All-American chili

The temperature dipped below 40 degrees Fahrenheit this week, and that means it’s time to haul out the big pot for some chili on the stovetop.

I have to confess I’m a bit of a chili fan, no matter the weather though. Chili, in my humble opinion, is more American than baseball and apple pie. Think about it. There are as many ways to serve and enjoy chili as there are people in our great nation. There is no one true chili recipe and every family swears by their own take on the dish, right? I mean, the day my mom taught me to make her chili recipe was in the top 10 proudest of my life.

Since we raised cattle, we always had beef at every meal, and chili was always in the menu rotation. But we were traditionalists—crumble up saltines and add some shredded cheese if you need a little pizzazz. Anything more than that was frowned upon. I remember my sister brought a fella home once to meet the family and he asked for ketchup to add to his bowl of Mom’s chili.

The side-eye thrown his way could be felt two counties over.

But that ability to customize your bowl is what makes chili so American. No matter where you go in our country, there’s a regional twist to how they serve chili. For example, in Cincinnati, they serve it over spaghetti, with or without extra onions. In Texas, beans in the chili are an abomination and likely to earn you scorn if you break that rule. In California they make a turkey chili, and in New Mexico they serve a green chili. Across the South, chili comes with a side of cornbread instead of saltine crackers. And here in my neck of the woods, you eat chili with a big cinnamon roll on the side.

Yes, I said cinnamon roll and chili.

I don’t know who started that little phenomenon first, but where I grew up it was just natural to go to a chili and soup fundraiser supper and have cinnamon rolls as the dessert. Our school cafeterias served chili and cinnamon rolls. It was just expected.

Sure, saltine crackers and shredded cheese are traditional, maybe a dollop of sour cream for those who like to cool things down a touch on the spice meter. And carrots and celery as dippers are usually around for those trying to boost the vegetables in their diets, of course. But there’s just something about the sweet-salty-spicy combination of a cinnamon roll dunked in chili. You have to try it to believe it.

Maybe where chili really shines is as a leftover. It’s just so versatile and can be stretched for multiple meals, as any broke college student can attest.

With a microwave and any number of basic ingredients you come out with a whole new entrée the next day. Add leftover chili to a bag of Fritos corn chips and top with some lettuce and cheese and you’ve got yourself a walking taco. Pop a potato in the microwave to bake and top with warmed up chili for a quick lunch. Actually, that also applies to hot dogs, fries, nachos and more.

Maybe the only thing chili can’t make better is a slice of apple pie.

Some boundaries we don’t cross.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or [email protected].