Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Eat Texan Today.

When I first started this blog, the theme was a very broad interpretation of “What Happened on this Day in Food History”. The source of inspiration each day was what, in my head, I grandly call my Food History Almanac (a computer file so large that even in cyberspace it is too heavy and unwieldy ever to be published – although, being the eternal optimist, I do live in perpetual hope.)

Methinks I shall return to this theme for the next week or so. OK?

Today, December 29th, is Texas Admission Day. That is, the anniversary of the admission of the state of Texas to the Union in 1845. So, today is a fine opportunity to address my neglect of this particular corner of the good old US of A.

My difficulty is that I know nothing about the food of Texas apart from what I have learned from watching cowboy movies. I do admit to being greatly intrigued by this dish called ‘chili’, as I love any dish containing ‘chillies’ (or is that ‘chiles’?).

A love of dishes containing chillies hardly, however, qualifies me to enter the ongoing debate about what constitutes an authentic recipe. I assume it is an interpretation of chili con carne? I can say that the dish was already a local delicacy (if anything containing chillies can be said to be delicate) by 1893, when a State chili booth was set up at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

To compensate for the void that is my knowledge of Texan food, I give you a small collection of other people’s thoughts on the topic, and I eagerly await feedback from those of you better informed.

“Texas does not, like any other region, simply have indigenous dishes. It proclaims them. It congratulates you, on your arrival, at having escaped from the slop pails of the other 49 states.”
Alistair Cooke.

“To the goggling unbeliever (Texans) say - as people always say about their mangier dishes – “but it's just like chicken, only tenderer.” Rattlesnake is, in fact, just like chicken, only tougher.”
Alistair Cooke

[On Texas chilli] “It can only truly be Texas red if it walks the thin line just this side of indigestibility: Damning the mouth that eats it and defying the stomach to digest it, the ingredients are hardly willing to lie in the same pot together.”
John Thorne, Simple Cooking

“Congress should pass a law making it mandatory for all restaurants serving chili to follow a Texas recipe.”
Harry James (band leader and trumpeter.)

To give an ‘authentic’ historic recipe for Texas chili clearly puts this little Aussie at far too great a risk of offending a large percentage of her readers. May I compromise, and instead give you a recipe for Chili Sauce, taken from a Texan newspaper (The Hearn Democrat) of October 7, 1927?

Chili Sauce.
5 quarts chopped ripe tomatoes.
2 cupfuls chopped red pepper.
2 cupfuls chopped green pepper.
1 ½ cupfuls chopped onions.
3 tablespoonfuls salt.
1 cupful sugar.
3 cupfuls vinegar.
1 teaspoonful cloves.
1 teaspoonful allspice.
1 teaspoonful cinnamon.
Combine the chopped vegetables, the salt, the sugar, and simmer this mixture until it begins to thicken. Then add the vinegar and spices and cook the mixture down until it becomes a thick sauce. Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal. Or bottle the sauce and seal with wax. This recipe yields about three quarts of sauce.

For dessert, may I suggest Texas Pecan Pie?


Today is also the 4th Day of Christmas: to read a previous blog post on this, go HERE.


Kathryn McGowan said...

Hi Janet,

Living in the NE of the US I don't know that much about Texan food either. However, I have heard that the chile they make in Texas never ever has beans in it, while they are a common ingredient in chile of other regions in the US.

The weather here in NY is great for chile just now, it's only going to be 25F (about -4C) tomorrow.

Bob Kinford said...

check out the Gourmet Cowboy (cowboy cookbook) at

Bob Kinford said...

Try this recipe from the Gourmet Cowboy for
Superstition Chile
This recipe is dedicated to the memory of the “Lost Dutchman”, whose legendary mine still lies hidden somewhere in the deceiving beauty of Arizona’s Superstition Mountains.
1 lb pinto beans
½ lb beef stew meat
½ lb pork stew meat
½ lb lamb stew meat
24 oz can red chili sauce
24 oz can green chili sauce.
Wash and soak beans overnight. Brown meat and place all ingredients into an eight quart slow cooker on low for eight to ten hours.
Serves 6 to 8.
For the chili sauces, usw El Pato Red and La Victoria Green. Be perfect for tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

Happy belated birthday! Enjoy the famiy & beach!
Thank you for another year of interesting posts!

Anonymous said...

Chili is like cassoulet: there are 101 regional variations, each fiercely defended as authentic. The following is a sketchy summary of a broad topic.

AFAICT, the nationwide essentials are tomatoes, a protein, and some derivative of chile peppers. Some people shudder at beans, insisting that red meat (usually cut-up beef, sometimes venison) is the only proper chili protein. Others combine meat and beans and some go (horrors!) vegetarian. Pinto or red beans are the default. As for heat, the further south or west you go, the hotter the local chili tends to be. Canned chili and chili served in nationwide chain restaurants are nearly always bland.

Local cooks' special touches could be anything from cinnamon to tequila. They might use nearly any type of chunked or ground meat (or jerky or sausage) and/or any dried bean, even lentils--I think only seafood and split peas would be unacceptable. The chiles might be fresh, dried, ground, powdered, canned, or turned into salsa or hot sauce--any color and number of Scoville units. Some serve it plain, while others serve a selection of garnishes: sour cream, grated Cheddar or jack cheese, chopped onion, etc. Most people serve a starch with chili. I have heard of corn or wheat tortillas, corn chips, cornbread, or even saltines. Or ladle chili over a split baked potato.

So much for classic chili. There are a lot of other things that aren't classic chili, but still good:

*White chili. No tomatoes or red chiles allowed. White beans, sometimes meat (usually turkey), green chiles and other hot spices, and the usual garnishes and starchy side.
*Chili size. A Western invention. One split hamburger bun with a hamburger patty on each half. Ladle chili over them and garnish with grated cheese and chopped onion.
*Chili dog. A frankfurter on a bun with a little chili ladled into it.
*Frito pie. Fritos brand corn chips in a bowl, topped with chili, then with grated cheese if desired. Eat quickly before the Fritos go mushy; it's much tastier than it sounds.
*Cincinnati five-way chili. Invented by Greek immigrants, it has become a beloved institution in the state of Ohio. A thin, fragrant ground-beef chili served over spaghetti (two-way) and topped if desired with grated Cheddar cheese (three-way), chopped onions (four-way), and kidney beans (five-way). Some say that oyster crackers are also involved.
*Chili dip: Ground meat and/or bean chili combined with melted cheese (or some type of processed cheese food if you don't mind that kind of thing) and scooped up with corn chips. Many people consider this a traditional dish for football-watching parties. Arguably scoop-shaped chips were invented by Frito-Lay Company et al. because this dish is so popular.

Jenny Islander

The Old Foodie said...

Jenny - a belated thankyou for that marvellous summary of chili! I shall take it as the definitive word on the topic!

Anonymous said...

Does no one else think it odd that the Hearn Democrat's "chili sauce" includes no hot chili peppers whatsoever (assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that the red and green peppers referred to were then, as they now would be, conventionally sweet bell peppers)?

The Old Foodie said...

Bklynharuspex - I have all but given up trying to work this out: here in Aus, the sweet "bell peppers" are called capsicums, and the hot ones are chillies: this is simple. I dont know how it works elsewhere, but presumably the locals of each area do!