Colder days are ahead and that means warmer dishes. One of winter’s favorites is also one of the only foods that can spark controversy, regional wars, and international cook—offs: chili! Even the history of the dish is debatable. Mexico is most likely where the dish was invented. The Aztec people are often credited with the distinction; they were even rumored to have cut up invasive conquistadors and season them with peppers. The early American settlers claim that the first bowl was made close to Laramie Wyoming or some say San Antonio, Texas. Wherever chili came from, we do know that it is an American favorite with many variations and a chili for anyone!
In the early days chili was made with any kind meat, elk, horse, rabbit, rattlesnake, armadillos, or beef. The meat was mixed with wild onions, herbs, and whatever chilies were grown in the local area. For example: Texas chili is red because red chilies grew there and New Mexico is known for their famous green chili peppers, which were brought to that region by the Spanish. Chili was made popular by cattle drivers who were known to plant herbs and spices along their trails in order to always have what they needed at hand while on the move. Not long after, it was not uncommon to find chili wagons along the trials serving hungry cowboys, Native Americans, and travelers. (In a way, these wagons were the first food trucks!) Billy the Kid and Jessie James would avoid robbing chili vendors because they believed anyone who made chili could not be that bad.
In the late 1800’s San Antonio played a big part in chili’s history. The area was a popular tourist spot and passerby town. Mexican women would gather downtown, dressed in colorful traditional Mexican dresses, build fires, and cook large cauldrons of chili for the masses complete with mariachi bands. These ladies were know as Chili Queens and were a big pride of the city until the mid-1900’s when the city changed a law that stated all food facilities needed to have restrooms. In the 1970’s San Antonio reopened the marketplace and locals began to stage re-enactments to honor the chili queens.
Chili recipes have been passed down for generations and most everyone has a favorite variation of this all-inclusive one pot meal. Today chili comes with beans, which could cause a heated discussion in some parts, chili can be “white” made with white beans and chicken, chili is served on hot dogs, on fries, on baked potatoes, or spaghetti (known as Cincinnati or Skyline chili), it can be made with cheese, con queso or even made with chocolate. Chili can be a carnivore’s delight, or a vegans dream dish. Chili could genuinely please the cowboys of yesterday and satisfy us today in the modern world.