Now that the trees have begun to turn and frost has dusted the pumpkin, it's comfort food season. On cooler days, I like to spend time in the kitchen, cooking up favorite fall dishes that can range from chicken and dumplings to apple cake to pies and to chili.
Chili comes in a variety of styles but my recipe is an heirloom, tweaked by three generations before settling on the final version. I like to call it Chili Sontheimer Style and here's the story:
My paternal grandfather, Otto Sontheimer, was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas during the first World War. In those long ago days, chili wasn't something commonly found outside Texas but he liked the taste so when he returned home to St. Joseph, Missouri, he decided to recreate it.
Once upon a time chili wasn't made from ground beef and the beans were served on the side. If I'm not mistake, his earliest efforts involved beef chunks but he later experimented with ground beef.
By the end of the Roaring Twenties, chili had migrated north, east and west. During the lean years of the Great Depression, chili became a staple for many diners and cafes. It was cheap, filling and it came with crackers.
My grandfather tweaked his chili method over the years. Later, my dad and one of his brothers tried their hand. By trial and error, they persevered until my dad nailed it.
In time, he settled on what he thought was the ideal chili recipe and he made it often.
When grandkids came along, they called it "Pa Boomp Chili". I still call it Chili Sontheimer Style and I'm the one who finally wrote it down. I may have tweaked it just a tiny bit but that's part of the tradition.
Here's the recipe for Chili Sontheimer Style:
2 big onions (chopped), 4 med. celery stalks (washed and chopped), 2-3 garlic toes,, also chopped, 4 lbs. ground beef, salt and pepper to taste, 1/2-3/4 cup Williams chili seasoning, 3-4 cans, drained, red beans, 4 cups water, optional chili powder (to add a little more heat). Put a small amount of canola oil in a large pot. Brown onions, celery and garlic, then add meat. Brown meat, breaking it up as it cooks. Drain the fat, then add salt, pepper, chili seasoning and chili powder. Add 4 cups of water and beans. Cook chili to desired consistency. At this point, it''s ready to serve but I like to cool it, cover it and put in the fridge until the next day and rewarm. I think it maximizes the flavor. I serve it with crackers, cornbread or tortilla chips. It's the season for chili and I happen to think my heirloom recipe is the best. It only took three generations to perfect it.
-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is the community editor for The Neosho Daily News and The Aurora Advertiser. She writes a weekly column, From A Writer's View and is also a published author and freelance writer.