Monday, September 13, 2010

Chili Con Carne

This weekend, I had a lot of housework to do, so I confined my cooking to an old standby:  chili con carne (i.e., Spanish for "chili with meat").  I make mine in my crockpot with a recipe adapted from the recipe pamphlet that came with the crockpot.  Like the chili I grew up with, it features ground beef, kidney beans, tomatoes, onions, and bell pepper.  The basic spices are chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper, but I usually add garlic and mustard powder to the mix, and 3 or 4 heaping tablespoons of maize flour to thicken it.

I had known for years that different people had different recipes for chili, and that there were whole debates over whether a proper chili should contain anything other than meat and sauce, and whether the meat should be ground beef or cut-up steak, but I was hazy on exactly when and how chili came to be eaten here in the U.S.

So I asked my friend, Google, and both Wikipedia and other sites attribute the popularization of chili, if not its original invention, to San Antonio, Texas beginning in the 1880s.  Hispanic women, nicknamed "chili queens," would set up pots in the town square and sell their stew to passersby.  The town fathers of San Antonio  killed off this practice by the 1940s by passing ordinances requiring these street-food sellers to meet all of the same regulations as restaurants, but by then the dish was well-established.

There appear to be different stories about the time of chili's origin. The Food Timeline notes that the dish must be of Mexican inspiration but that even Mexican sources reject this claim.

Whatever one concludes about the origins of chili con carne, the dish is tasty and economical, which is why my husband and I eat it so often.

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