_Chili, The Controversy And The Recipes

Serves: 5



Up until the time I became friends with a bunch of Texans in the mid 1970’s, I had no idea chili didn’t have beans in it. I grew up thinking chili consisted of beans, venison burger, onions, tomato sauce and some Mexican seasoning simmered in a pot and served with canned tamales. Little did I know in some regions of the country, one stood the chance of a camp court martial for putting beans in the chili*#! Only in person, could you truly appreciate the sarcastic oaths aimed in my direction by three Texans, just in from a hard day chasing elk, when they found beans in their chili. Let me explain.

The fall of l977, while working for the Inter-Agency Grizzly Bear Study, I and another fellow were dispatched to try to trap a grizzly bothering an outfitter camp just east of Yellowstone Park. The boss warned us we might get a cool reception from the outfitter, since this bear had already torn up a couple of tents and other gear. A forest service packer would pack us and our gear in and drop us off near the camp for a ten day hitch. Dave and I worried for the thirteen mile ride up Fishhawk Creek about having to camp next to a group of belligerent hunters for ten days.

It was not uncommon, even then, for folks to consider capital punishment equitable treatment for any bear tearing up a hunting camp. Our orders were to trap the bear, put a radio collar on it, and hike back to our truck without getting embroiled in any confrontations! The outfitter, who turned out to be a transplanted Texan, along with his brother in-law and another friend, greeted us as soon as we pulled into their camp.

To this day, after almost eighteen years as a game warden, I’ve never received a friendlier greeting than we did that day! (More often than not, about 50% of the time, we’re greeted like a carrier of a socially communicable disease!) Since the boss planned on us hiking out, we arrived with a little back pack tent and ten days’ worth of freeze dried food.

Fred, Howard and Kirk insisted on putting up another wall tent with a stove for us to stay in, saying it would bother their conscience to even think of us shivering each morning in that flimsy little tent! While stowing our gear in the newly erected wall tent, Howard asked us if the packer had forgot to unload our food. "No," Dave said as he pulled a plastic garbage sack out of his back pack and showed them our freeze dried food. Once again these big hearted Texans intervened. Fred said we could use it to supplement the “dawgs food” if we wanted to, but he wouldn’t hear of people eating such "#?*&" while they stayed in his camp.

At dinner that evening in Fred’s big cook tent, we feasted on T-Bone steak, all the trimmin’s and washed it down with branch water and good Southern sippin’ whiskey! Look up "hospitality" in the dictionary and you should see a picture of three Texas hunters sitting in a wall tent with gas lanterns illuminating their smilin’ faces. About the time Kirk went to fetch more branch water from the crick, Fred asked if they took the next day off from hunting, could they help us make our bear sets?

Dave and I went to bed that night thinking we’d cut a purty fat hog in the butt! The next day the five of us spent until early afternoon building cubbies where Dave and I set our Aldrich Bear Snares. To show our gratitude, Dave and I teamed up with a cross cut saw and spent the rest of the day reducing a nearby blow down tree to firewood. The next morning, just as the stars began to dim, I heard a awful caterwauling just up the meadow from camp. My first thought was we’d caught our bear the very first night. As I shook off the cobwebs, I recognized the source of the noise as "Bumper", Fred’s magnum size Black Lab! By the time I managed to release Bumper without getting bit, Fred had a lantern going in the cook tent. By this time

everyone in camp was up and getting dressed. After having a laugh at Bumper’s expense, Howard cooked breakfast while Dave and I helped Fred saddle horses. They headed out of camp in the grey light of dawn leaving Dave and me to check our sets. By 08:30 we were back in camp sipping coffee.

Without a bear in a snare, a bear trapper normally ends up with lots of time on his hands. With two days down and eight to go, Dave and I began a routine of doing the camp chores. In addition, I took over the cooking duties so Fred didn’t have to worry it when he came in from hunting each night.

Both Dave and I, being from SE Idaho, were experiencing Texans and their culture, first hand, for the first time! Within a day or two we were both answering to "Yankee". By day five the only faux paux either of us had committed was one morning when Dave insisted on putting ketchup on his eggs instead of salsa. Things were going good except the bear we’d been sent to trap had hauled freight out of the country. Other than that, we’d comfortably settled into the routine of camp.

Day six (just another day, or so I thought) dawned with a cold wind blowing out of the north and slate grey clouds scudding from ridge to ridge. It just seemed like a “chili day” to Dave and me. Refer to the first paragraph of this story for the chili recipe I used that day. Dave kept the wood stove cranking out heat, while I started a pot of what later became known as blankety, blankety, blank, blank "YANKEE CHILI"! Actually everything went pretty well for everyone that day, up until I started to serve supper. Fred, Howard, and Kirk came in just at dark as Mother Nature started to spit snow with a vengeance. Fred said he could smell the chili three hundred yards downwind as he plopped the liver of a five point bull into a tin basin. Howard poured five shots of internal fire starter as Fred told Dave and I about getting the bull. Kirk came in from the sleeping tent and asked what was for dinner, as he shook the snow off his coat and grabbed a shot of fire starter.

Wiping my hands on the commandeered apron, I replied the chili, flour tortillas, along with extra cheese and onions only needed another twenty minutes or so. Dave set the table while Fred and Howard headed out to grain the horses. I could see fifty cent size snowflakes falling outside when they pulled the tent flap back to come in for supper. I won’t say anticipation was running at fever pitch but it is safe to say everyone was looking foward to eating someone else’s cooking that night! "Going to hell in a hand basket", aptly describes the out cry when I served Howard the first bowl of chili.

In less time than it took to write this paragraph, I learned the difference between "real Texas Chili" and "Yankee Chili"! All three Texans, who I’d thought to be BIG hearted and hospitable, turned on me like General Sam Houston turned on General Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto! No mercy was shown this "Yankee" from Idaho. "Only a Yankee would put beans in chili," Howard roared! In a not so nice tone of voice, (forgetting momentarily whose tent I slept in and whose food I’d been eating for a week) I asked just what the hell his definition of a "Yankee" was? Matching my sarcasm, Howard replied, anyone from north of San Antonio! I obviously fit the definition. Howard informed me if you want beans with your chili in Texas, they’re served as a side dish!

Rather than repeat the verbal abuse or have the editors delete all the expletives, I’ll just include some recipes from both north and south of San Antonio. For a short, comprehensive history, loaded with great chili recipes, get ahold of a copy of the CHILI LOVERS’ COOK BOOK by Al Fischer and Mildred Fischer which is published by Golden West publishers of Phoenix, Arizona.

A Back Country Guide to Outdoor Cooking Spiced with Tall Tales - Camp Chili, Stews, Soups and Sauces

This _Chili, The Controversy And The Recipes recipe is from the Cee Dub's Dutch Oven and Other Camp Cookin' Cookbook. Download this Cookbook today.

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