When I was a kid, chili season started just before November. It began in the early 1980s with visits to the Texas Chili Parlor in downtown Austin, where I grew up. The menu was simple: Chili, X, XX or XXX. Those brave enough to go XXX had to sign a release. I had iced tea and, if no one from church was with us, Dad chose between Lone Star, Shiner (not Bock) or Pearl beer. Pretty soon, Dad, ever wary of the high price of any and all things, noticed Wick Fowler’s Two-Alarm Chili Mix at the supermarket. Anything made at home was immanently cheaper than anything eaten out. Our two-alarm chili contained nothing resembling or even rhyming with beans and was eaten with crackers. Much has changed in 25-plus years. The Texas Chili Parlor is still around but with an expanded menu. It even has vegetarian chili. Suffrage killed the annual Chilympiad, and at Chili’s Bar and Grill, you can find lettuce wraps on the menu but not a bowl of the red. (They’ll bring you some if you ask real nice, though.) And Dad died in 2003. But I still start cooking chili in November. Any concoction of beef and beans in a chili powder stew remains hot dog sauce, in my view. However, I once dismissed anyone who disagreed with that assessment as a rube. Since then, I’ve studied critical analysis and the art of interpreting an old text through a new lens. That, and I married a vegetarian. Turns out the Greeks came up with a pretty tasty interpretation by adding sweeter spices, kidney beans and serving it over linguini. Now, I’m not against a spoonful of peanut butter or a couple of bricks of semi-sweet chocolate in my bowl. My recipe is a road map. I like mine August-asphalt hot, no beans, and served with cheese and fresh sliced onions and serranos. Typically, I use fresh ingredients, but with chili I use powders because trustworthy produce isn’t as easy to find this time of year. Plus, fresh ingredients make a fairly simple but long recipe more complicated and even longer. Finally, I like to make chili a day early and warm it the second day for serving.
Chili sparks far more conversation and questions than a mere newspaper can offer. So, check out the Food Dude blog at blog.newsok.com/fooddude to read: →How an expanding local Hispanic community and the Internet have made the finding of lesser known types of dried chiles and powders easier. →How chili parlors in Oklahoma date to statehood and survived the Great Depression. →Chili’s role in national politics. →How restaurant chili differs from homemade, and where to find it. →Cook-off lore. →How to stretch your chili into next week and next month.