Return of chili cook-off reveals winning recipes

by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on Dec 08, 2010 - 04:41 PM

Photo: The Caribbean Blue chili-cooking team Richard and Elaine Clayton of Gloucester, and five-month-old daughter, Abigail, received second place in the Watermen’s Museum Chili Cook-Off. Fred Jones, co-chairman of the annual event, left, made the presentation.

The Caribbean Blue chili-cooking team Richard and Elaine Clayton of Gloucester, and five-month-old daughter, Abigail, received second place in the Watermen’s Museum Chili Cook-Off. Fred Jones, co-chairman of the annual event, left, made the presentation.

What is chili? Is it just called chili or is it chili con carne? Many sources define chili as a stew-like soup made entirely with meat, chilies or chili powder (or both), and according to what region of the United States that you live in, it can also include beans. "Con carne" means with meat.

The only thing certain about chili is that it did not originate in Mexico. There are many legends and stories about its beginnings and a lot of the history centers on San Antonio, Texas.

One story is that the first chili recipe was written by a nun, Sister Mary of Spain, in the 17th century. Although she never left Spain her spirit somehow was known by the Indians of the southwest United States. It is said they used her recipe when making a stew.

Another legend about the beginning of chili comes from the colonists of the Canary Islands who settled outside the mission in San Antonio, known today as the Alamo. At sundown the ladies would come into the plaza, set up their tables and sell the stew they had made in copper kettles. That’s a tradition that lasted in that town into the 21st century. They were called "chili queens."

Another story comes from a discovery made in 1950 by a true chili lover. Records were found that indicated that the first chili was concocted by Texan adventurers and cowboys in 1850 as a staple for hard times.