Sunday, February 18, 2007
Dorcas Annette Walker
Cold winter days invariably finds me at my kitchen stove making up a big pot of chili. Not only does a bowl of chili warm up one’s insides, but there is something tantalizing in the aroma of handling dried herbs that brings back summertime memories of growing gardens and fresh flowers. As I mix and cook with herbs I am encircled in a cocoon of warmth despite frigid temperatures outside my kitchen window.
There are many debates and contests on the best way to make chili as well as heated arguments on exactly where chili originated. The earliest description of chili written down was by J. C. Clopper of Houston, Texas. General consensus dates the beginning of chili to the mid 1800’s with the Texas trail cooks who had to feed hungry cowboys using whatever ingredients was on hand; beef, buffalo, venison or rattlesnake that they mixed with chilies, wild garlic, onion, and herbs. Nonperishable trail food was made by pounding dried meat, fat, Chile peppers, and salt into chili bricks that could be soaked in water and cooked up making a hearty stew. One tale is told of a range cook who collected wild oregano, Chile peppers, wild garlic, and onions to make his chili. To ensure he had the native spices wherever he went he planted gardens along the paths of cattle drives in patches of mesquite to protect his herbs from marauding cattle. On the next trip he would harvest his herbs hanging peppers, onions, and oregano to dry on the side of his chuck wagon blazing a trail of spicy gardens across Texas.
My introduction to making homemade chili came shortly after I was married when a friend’s cousin came to visit the college campus, where my husband and I lived, from a culinary school up in New York. He cooked with herbs I had never heard of before and loved to experiment. As soon as we met I was intrigued. When he found out that I cooked mainly from scratch he began asking me all kinds of questions about my recipes. The rest of his visit consisted of one big cook-off in my kitchen where we huddled over the stove all day experimenting with mixing various herbs, debating the merits of different blends of foods, and trying out new recipes that my husband and his college friends devoured. It was pure bliss. All too soon his visit ended. I’ve long forgotten the fellow’s name, but my love and fascination with herbs has stuck throughout the years.
Chili recipes are as diversified as microwaves. No two are the same. Everywhere I’ve traveled each bowl of chili tastes different. Cooking up a batch of homemade chili is an excellent time to experiment with herbs personalizing the recipe to match your taste buds. My Homemade Chili recipe is considered mild. Preparation time for my Homemade Chili is around an hour and this recipe makes almost two gallons (around 28 servings). Chili freezes well and makes a ready-made meal for busy days. A slice of homemade bread or hot cornmeal muffins goes well with a bowl of chili.
Brown 2 lbs of hamburger in the bottom of a two gallon cooking pot with:
1 tb dried chopped onion or 1 small fresh chopped onion
1 tsp garlic salt
shake in salt and pepper
6 quarts pureed tomatoes
2 cans of hot chili beans
¼ c sugar
1 tb dried parsley
1 tb dried oregano
1 tsp crushed dried red pepper
Bring to a boil and cook for at least an hour (cook longer if you prefer a thicker soup). May garnish with sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese!
Dorcas Annette Walker is a freelance writer, author, columnist, and photographer from Jamestown, TN. If you have any cooking tips or favorite recipes you are welcome to contact me by mail at: Dorcas Walker, 929 Wildwood Lane, Jamestown, TN 38556 or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the Walker family and Dorcas’ books check out her website at: www.dorcasannettewalker.com or htpp://dorcasannettewalker.blogspot.com for other Creative Mountain Cookin recipes.