Chili is a beloved Texas icon, and in Chili From the Southwest, W.C. Jameson not only compiles 135 recipes ranging from traditional to novel but also provides a delightful, historically enriching read that chronicles the development of the cherished bowl of red. It’s clear that this gastronomic delight is more than food; it’s Texan culture and history.
Nearly four decades of research on the lure and lore of chili has resulted in this mouth-watering recipe catalog. Jameson is exhaustive, providing detailed descriptions of just about every conceivable addition to the chili pot. He applies nearly mathematical methods to decipher resulting flavors and ruthlessly lambastes blasphemous taste-detractors such as sour cream and avocado. Chiliheads are guided on a comprehensive venture in flavors—beer sometimes makes its way into chili, cayenne and thyme provide unusual seasoning, and tequila, sugar, and even spaghetti frequent the pot. Bob’s Drunken Chili, Black Coffee Chili, Dallas County Jailhouse Chili, Rattlesnake Chili, and Eggplant Chili are among this book’s innovative concoctions.
Though low on photos and images, this meaty little cookbook packs plenty of history and nostalgia. Included are several fascinating theories on the origins of chili, from the eerily accurate hallucinations of Sister Mary, an Italian nun who in the 1600’s regularly fell into trances and related visions of the Southwest (complete with deserts, cacti, and a certain scrumptious red stew), to the tale of industrious Texans in need of quick and simple nourishment to fuel their quest for the mines during California’s gold rush to the story of the San Antonio chili queens. Believed by chili scholars to be the most acceptable explanation for the spread of Texan chili (yes, chile con carne originated in Texas, not Mexico), the chili queens started serving “son of a gun stew” from sidewalk stands in the 1880’s. Luring customers with colorful booths and live music, the chili queens became a cultural phenomenon. In fact, the stands were a popular tourist attraction until 1943, when city officials shut them down, claiming unsanitary conditions.
Regional novelist Elmer Kelton, recently voted best Western writer of all time by the Western Writers of America, contributes an evocative forward, recalling the days when fistfights were known to erupt between those who advocated adding beans to their chili and purists who claimed such actions were sacrilegious. An excellent reference and keepsake, Chili From the Southwest is the perfect addition to any chilihead’s (or Texan’s) home.