Chili is legendary. Literally. Yes, the beloved comfort food with origins in Spain – not Mexico! – is steeped in lore. One theory about the American staple with seemingly endless ingredient possibilities is that a mysterious nun, Sister Mary of Agreda of Spain known as “the lady in blue,” created it while in a hypnotic trance and served it to the poor and hungry.
During the Spanish Inquisition, chili was dubbed “the soup of the devil” by priests who believed its spicy flavors were aphrodisiacs that pious people should avoid at all costs. This, of course, only added to its appeal.
Chili is also said to have originated in Texas prisons, where it was a favorite dish among inmates, so much so that they ranked prisons by the taste of their chili. In the 1980s, the city of San Antonio (where chili was introduced to America) staged historic re-enactments of the “chili queens,” Latina women, who sold the stew they made with dried red chili peppers and beef a century before.
Other fun facts about chili is that no self-respecting Texan would ever add beans to it. Lady Bird Johnson’s Pedernales River Chili was so popular, she mailed recipe cards to people all across the country. Being from Texas, she did not include beans!
Chasen’s restaurant in Hollywood made a chili wildly popular with celebrities, including Clark Gable, who is said to have eaten it the night he died. Eleanor Roosevelt requested its tightly guarded recipe and was refused; however, a complimentary order was sent to her at the White House. Here, you can have the now closed restaurant’s famous recipe!
While there is some debate about exactly who invented chili (as well as its most defining ingredient, chili powder), there is no question that it remains serious business…especially among the aficionados who enter chili cook-offs and compete fiercely for best in taste. There is even an International Chili Society that’s been crock potting for over 50 years.
Toppings can include anything from beans (but not in Texas!), onions, crackers, cheese and sour cream to more adventurous choices like sweet potatoes, balsamic vinegar, beer, coffee, chocolate, olives, cola, mango, dried cranberries, coconut milk, honey, whiskey, and cauliflower. Whatever one wants to toss in the pot is fair game, and many will claim theirs is the best concoction of the very broad lot.
Here in Milwaukee, a quick search of the Internet shows no less than eight chili cook-offs, most of them in the fall and winter months when there’s nothing better than a warm bowl of chili with a side of football (a match made in heaven, according to Rick Bayless). Fifteen choices for “best chili in Milwaukee” surface, with Real Chili on Wells Street claiming the top slot and comments from fans like “Best damn chili in Milwaukee!”
At Eastcastle Place, staff will compete in a chili cook-off of their own that residents are excited to judge on October 18. The cook-off is part of several fun fall activities at Eastcastle Place, including a fall color and lunch trip to Cedarburg, Wisconsin, a stop at a pumpkin patch, apple picking, Oktoberfest with German polka music and German beer, and cherry dill pickle jarring. On Halloween, residents will be treated to Halloween-themed dinner, magic, and a costume party and contest.
It remains to be seen whose chili will win the prize, but there’s no denying there’s a lot cookin’ at Eastcastle Place this fall!