Chilli Con Carne

Some Spanish priests were said to be wary of the passion inspired by chile peppers, assuming they were aphrodisiacs.  A few preached sermons against indulgence in a food which they said was almost as “hot as hell’s brimstone” and “Soup of the Devil.”  The priest’s warning probably contributed to the dish’s popularity.

1850 – Records were found by Everrette DeGolyer (1886-1956), a Dallas millionaire and a lover of chili, indicating that the first chili mix was concocted around 1850 by Texan adventurers and cowboys as a staple for hard times when traveling to and in the California gold fields and around Texas. Needing hot grub, the trail cooks came up with a sort of stew. They pounded dried beef, fat, pepper, salt, and the chile peppers together into stackable rectangles which could be easily rehydrated with boiling water. This amounted to “brick chili” or “chili bricks” that could be boiled in pots along the trail. DeGolyer said that chili should be called “chili a la Americano” because the term chili is generic in Mexico and simply means a hot pepper. He believed that chili con carne began as the “pemmican of the Southwest.”It is said that some trail cooks planted pepper seeds, oregano, and onions in mesquite patches (to protect them from foraging cattle) to use on future trail drives. It is thought that the chile peppers used in the earliest dishes were probably chilipiquín0, which grow wild on bushes in Texas, particularly the southern part of the state.

There was another group of Texans known as “Lavanderas,” or “Washerwoman,” that followed around the 19th-century armies of Texas making a stew of goat meat or venison, wild marjoram and chile peppers.

1860 – Residents of the Texas prisons in the mid to late 1800s also lay claim to the creation of chili. They say that the Texas version of bread and water (or gruel) was a stew of the cheapest available ingredients (tough beef that was hacked fine and chiles and spices that was boiled in water to an edible consistency). The “prisoner’s plight” became a status symbol of the Texas prisons and the inmates used to rate jails on the quality of their chili. The Texas prison system made such good chili that freed inmates often wrote for the recipe, saying what they missed most after leaving was a really good bowl of chili.

1881 – William Gerard Tobin (1833-1884), former Texas Ranger, hotel proprietor, and an advocate of Texas-type Mexican food, negotiated with the United States government to sell canned chili to the army and navy. In 1884, he organized a venture with the Range Canning Company at Fort McKavett, Texas to make chili from goat meat. Tobin’s death, a few days after the canning operation had started, ended further development and the venture failed.

1893 – The Texas chili went national when Texas set up a San Antonio Chili Stand at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

1895 – Lyman T. Davis of Corsicana, Texas made chili that he sold from the back of a wagon for five cents a bowl with all the crackers you wanted. He later opened a meat market where he sold his chili in brick form, using the brand name of Lyman’s Famous Home Made Chili. In 1921, he started to can chili in the back of his market and named it after his pet wolf, Kaiser Bill and called it Wolf Brand Chili (a picture of the wolf is still used on the label today).

In 1924, Davis quit the chili business when his ranch was found to have lots of oil. He sold his operations to J. C. West and Fred Slauson, two Corsicana businessmen. To draw attention to the Wolf Brand Chili, the new owners had Model T Ford trucks with cabs shaped like chili cans and painted to resemble the Wolf Brand label. A live wolf was caged in the back of each truck. Today the company is owned by Stokley-Van Camp in Dallas, Texas.
Chili Queens:

1880s – San Antonio was a wide-open town (a cattle town, a railroad town, and an army town) and by day a municipal food market and by night a wild and open place. An authoritative early account is provided in an article published in the July 1927 issue of Frontier Times. In this article, Frank H. Bushick, San Antonio Commissioner  of Taxation, reminisces about the Chili Queens and their origin at Military Plaza before they were moved to Market Square in 1887. According to Bushick:

“The chili stand and chili queens are peculiarities, or unique institutions, of the Alamo City. They started away back there when the Spanish army camped on the plaza. They were started to feed the soldiers. Every class of people in every station of life patronized them in the old days. Some were attracted by the novelty of it, some by the cheapness. A big plate of chili and beans, with a tortilla on the side, cost a dime. A Mexican bootblack and a silk-hatted tourist would line up and eat side by side, [each] unconscious or oblivious of the other.”

Latino women nicknamed “Chili Queens” sold stew they called “chili” made with dried red chiles and beef from open-air stalls at the Military Plaza Mercado. They made their chili at home, loaded it onto colorful chili wagons, and transported the wagons and chili to the plaza. They build mesquite fires on the square to keep the chili warm, lighted their wagons with colored lanterns, and squatted on the ground beside the cart, dishing out chili to customers who sat on wooden stools to eat their fiery stew. In those days, the world “chili” referred strictly to the pepper. They served a variation of simple, chile-spiked dishes (tamales, tortillas, chili con carne, and enchiladas). A night was not considered complete without a visit to one of these “chili queens.”

1937 – In 1937 they were put out of business due to their inability to conform to sanitary standards enforced in the town’s restaurants (public officials objected to flies and poorly washed dishes). Unable to provide legatorial facilities, they disappeared overnight. The following is reprinted from the San Antonio Light of September 12, 1937:

Recent action of the city health department in ordering removal from Haymarket square of the chili queens and their stands brought an end to a 200-year-old tradition. The chili queens made their first appearance a couple of centuries back after a group of Spanish soldiers camped on what is now the city hall site and gave the place the name, Military Plaza. At one time the chili queens had stands on Military, Haymarket and Alamo plazas but years ago the city confined them to Haymarket plaza. According to Tax Commissioner Frank Bushick, a contemporary and a historian of those times, the greatest of all the queens was no Mexican but an American named Sadie. Another famous queen was a senorita named Martha who later went on the stage. Writing men like Stephen Crane and O. Henry were impressed enough to immortalize the queens in their writings. With the disappearance from the plaza of the chili stands, the troubadors who roamed the plaza for years also have disappeared into the night. Some of the chili queens have simply gone out of business. Others, like Mrs. Eufemia Lopez and her daughters, Juanita and Esperanza Garcia, have opened indoor cafes elsewhere. But henceforth the San Antonio visitor must forego his dining on chili al fresco. They were restored by Mayor Maury Maverick in 1939, but their stands were closed again shortly after the start of World War II.

1930s – During the 1980s, San Antonio began staging what they call “historic re-enactments” of the chili queens. As a tribute to chili, the state dish, the city of San Antonio holds an annual “Return of the Chili Queens Festival” in Market Square during the Memorial Day celebrations in May, sponsored by the El Mercado Merchants.

Culinary epicureans’ and chefs have taken this tradition and have made many recipes including chicken chili , vegetable chili ,turkey chili and hunters and outdoorsman have been making venison and buffalo chili for centuries! The versatility of chili is as limited as the Culinarian mind that creates wonderful dishes.
Chef Todd’s Health & Wellness:   Chilies & Chili Powder

Health benefits of chili peppers

Chili peppers, despite their fiery “hotness” are one of very popular spices known for medicinal and health benefiting properties. The chili is actually a fruit pod from the plant belonging to the nightshade family of Solanaceae, within the genus; capsicum. Scientific name: Capsicum annum. Some common members of nightshade family are tomatoaboriginepotato, etc. Several cultivars of peppers are grown all around the world. The chili plant is native to Central American region where it was used as the chief spice ingredients in Mexican cuisine for centuries. It was introduced to the rest of the world by Spanish and Portuguese explorers during 16th and 17th centuries and now grown widely in many parts of the world as an important commercial crop.

Chili plant is a perennial small shrub with woody stem growing up to a meter height and bears white colored flowers. The pods are very variable in size, shape, color, and pungency. Depending on the cultivar type, they range from the mild, fleshy, Mexican bell peppers to the tiny, fiery, finger-like chili peppers, commonly grown in Indian subcontinent. The hotness of chili is measured in “Scoville heat units” (SHU). On the Scoville scale, a sweet bell pepper scores 0, a jalapeño pepper around 2,500-4,000 units, and a Mexican habañeros have 200,000 to 500,000 units.

Interiorly, each fruit features numerous tiny, white, or cream colored, circular and flat seeds. The seeds are actually clinging around the central white-placenta.

To harvest, chilies can be picked up while they are green or when they reach complete maturity and dried in the plant. Usually, the fruits are picked up by hand when they are matured and turned red. They are then left to dry, which causes them to shrivel. Chilies have a strong spicy taste that comes to them from the active alkaloid compounds: capsaicin, capsanthin and capsorubin.

Chili pepper contains an impressive list of plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties.

Chilies contain health benefiting an alkaloid compound in them, capsaicin, which gives strong spicy pungent character. Early laboratory studies on experimental mammals suggest that capsaicin has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties. It also found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels in obese individuals.

Fresh chili peppers, red and green, are rich source of vitamin-C. 100 g fresh chilies provide about 143.7 µg or about240% of RDA. Vitamin C is a potent water-soluble antioxidant. It is required for the collagen synthesis in the body. Collagen is the main structural protein in the body required for maintaining the integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs, and bones. Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps the body protect from scurvy; develop resistance against infectious agents (boosts immunity) and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.

They are also good in other antioxidants like vitamin A, and flavonoids like ß-carotene, α-carotene, lutein, zea-xanthin, and cryptoxanthin. These antioxidant substances in capsicum help to protect the body from injurious effects of free radicals generated during stress, diseases conditions.

Chilies contain a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.

Chilies are also good in B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin and thiamin (vitamin B-1). These vitamins are essential in the sense that body requires them from external sources to replenish. Chili peppers have amazingly high levels of vitamins and minerals. Just 100 g provides (in % of recommended daily allowance):

240% of vitamin-C (Ascorbic acid),
39% of vitamin B-6 (Pyridoxine),
32% of vitamin A,
13% of iron,
14% of copper,
7% of potassium,
but no cholesterol.
Chili peppers are available year around in the markets either in the fresh, dried or powdered form. In the store, buy fresh chili peppers instead of powder since, oftentimes it may contain adulterated spicy mixtures.

Look for raw, fresh chilies featuring brilliant color (green, yellow, orange, red depending on the variety), with healthy stalk, wholesome and compact. Avoid those with spots or those spoiled tips and inflicted by molds.

Once at home, should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag where they will stay fresh for about a week. Completely dried red chilies are also available in the markets. Dry chilies can be stored at room temperature in a cool, dark place, inside airtight containers for many months; and can be milled to powder using mixer/grinder as and when required. If you want to buy dry chili powder instead, go for the authentic and branded products. Powdered chili pepper should be stored in cool place in airtight containers.

Medicinal uses
Chili peppers contain chemical compound capsaicin. Capsaicin and its co-compounds used in the preparation of ointments, rubs and tinctures for their astringent, counter-irritant and analgesic properties.

These formulations have been in use in the treatment of arthritic pain, post-herpetic neuropathic pain, sore muscles, etc.

Scientific studies on experimental mammals suggest that capsaicin has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties. It also found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels in obese persons. (Medical-disclaimer).

Culinary uses
Raw, fresh chilies should be washed in clean water before used in cooking in order to remove any residual fungicides, sand and soil. Chilies either fresh or powder form, can cause severe burning sensation to hands and may cause severe irritation to nasal passages, eyes and throat. Therefore, it may be advised in some sensitive individuals to use thin hand gloves and face masks while handling chilies.

Fresh raw bell peppers and other  sweet, mild variety peppers are being used as vegetables in cuisines in many parts of the world.

Chopped peppers are being used in the preparation of chili sauce, pizzas, rolls, and in variety of dishes using fish, meat and chicken in many Central American and European regions.

Dried chili powder is an important ingredient in the spice mix known as curry powder in many Asian countries.

Hot chilies used as a condiment in the preparation of soups, chili sauce, spicy water, vinegar-spice mix, etc.

Chilies, soaked in yogurt and then dried under sunlight, are used as side-dish during dinner in south Indian states.

Chili peppers contain capsaicin, which gives strong spicy pungent character which when eaten causes severe irritation and hot sensation to mouth, tongue and throat.

Capsaicin in chilies initially elicit inflammation when it comes in contact with the delicate mucus membranes of oral cavity, throat and stomach, and soon produces severe burning sensation that is perceived as ‘hot’ through free nerve endings in the mucosa. Eating cold yogurt helps reduce the burning pain by diluting capsaicin concentration and preventing its contact with stomach walls.

Avoid touching eyes with chili-contaminated fingers. Rinse eyes thoroughly in cold water to reduce irritation.

Chilies may aggravate existing gastro-esophageal reflux (GER) condition.

Certain chemical compounds like afflation (fungal mold), found in spoiled chilies have been known to cause stomach, liver and colon cancers. (Medical-disclaimer).

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