"Chili" Weather Forecast for Galveston

Texans Like It Hot, and They Like It Without Beans

By Esther Davis McKenna

It’s been called the “soup of the devil” by 19th century Spanish priests, a “bowl of blessedness” by actor Will Rogers, and “God’s gift to Texas” by singer Ken Finlay. But this fiery hot stew, by any other name, is still chili con carne, and it's the state dish of Texas.

There are as many theories about the birthplace of chili as there are variations of the recipe. However, most historians will agree that Texas is chili country, and all roads lead to San Antonio in and around 1800.

Records show that a group of families emigrated to San Antonio, Texas, from the Spanish Canary Islands and brought with them a recipe for a spicy stew with them. The piquant dish was described as a sort of hash with as many chili peppers as meat and included onions, garlic, cumin and oregano. This recipe would have made an easy transition in their new homeland, as all ingredients but cumin grew wild in south-central Texas.

Earlier claims exist that a Spanish nun, Sister Mary of Agreda, wrote down the first recipe for chili after one of her mysterious trances, but no official record can be found.

Texas prisons also lay claim to the creation of chili. They concocted a dish of tough beef that was hacked into fine pieces and included chiles and spices. All of the ingredients were boiled in water into an edible consistency.



Others claim that trail cooks and chuck wagon chefs created bricks of pounded dried beef, suet and chili peppers and rehydrated them with boiling water. These bricks would have been easy to store and reconstitute while driving cattle or searching for gold. Later, it is said, they planted onions, oregano, and chiles in mesquite patches (to protect them from foraging cattle) along well-traveled trails.

In all likelihood, modern-day chili is a combined effort of all of the above, evolving into the belly-filling stew that we celebrate today.

There is no doubt, or lack of documentation, that the ‘chili queens’ of San Antonio helped give rise to the popularity of this simple, but hearty, dish. In the 1880s, San Antonio’s Haymarket Square was a hubbub of rich folk and poor folk alike.

Each “queen” made her own unique stew of meat and chiles at home, loaded it onto wagons and transported it to the plaza, where people of all walks of life were served side-by-side. Chili consumption knew no caste system, and it was beloved by all.

In later years, stringent health department rules spelled the end for the open-air food market. Some families opened indoor cafes, known as chili joints, but most went out of business.

The inclusion of a San Antonio-based chili stand at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition), coupled with the advent of commercial manufacturing of chili powder in 1894 by German immigrant William Gebhardt, led to chili’s nationwide exposure.

No one knows exactly when tomatoes were added to the mix, but they were used in the favorite recipe of First Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson. The Pedernales River Chili recipe, which was developed by LBJ’s cook, Zephyr Wright, was served at the Johnson family ranch in the Texas Hill Country, and at the White House.

The recipe’s name pays homage to the Pedernales River, which runs along the Johnson’s ranch. Historians say that Lady Bird was so fond of Wright’s recipe, she carried printed cards of the recipe and gifted it freely.

Legislation passed in 1977 cemented chili con carne as the official state dish of Texas. However, different styles of chili have popped up all over the United States.

Cincinnati’s Skyline chili, or spaghetti chili, is a regional favorite served over noodles and ordered as a three-way (topped with cheese), a four-way (with onions or beans), or a five-way topped with ‘the works.’ Other versions across the country include tomatoes, beans, rice, and other fillers.

It is rumored that during the filming of the movie, “Cleopatra,” actress Elizabeth Taylor had Chasen’s Restaurant in West Hollywood, California, send ten quarts of their famous chili to her in Rome. Clark Gable, dubbed the King of Hollywood, was said to have been so enamored of the same dish that he had Chasen’s deliver a quart to the hospital the night before he passed away.

Chili heads have been competing for the best ‘bowls of red’ for decades, but the most famous and well-known chili cook-off took place in 1967, in Terlingua, Texas.

The challenge started when New York humorist and author H. Allen Smith wrote a story for the August 1967 edition of “Holiday Magazine,” titled “Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do,” which claimed no one in Texas could make proper chili. It was a two-man cook-off between H. Allen Smith and Texas chili champion Homer ‘Wick’ Fowler, which ended in a tie.

Galvestonians continue the proud tradition of chili cook-offs this year, beginning with the 13th Annual Yaga’s Chili Quest & Beer Fest, which returns to the Strand on January 14-15. Sixty chili teams will compete along with dozens of craft beer vendors, said native Galvestonian Mike Dean, who owns Yaga’s Entertainment.

ChiliOn the island’s west end, chili heads will gather for the 12th Annual West End Chili Cookoff to be held on Saturday, February 5, at the West End Marina & Restaurants in Sea Isle. More than 30 teams will compete for the coveted Best Chili honors. Over the years, this event has raised more than $50,000 for local charities and scholarships, according to event organizers Brian Perry and Mark McKenna.

Chili is a classic American dish, even more classically Texan, with roots in the central southwest that can be traced back centuries. You can ladle it into a bowl, serve it over pasta, wrap it in a burrito, or slather it on a hot dog. You can smother it in cheese and onions or any myriad of toppings—just don’t serve it to a Texan with beans in it.

Chili Recipoe