There are few foods born in the great state of Texas that inspire the controversies of Texas Red Chili. In 1977, Chili became the official dish Of Texas at the 65th Legislature
We fired up a big debate on Roadfood, the food site of record, way back in December of 2011 when we established the protocols for authentic Texas Red. Over 13k people read the post.
Michael Stern, the legend himself, was one of the first responders:
“According to Frank X. Tolbert in A Bowl of Red, “The ‘original’ was simply bite-size or coarsely ground beef or other mature meats cooked slowly and for a long time in boon companionship with the pulp of chili peppers, crushed powder from the curly leaves of oregano, ground cumin seeds, and chopped garlic cloves.” If ever there was an authority on Texas chili, Tolbert was it … which is not to say there aren’t nearly as many variations as there are cooks.”
Last week, we spent 3 days making sixteen quarts of Ma Ferguson’s version of Texas chili, it’s not a true red, but it was truly delicious. Of course, tomatoes and onions have no business being cooked in Authentic Texas Red but they do make a “chili” into a very tasty stew.
One of the best almost-Texas Reds we ever ate was prepared by a barista in South Austin. He put chocolate and coffee in his kettle to great effect. We never managed to wrangle the recipe out of him.
Across the USA many eater’s only brush with Texas chili is Wolf Brand out of a can.
Way back in the late 1800s, originator Lyman T. Davis (age 16) of Corsicana would sell bowls of this chili (for a nickel) near the Blue Front Saloon. Dorothea Lange would’ve had a field day with the scene.
The recipe was quite a bit different back then. Historical records are scarce, but one imagines there was little more than spice, chiles, and meat, probably mature, in those bowls.
Nowadays with Con Agra in charge of Wolf chili there’s a laundry list of ingredients: Sodium tripolyphosphate!, Soy Lecithin!, in that once vaunted bowl. Perhaps it was foresight on the part of the Spanish priests who named early renditions of chili the “soup of the devil.”
The air at the Scrumptious house is perfumed with authentic Texas Red a good half dozen times a year. We make a variety of chilis, but at the end of the day there can be only one ruler of our heart, and it’s that solid southwestern gold known as Texas Red.
The great Kentuckian Kit Carson reportedly issued these final words on his deathbed: “Wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili.”