The History of Chilli

Chilli, or Chilli con carne, with its grand Texas heritage and widespread popularity, is a wonderful choice for a wintertime meal, and it's a great meal for large gatherings and parties. Texans will be quick to tell you it's not Chilli if it has beans, so you might want to call it Chilli with beans if you add them. Who invented Chilli? There are several theories. E. De Grolyer, a scholar and Chilli expert, believed it had its origins as the "pemmican of the Southwest" in the late 1840s. According to De Grolyer, Texans pounded dried beef and beef fat, chile peppers, and salt to make trail food for the ride out to the gold fields and San Francisco. The dried mixture was then boiled in pots along the trail, an "instant" Chilli. A variation on the same theory is that cowboys invented Chilli when driving cattle. Supposedly, cooks planted oregano,chiles, and onions among patches of mesquite to protect them from foraging cattle. The next time they passed the same trail, they would collect the spices, combine them with beef, and make a dish called "Trail drive Chilli". The chile peppers used in the earliest dishes were probably Chillipiquíns, which grow wild on bushes in Texas, particularly the southern part of the state.

Probably the earliest mention of the dish, though not the name, according to Dave DeWitt and Nancy Gerlach in "The Whole Chile Pepper Book," was by J.C Clopper. He visited San Antonio in 1828 and commented on how poor people would cut the little meat they could afford "into a kind of hash with nearly as many pieces of pepper as there are pieces of meat - this is all stewed together." The first mention of the word "chile" was in a book by S. Compton Smith, "Chile Con Carne, or The Camp and the Field" (1857), and there was a San Antonio Chilli Stand at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.

It was in 1902 that William Gebhardt, a German Immigrant in New Braunfels, Texas, created a "Chilli powder" which helped popularize Chilli throughout the Southwest. His brand is still one of the most popular, and specified in many recipes.

Chilli con carne is described as a dish of well-seasoned and well-cooked beef with chile peppers. In New Mexico, Chilli is often more of a stew with chile peppers and vegetables, with or without meat. In California, Chilli is usually a mixture of ground beef and beans, different from any other Southwestern versions. Cincinnati Chilli was created in 1922 by a Macedonian immigrant, Athanas Kiradjieff. Kiradjieff settled in Cincinnati and opened a hot dog stand called the Empress, where he created a Chilli with Middle Eastern spices which could be served a variety of ways. His "five-way" was a concoction of a mound of spaghetti topped with Chilli, then with chopped onions, then red kidney beans, then shredded yellow cheese, and served with oyster crackers and a side order of hot dogs topped with shredded cheese!