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FLASHBACK: It's chili cook-off time ... Viva Terlingua - Odessa American: Celinda Hawkins

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FLASHBACK: It's chili cook-off time ... Viva Terlingua

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Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2013 7:00 am

The other day I was racking my brain trying to figure out what kind of food Texas and even Odessa is famous for and couldn’t come up with anything but barbecue or maybe chicken fried steak.

So I checked to see what the state meal of Texas is and, well, there is none, according to the Texas Almanac.

But I soon discovered that good ol’ “chili” was dubbed the State Dish in 1977 by the 65th Legislature. So now since it’s getting to be chili weather, I’ve got a hankering for some chili so I’m “mona” (a word that made it in to Kinky Friedman’s Texas Talk guide) make a big ol’ pot using the state cooking implement, the cast iron Dutch oven. And when it’s made with the state vegetable, the Texas Sweet Onion and the state pepper, the jalapeno, it can be nothing but good.

Now according to Kinky, in a section of his famed book “Kinky Friedman’s Guide to Texas Etiquette or How to Get to Heaven or Hell Without Going Through Dallas-Fort Worth” titled “Chili, the State Dish,” hundreds of years ago, there were gals called “chili queens” who sold “big bowls of red” on the square in San Antonio.

According to the Kinkster, this is the first known account of chili being now the official state dish. It wasn’t your momma’s or daddy’s chili, though. Like many other great historic dishes, it started out as a way to save money. The chili queens would start by “hashing beef or venison for stew…” And in those days there were no vegetables in it, not even onions or tomatoes “and never any beans.”

These days chili has everything but the kitchen sink in it, but for sure, it has beef, venison, onions, jalapenos and usually some kind of spice that the chili cook will have to kill you over, if he or she tells you.

As Kinky, who is running for ag commissioner, is so correct to report, these days “every Texan thinks his or her chili recipe is the best and these declarations are often the source of heated debate.”

Well that debate comes up every year at the birthplace of the chili cook-off, Terlingua. Kinky reports that 209 members of the Chili Appreciation Society converged on the West Texas ghost town and by the time they left, they were red-faced and breathing fire. And the chili was so good and so hot no winners were declared.

Well, it’s that time again. In fact, the 47th Original Terlingua Championship Chili Cook-Off will get underway starting Thursday. Chili cookers can begin cooking their chili that evening with turn-in time at “high noon,” on Saturday. That’s some chili cookin’. 

Last year first place went to Ted Hume III from Dallas, second went to Dave Lazarus of Killeen and third went to Dwight Hamilton of Rockne. Laury McCullough of Austin won first and only in Unlimited Showmanship with “Dead Boot Chili,” with Bubba Thorpe of Paige taking first with his team “Pants on the Ground.”

And this year, when folks return en masse to Terlingua to work their magic, they might want to recite “The Cowboy Cook’s Prayer,” attributed to Bones Hooks, a cowboy cook at a ranch reunion as quoted by Frank Tolbert in his book “A Bowl of Red,” published in 1972.

“Lord God, You know us old cowhands is forgetful. Sometimes I can’t even recollect what happened yestiddy. We is forgetful. We just know daylight and dark, summer, fall winter and spring. But I sure hope we don’t ever forget to thank You before we is about eat a mess of good chili.

“We don’t know why in Your wisdom, You been so doggone good to us. …Chili eaters is some of Your chosen people. We don’t know why You so doggone good to us. But Lord God don’t ever think we ain’t grateful for this chili we about to eat.”


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