome.
Chauffeurs and studio people, actors and actresses would come to the back door of Chasen's to buy and pick up the chili by the quart. Other famous people craved this chili such as comedian and actor Jack Benny (1894-1974) who ordered it by the quart. J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972), former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who considered it the best chili in the world, and Eleanor Roosevelt (1894-1962) wife of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, sought the recipe but was refused it (a complimentary order was dispatched to her instead). It is said that Chasen's also send chili to movie actor Clark Gable (1901-1960), when he was in the hospital (he reportedly had it for dinner the night he died).
1967 - The first chili cook-off known to modern man took place in 1967 in uninhabited Terlingua, Texas (once a thriving mercury-mining town of 5,000 people). It was a two-man cook-off between Texas chili champ Homer "Wick" Fowler (1909-1972), a Dallas and Denton newspaper reporter, and H. Allen Smith (humorist and author), which ended in a tie. The cook-off challenge started when H. Allen Smith wrote a story for the Holiday magazine titled Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do, which claimed that on one in Texas could make proper chili. A reader suggested that Fowler answer the challenge, which he did. The cook-off competition ended in a tie vote when the tie-breaker judge allowed someone to ram a spoonful of chili into his mouth and promptly spit it all over the referee's foot and then he went into convulsions. He rammed a handkerchief down his throat and pronounced himself unable to go on and declared a one-year moratorium in the world championship chili cook-off.
The International Chili Society was formed by Francis Tolbert (1912-1984), famous journalist and author of "A Bowl of Red", and continued to hold its annual cook-off in Terlingua until 1975, when it moved to Rosamound, California. Chili competitions are still held each year in Terlingua.
So passionate are chili lovers that they hold competitions (some local, some international). One organization is the Chili Appreciation Society International which has approximately 50 "pods" or clubs in the United States and Canada and supports over 400 sanctioned chili cookoffs involving thousands of participants each year. Chili competitions are held on a circuit each year (much like the system used for tennis and golf competitions).