When the weather turns cold outside, many kids look forward to special treats to warm their tummies when they come inside from making snow angels and sledding. After all, is there any better way to thaw yourself from the inside out than a warm cup of hot cocoa?
If you're lucky, there might be another special treat bubbling in a large pot on the stove in the kitchen. As you sniff the air, you detect the aroma of meat, peppers, and spices. A quick glance inside the pot reveals the presence of a thick soup or stew that's sure to delight. What are we talking about? Today we're WONDERing about chili!
If you're a fan of chili, you know that this spicy dish comes in an almost-endless number of varieties. Just attend any chili cook-off and you'll be amazed at the versions you'll see. From mild to hot, chili can feature different types of peppers, meats, spices, and even beans and noodles in some versions.
Myths and tall tales are not hard to find when it comes to the origin of chili. For example, one popular tale tells of a Spanish nun, Sister Mary of Agreda, who supernaturally appeared to Native Americans in the early 1600s and returned with the first recipe for chili: chili peppers, venison (deer meat), onions, and tomatoes.
The modern dish we know as chili, also known as chili con carne (chili with meat), does appear to have roots in the American West, particularly the State of Texas. An old legend holds that immigrants from the Canary Islands brought a recipe for chili with them when they settled San Antonio in the early 1700s. Historians do know that chili was a popular meal amongst cowboys and pioneers on the Western frontier.
In the 1880s, chili stands became popular in San Antonio. Women known as "chili queens" served "bowls o' red" to customers, and the fame of chili con carne began to spread across the country. The 1893 World's Fair in Chicago featured the dish at the San Antonio Chili Stand.
Since that time, chili has become a popular dish all over the United States. Its association with Texas, however, remains quite strong. In fact, the Texas legislature named chili the official state dish in 1977.
Today, playful debates rage at chili cook-offs regarding which ingredients compose "real" chili. For many Texans, a "bowl o' red" contains nothing more than chili peppers, meat, and spices. Midwestern versions often add beans and additional fat into the mix. It's not uncommon to find regional varieties of chili that also feature tomato sauce and/or pasta noodles.
Chili cook-off attendees will often create their own unique version of chili by choosing specific ingredients they feel will create the most intense flavor. You'll find chilis with different types of meat, including beef, sausage, turkey, and venison. Vegetarian chilis are also popular, replacing the meat with a variety of flavorful vegetables. Chili chefs will also customize the spiciness of their chili by selecting a variety of chili peppers that they believe will give their chili the perfect amount of spice and heat.