The recent change in the weather (it turned into autumn somehow) means it is time to once again discuss all things seasonal, starting with food. By that I mean chili.
I am what is politely (or perhaps non-politely) known as a chili-head. This is another way to say I am extremely fond of chili and would eat it five nights a week if possible, saving the other two nights for ham and beans or chicken and noodles.
Why? Because chili is amazing. It takes a little from each of the major food groups – the meat group, the vegetable group, the hot sauce group and the grease group. For some, it also draws from the legume group and even (gack) the macaroni group. More about those mistakes in a minute.
First, let us concede that chili is very close to being the perfect food, especially at this time of year. It tastes good in almost every incarnation from mild to blazing hot. It warms you body and soul, as only comfort foods can. If you are the kind of person whose personal digestive plumbing has a limited capacity to handle chili’s ingredients, it can offer hours of evening entertainment until the rest of the family asks you to please step outside if you’re going to keep doing that. You can always blame the beans, which are a fixture in Midwestern chili. I used to think chili was incomplete without them until I went to Texas and had chili there. It was a revelation. I had been used to a tomato-y concoction with plenty of beans (kidney, mostly) and now I was being presented with a bowl of red meat and peppers with just enough liquid to qualify as a stew. It was fabulous. I became an instant convert and for years preached fiery sermons in which I railed about imposter Midwestern chili and urged everyone to try the real thing, Texas style, sans beans.
I’ve modified my viewpoint somewhat and come back to an appreciation for Midwestern chili. I’ll actually go either way on chili now. I like to think of myself as coming down on the side of chili diversity.
I do have to draw the line at throwing in macaroni. It’s very common in Indiana. I think it probably began as a way to stretch a pot of chili to feed more people, and those who grew up with it thought chili should always have macaroni in it. Or they thought chili was supposed to bear a strong resemblance to Midwestern goulash, which is nothing more than bland chili with even more macaroni in it.
As the leaves turn and the air takes on a new coolness, give me what Will Rogers called “the bowl of blessedness,” a bowl of honest red chili, with a fistful of saltines on the side. Ah, chili on an autumn afternoon. It is blessedness indeed.