2012-11-27 / Columns

The Bright Side

Chilly Days Call For Chili
by Annie Bright

When I travel I search out those local cookbooks put together by ladies of the community. I love the simplicity of the recipes that are contributed to these down home cookbooks. They include the recipes people ask for at pitch-ins. Those little cookbooks are collections of the food we feed our families. They aren’t exotic or expensive and are almost always easy to make and delicious to eat. Recently, I hosted a friends and family pitch-in. Statements like: “Who made that?” and “I want the recipe for that” were common during the meal. Cooking is part of a family’s tradition. Memories of gathering around the kitchen table to share a meal, conjures up some ancient emotion from the time humans hunkered around a fire to share the roasted beast of the day. That same feeling of community is in those little cookbooks.

Autumn can mean cold, wet, wicked weather in Indiana. Those days are perfect for a big pot of soup or chili, so I decided to make chili for the pitch-in. There are as many ways to make chili as there are ways to make barbecue, maybe more. Most recipes from the southwest call for cubed or diced beef. Here in the Midwest most people use ground beef. I have also made chili with ground goat meat, venison or turkey. It is all good. My son insists that purist don’t even add beans, just meat and peppers, lots of hot peppers. I have eaten ‘white’ chili, with great northern beans and chicken but no tomatoes and peppers. I didn’t care for it and really don’t consider it chili. Some recipes call for odd things, spices like rosemary or a bay leaf and sausage. I suppose we could have a whole cookbook devoted to chili.

My chili is not my Mother’s chili. My chili is more robust. I start with a skillet full of onions and peppers. If it is a pot of chili for public consumption, I do not add any Habaneros, just a couple of a variety that are not so hot as the little orange ones, but hotter than Cerannoes. Then I add lots of ground beef. When that is all nice and browned, I add diced tomatoes and dark red kidney beans and a handful of cumin. Cumin is one of my favorite spices. You could eat my chili with a fork; there is very little soup. The steam rising up from my old speckled granite kettle as the chili boils and bubbles on the stove is very pungent. Oh, I love that fragrance of onions and peppers; makes me drool just writing about it.

Like many cooks, my Mother made a very soupy chili. Eating it required a spoon and lots of crackers. She put spaghetti in her chili and tomato sauce. It was not very spicy; it was more sweet. She put a little sugar in it. She usually did that when she cooked any dish that included tomatoes. Some people make her type of chili soup with elbow macaroni. Once when a coworker and I were making a vat of chili to feed volunteers, she bought tomato juice to add instead of tomato sauce or diced tomatoes. She wouldn’t let me make it hot either. It isn’t really chili unless it tingles your tongue, now is it? If it is too tame, it is just soup.

Another topic is what to eat with your chili. I like corn bread, but will settled for corn chips, preferably Fritos. Many people like crackers with chili; that is the standard offering. Cheese, chopped onions, sour cream are all things some people consider appropriate chili toppings. Mom always served pickles with chili. I have no idea why. My brother-in-law insisted on peanut butter sandwiches when he had chili. That seems weird to me. However, when I make potato soup, I have to have a grilled cheese sandwich, which my family calls toasted cheese sandwiches. We put Miracle Whip inside with the cheese. I have learned that most people think that is strange.

We always have dessert when we have chili. The recent pitch-in was no exception. Everything from cup cakes with candy pumpkins to pecan pie was on the dessert table. My younger son created a new dish: Blue Fluff. That was the first bowl to get empty! Here is his recipe: 1 can of blueberry pie filling, 1 can crushed pineapple – (drain all the juice off and drink it), 1 can Eagle Brandmilk,and18ouncetubof Cool Whip and a couple of cups of tiny marshmallows. Mix the first three ingredients well, then fold in the thawed Cool Whip and marshmallows, chill and serve.

Cherry pie filling can be substituted for the blueberry. Then you’d have Pink Fluff, a very festive looking dish for the holidays.

So much of the food we serve our families comes from recipes handed down orally from parent to child. They are not written down in a book, unless someone puts the recipe in a community cookbook. Ingredients are easy to find in the local grocery store and don’t cost a fortune. For the last couple of years I have been trying to get our favorite family recipes together in a book. The task is not as simple as it sounds, but I am determined to finish it before Christmas. The cooler weather increases my appetite and my desire to get in the kitchen and stir up some memories.

‘til next time,


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