I’ve been feeling a little “off” lately. Not sick or depressed or anything like that, but just kind of unsettled or off center, if you know what I mean. It’s deeper than politics, emotional turmoil, financial instability or the onset of the dreaded Christmas season. I am pretty sure that what I need is a bowl of chili.

I spent a long time living in Texas and being immersed in the distinctive culinary culture of that grand state. I came away from those years with a near spiritual appreciation for Mexican food, barbecue and chili. Now, feeling the bone chilling cold of Maine for the past 30 winters I have come to rely on the mystically restorative powers of a bowl of my own Border Chili at the onset of winter weather as a prophylactic against the ravages of the coming holiday season. Somewhere during the month of November after the light has faded and deer season is in full swing and the scent of snow is in the evening air – like that fabled organist seeking the lost chord – I begin to feel a void, a need, an incompleteness that the usual remedies: a hot soakie bath, an hour of yoga-like stretching or a homemade martini do not seem to fix. It is as close to a spiritual need as it gets these days. Though at first I usually can’t put my finger on what it is, sooner or later it comes to me. I’m always surprised that I didn’t think of it sooner – – – I need a bowl of chili.

The restorative powers of heat have been known and documented since ancient times – heated penetrating oils rubbed into just the right places – hot springs – sweat lodges and laying out on tropical sands beneath the ultimate heat lamp. Alas, all these heat sources are external and do their job well but the soul has it’s seat within and heating up the soul requires another approach. That would be a job for chili.

It goes like this:

2 Lbs of stew meat cut in thumbnail sizes
1 Lb ground meat crumbled by hand into the pot. Leave some lumps.
( There is no end to what can be used in a good bowl of chili. Squirrel, opossum, armadillo, pork – your imagination is the only limiting element here )
4 C chopped onion
1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped fine, fresh garlic
6 to 9 T chili powder. I use Pendery’s Top Hat or Original along with a heaping t cumin,Beef bullion & Water to make a gallon. Any favorite liquid would work, even a little beer.

Amounts can be varied to suit your particular tastes. A chili recipe has a way of becoming one’s own after a few tries.

Salt and Pepper to taste

Cover the meat with the liquid and bring to a boil. Cook until meat is well browned
Add the onions and garlic.
Cook until onions are transparent
Add most of chili powder (all of the cumin)
Simmer on low for an hour.

Check for flavor.

Use more chili powder at the end for finishing if needed. It almost always needs more.

Simmer a while longer.

It is possible to thicken the broth with either flour or masa, a corn flour. i prefer the latter.

Eat it the next day.

Serve as is or over rice or make up your own method of getting it into your insides where it can make the soul whole again.

I have been known to grate a little cheddar on a bowl of this chili. A side dish of sour cream with chives can be used to cool things down, but remember it’s the heat we’re after here.

Supplies for chili making can be found at the following link.


I am indebted to my daughter, Kathy Mishler of Graham TX for the method used in this recipe.

I’m Jerry Henderson

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