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.
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.