Are you in training for some real chili?

“It’s a cold bowl of chili when love lets you down.”

— Song lyrics from “Saddle Up the Palomino” by singer-songwriter Neil Young

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Love can let you down in any season, but a hot bowl of Texas chili when winter finally arrives in East Texas can fix a plethora of problems. Possibly even a broken heart.

Granted, taking mother nature seriously is complicated when a short-sleeved shirt suffices for the annual Center Christmas parade. But I see more than freezing cold winter in next week’s forecast; I see chili-eating weather. So, let’s get together for a bowl soon. We might even come up with something as good as that served up by the Center Optimist Club on the downtown square in the 80s.

The origin of chili con carne, better known as just chile, is debated by food historians. But according to a recent story in Southern Living magazine, many think it was popularized in San Antonio in the 1900s by the Chili Queens, a group of women who sold a spicy meat stew around the city’s Military Plaza.

More important than its history, however, seems to be discussion over what the cook puts in it.

You won’t find much discussion about the spicy stew containing chili peppers, meat, and tomatoes. But from there, it’s “Katy, bar the door.” Everyone has their favorite recipe, which they will fearlessly defend

Those throw downs typically intensify over whether or not real chili has beans. Some, like Dennis Leggett in Joaquin, will let you know upfront, “Tell me whether you like beans in your chili and I’ll tell you if we can be friends.”

Polls point to Texas being the stronghold for the “no beans” bunch. But once you leave the Lone Star State, the line on beans or no beans becomes less heated.

And speaking of heat, the use of peppers is also argued. Not whether to use peppers, but what kind.

One Texan with thoughts on turning up the heat was Mr. Matt Dorsey from Morris County up in Northeast Texas. He was a chili connoisseur.

“Eating chili is like riding a bicycle,” Mr. Dorsey used to say. “It may be true that once you learn how, you might never forget, but it’s also true that you had better keep in practice or you’re going to suffer a lot of pain from either activity as you grow older.”

In sports, the wisdom is that the legs go first. In real life, it’s the stomach, according to Mr. Dorsey. That’s why if you’re not in training to eat real chili, it would be advisable to give it up after the age of 50 or so. “It’s one of those activities like staying up all night that’s best left to the young people.”

But good hot spicy Texas-style chili served up on a cold night is a true delicacy. That kind of chili is hard to swear off of at any age, even when the stomach has gotten old and cranky.

Mr. Dorsey also swore that a good amount of the ingestion of hot spicy foods is sheer grandstanding. “Particularly true in my opinion,” he said, “of people who claim to like those hot little peppers worse than jalapenos. There’s nothing to like unless you’re a pyromaniac.” He believed that scorching peppers are suitable only for showing off one’s ability to withstand pain.

We respect Mr. Dorsey’s opinion, but we know that Jackie Cooper, also from over near Joaquin, was an appreciator of peppers. He ate them on everything, and it wasn’t grandstanding because he ate them whether or not anyone was watching.

“Fortunately for the over-the-hill generation,” Mr. Dorsey said, “Man does not have to live by spicy foods alone. If he did, he would starve himself into an early grave as the lining of his stomach eroded.

“What’s nice about good chili is that it won’t normally wear away the digestive tract,” Mr. Dorsey said. “It just feels that way if you are not in practice.”

As for singing about lost love feeling like a cold bowl of chili, country singer John Anderson hints that it might also lead to newer, warmer hearts when he sings, “She looks uptown, but she ain’t really. She’s into football, she likes my chili.”

—Leon Aldridge

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and ‘A Story Worth Telling’ with appropriate and specific directions to the original content.

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