Thursday, October 13, 2011

It's School Lunch and Chili Month

October is School Lunch Month and also Chili Month. For me this is quite appropriate, because my first taste of chili was in the school cafeteria at Delmar Harvard Elementary School in University City, Missouri. This was exceptional: I normally brought a bag lunch consisting of a sandwich, an apple, and sometimes a treat like a cookie or a piece of candy. My mother made our lunches almost every day, so I can't remember how I was able to try the chili in the cafeteria instead of my sandwich. I'm sure it wasn't in the least hot, as no children in Missouri at that time would have been expected to eat spicy food. It was served in a heavy white china bowl with a little cellophane packet of crackers. I was always curious to try things that were different from what my mother made, and this was really different.

I did have chili once at home -- that was later, when I was in high school. My Aunt Florence brought us some of her home made chili. I remember her describing what she put in: ground beef, canned beans and tomatoes, bell peppers, chili powder, and probably a couple of other things. Compared to my mother's cooking it was exotic.

Later when I had a kitchen of my own, I found the very bland taste of Campbell's Chili Beef Soup to replicate my school-cafeteria memories. (I put the Andy Warhol soup can image in this blog post to reinforce that memory.) By that time, I was living in California and trying out the inexpensive and maybe even somewhat authentic California Mexican restaurants in Berkeley (which was not yet the gourmet paradise that it later became). The familiar school cafeteria flavor didn't seem exotic at all.

Then I got adventurous and began to make chili from recipes that I found one place or another, most likely starting with the recipe "Chilly-Night Chili" on page 16 of the I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken. Instead of going right to the Campbell's Chili Beef can, it uses a can of tomato soup along with onion, beans, hamburger, and optional olives. Aunt Florence did it better, but pretty soon, so did I.

Here's a chili recipe that I posted a few years ago. This time I know where it came from, but it's not from a cookbook, it's from real people who at the time they gave me the recipe were really living in Texas. Alec, in fact is a native.

Ellen and Alec's "Texas Red" Chili
2 to 3 lb. lean beef cubes: trim off fat if necessary
2 chopped onions
3 cloves chopped garlic
Several fresh chopped chilies (such as jalapenos) or 1 can Old El Paso chopped chili peppers
1 to 4 tablespoons of chili spice (recipe follows — blend of spice is essential)
8 oz tomato sauce and 8 oz water
1 lb can of tomatoes, cut in pieces

Brown onion and garlic. Add fresh peppers (if using fresh). Remove from pan. Add beef and brown. Drain excess fat. Return meat to pan. (Add canned peppers.) Add spice, then tomato sauce, water, and tomatoes. Simmer several hours on top of stove or in 275 degree oven, until meat is soft.

One heresy is to add a can of corn, a can of black beans, and/or a can of red beans towards the end of cooking. I'm not enough of a heretic to make the beans or corn dominate the chili. That would be a different recipe.

Chili Spice Blend

In a mortar or spice grinder blend 1 crumbled bay leaf with 1 tablespoon of each of the following spices: Whole Cumin, Dried Oregano, Chili Powder. Optionally add 1 tablespoon each of onion flakes, parsley flakes, and dried basil. Add at least 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper, dried hot pepper, or hot pepper flakes.

Thanks again to Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations for inspiring me and so many others in new areas of food blogging this month. I celebrate all the huge number of chili recipes and variations that I've ever tried, and the rather pathetic memory of the school cafeteria.


Ryan said...

Hi! My name is Ryan and I’m the editor of I think you have an awesome food site so I posted a link to it in our blog directory. I wasn't able to find your email address on your site but I’d like to invite you to be a part of our Featured Website program. I would love to send you more details about the program, so if you are interested, please email me at ryan [at] howtocookfantasticfood [dot] com.

~~louise~~ said...

The only "goodie" I remember from School Lunches were the Peanut Butter Cookies. For some reason, I have never been able to replicate them. Although, that cookie recipe I just posted may be the key:)

I enjoyed this post, Mae. Isn't it funny the things we remember and also the cooks. I had an aunt who I thought cooked "exotic" but actually she was just cooking!

Thank you so much for sharing the memory and the recipe. It really is FUN!!!