The thing about chili is that everybody has their own favorite version and in my family circle of Schmidts, every single Schmidt thinks their chili is the best. And the thing about chili is, if you order it in a restaurant, it may not look or taste like anything you have ever eaten before. Then there are all the chili cook-offs that take place in dozens of cities throughout the United States every year, some of which end up being filmed on the Food Network. Those chili foodies are a different breed—the chili can’t have beans in it and you rarely find something as mundane as ground beef in the pot of chili. Expensive cuts of meat are cut into very small pieces. What’s a pot of chili without beans? Not only do I put beans into my pot of chili – I like to use several kinds of beans – kidney, most definitely, but we also like pinto beans and maybe even some red chili beans.
Now, Cincinnati Chili is famous throughout the country and is a far departure from your traditional pot of chili. In Cincinnati there are chili parlors that sell the chili three, four or five ways – over spaghetti, with grated cheese, chopped onion, and oyster crackers..
And if that isn’t enough you can order Coney Islands, Cincinnati’s answer to a chili dog on a bun with Cincinnati chili poured over it, with mustard, grated cheese and chopped onion heaped on top. I always think I can eat three of these when I am in town, but am stuffed by the time I’ve had two. Traditional Cincinnati Chili does NOT contain beans and is very soupy. My brother Jim swears that his version of Cincinnati Chili is the most authentic (it’s also a long recipe and a lot of work) – but when he visits us in California, we get out the biggest pot and gather together all of the ingredients. He will make about 3 gallons of the Chili and my sister and I will freeze the leftovers to have when he has gone back home to Florida. We do the whole nine yards – a pot of spaghetti, a huge bowl of grated Cheddar cheese, lots of chopped onion – and oyster crackers. You have to have oyster crackers (not always easily found in the high desert) to go with Cincinnati Chili.
The Chili produced, sold, and consumed in the Cincinnati area is not truly “Chili” as most know it. Cincinnati Chili is quite different from its western cousin. In fact, about the only relation it has are the meat, cumin and chili powder it contains. After that, the recipe takes an interesting twist. Cincinnati style chili is also unique to the area–you can’t find it too far outside the greater Cincinnati, area.
In 1922, a Macedonian immigrant, Tom Athanas Kiradjieff settled in Cincinnati with his brother, John. He opened a hot dog stand next to a burlesque theatre called the Empress, and sold hot dogs and Greek food. He did a lousy business because, at that time, the large majority of the inhabitants were of German heritage, and nobody in the area knew anything about Greek food, and weren’t thrilled by it. But Tom would not be defeated. He took a Greek stew, maintained the Mediterranean spices of Cinnamon and Cloves, changed the meat to ground beef, and added other spices, such as chili powder, to the mix and began to sell this stew over spaghetti and called it ‘Chili.’ It proved to be a successful experiment. He also came up with the idea of selling his Chili in ‘ways’, which is also unique to the area. (Two Way, Three Way, Four Way).
I want to add a comment about Camp Washington Chili Parlor, while I’m at it – I think this location may have been the very first chili parlor. We lived not far from Camp Washington when I was growing up and sometimes, when I was very little and had been downtown with my grandparents, we’d change street cars in Camp Washington and before boarding the next streetcar, grandpa would go into the chili parlor and buy a bag of Coney islands to go, and then he’d go around the corner to a White Castle restaurant and get a bag of White Castle hamburgers to go. Then we’d board the streetcar holding onto the warm bag of hamburgers and Coneys to eat when we got back to their house on Baltimore Street. It’s one of my best childhood memories.
The Camp Washington Chili parlor is still at the same location, Hopple Street and Colerain (although some years ago they moved the building back some 50 feet to widen the streets) and the inside walls of the restaurant are entirely covered with published stories from magazines and newspapers about THIS famous chili parlor. I can’t wait to go there when I’m in town.
In 1985, Camp Washington Chili was featured on the CBS Morning News as the best-rated Chili in the nation. And the reputation is well earned. For 60 years, the little restaurant has been owned and operated by the same Greek family.
This chili parlor was also featured in the March 2000 issue of National Geographic Magazine. Then, in May of the same year, the James Beard Foundation honored Camp Washington Chili as an ‘American Regional Classic’ restaurant. It is also patronized by a host of national celebrities, including singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffet, of ‘Margarita’ fame. Why all the fuss and stir about a little store? Well, for one thing, owner John Johnson has been making Cincinnati Chili since 1951 when he came from the old country to work with his uncle in the family business. For another, he pays attention to detail and does special things like using 100% real, aged Cheddar Cheese and refusing to buy pre-ground beef for his recipe. It has been ground in the restaurant, fresh daily, 6 days a week, since the beginning. The restaurant, which stood in the same place, in the same building, for 60 years until forced to move due to street expansion, is ‘the little restaurant that could.’ It is the little restaurant, which has made famous the Chili, which really isn’t a Chili at all, but an Americanized Greek Stew.
I’m told that Cincinnati now boasts a yearly chili festival and here are the stats for the amount of Cincinnati Chili fixings that were consumed at the 1998 Goldstar ChiliFest. This was a big to-do lasting for only two days, with 22 restaurants participating, and a local country music station hosting country music acts, and during the festivities 2 million pounds of Cincinnati Chili were consumed. Also eaten were 850,000 pounds of shredded Cheddar Cheese, 801,000 pounds of Spaghetti, 271,000 pounds of onions, 141,000 pounds of beans (groan!), 43 million oyster crackers, and 14.3 million hot dogs. (If someone lets me know when it’s happening, I’d try to visit when this is going on!)
It’s really a Cincinnati thing—those of us who have taken up roots elsewhere in the USA always head first for a chili parlor when we go home to visit.
When we were compiling the Schmidt family cookbook, somehow Jim’s recipe for Cincinnati Chili got left out (MY BAD!) – he made up for the omission by submitting it to the Four Seasons Estates cookbook in Largo, Florida but I’ll never hear the end of having left it out of the family cookbook. So, then, here is my brother Jim’s version of Cincinnati Chili:
Uncle Jim’s Cincinnati Chili
To make Uncle Jim’s Cincinnati Chili, you will need:
1 lb pork sausage (usually Jimmy Dean’s hot)
7 lbs ground chuck or ground turkey
2 46-oz cans tomato juice
8 garlic cloves
3 TBSP salt
3 TBSP chili powder
3 TBSP vinegar
3 tsp ground cumin
3 tsp Paprika (Hungarian, sweet)
3 tsp Paprika (Hungarian, hot)
3 tsp ground ginger
1 ½ tsp thyme
1 ½ tsp Red pepper
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
¾ tsp Oregano
¾ tsp Marjoram
¾ tsp ground Allspice
¾ tsp Rosemary
18 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
12 whole Cloves
30 bay leaves
2 small cans tomato paste
2 15-oz cans tomato sauce
1 large Hershey bar
3 lbs oyster crackers
3 lbs vermicelli
3 lbs grated extra sharp Cheddar cheese
8 lbs chopped onion (6 lbs for the chili, 2 lbs for garnish)
Simmer raw ground chuck (or turkey) and pork in tomato juice; add chopped onion and spices. Stir in tomato paste to thicken sauce—to thin, put in Worcestershire sauce first.
Cincinnati chili is served over cooked vermicelli (spaghetti) and then topped with chopped onion, grated cheese, and oyster crackers. To make Coney Island’s, spoon meat sauce over cooked hot dog in a bun, top off with chopped onion and grated cheese.
(*I have to comment about using ground turkey. I just don’t like it all that much in chili but if you are counting calories and want to reduce the fat in the recipe, by all means try making it with ground turkey).
This next recipe is my nephew Russ’s version of chili. (We used to call him Rusty but I think he felt he outgrew the childhood name—though I try to call him Russ, he will always be Rusty to me).
To make Russ’ favorite chili you will need:
3 lbs ground chuck
1 can mild chili beans
1 can hot chili beans
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 15-oz can tomato sauce
1 medium size white onion, chopped
½ red bell pepper
½ green bell pepper
1 24-oz can tomato juice
1 tsp black pepper
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp ground Allspice
¼ tsp Marjoram
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 ½ TBSP chili powder
1 ½ tsp cumin seed
1/8 to ¼ tsp red pepper
Brown meat with onion and drain off grease. Put into a large pot and add remaining ingredients. Chop the bell peppers and add. Simmer 1 hour.
AUNT ANNIE’S CHILI PARLOR CHILI
To make Aunt Annie’s Chili Parlor Chili you will need:
2 lbs ground beef
4 medium size onions, chopped
1 toe garlic, chopped
1 ½ TBSP vinegar
1 can tomato sauce
4 TBSP chili powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
small amount cumin powder (maybe ½ tsp – sls)
1 tsp red pepper
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
salt & pepper to taste
1 quart water
spice cup containing:
4 red peppers
5 or 6 bay leaves
35 whole allspice balls
Do not brown ground beef. Cook and stir until all red is out of the meat and then add the rest of the ingredients. Simmer 3 hours.
(Sandy’s Cooknote: It’s a good idea to use very LEAN ground beef for these recipes. I like ground beef that is no more than 7% fat – and prefer no more than 4% fat).
AUNT BECKY’S BEST EVER HOME STYLE CHILI
(This was Aunt Becky’s way of letting us all know that HER chili was really the best)
To make Aunt Becky’s chili you will need:
1 lb ground round*
1 medium onion
1 tsp oregano
1 bay leaf
1 tsp basil
1 beef bouillon cube
1 tsp parsley
¼ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 (15 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1 tsp paprika
2 TBSP chili powder
2 cubes (1 oz each) semi-sweet chocolate
1 TBSP cumin
½ chopped bell pepper
1 whole chili pepper
6 oz can of tomato paste
46 oz can tomato juice
1 sp garlic powder.
Brown ground round and onion together. Add remaining ingredients.
(*Sandy’s Cooknote: Belatedly realized how little meat is in Aunt Becky’s recipe and I can’t ask her if this is a typo. I would recommend at least two pounds of the ground meat.
You will notice in my chili recipe I use three to four pounds of ground beef).
AUNT SANDY’S CALIFORNIA STYLE SORT-OF CINCINNATI CHILI
To make my version of Cincinnati chili you will need:
3-4 pounds of lean ground beef or ground turkey–or a mix of the two
3-4 Bermuda onions, finely chopped
2 quart whole canned tomatoes
2 large cans (16 oz) kidney beans
1 large can tomato sauce
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 can diced chiles
1 package Lawry’s chili powder mix or chili powder to taste
1 package Cincinnati chili powder mix, if you have it
salt & pepper
chopped garlic or garlic powder
Brown the meat; drain off any excess fat and add remaining ingredients. Our pots of chili tend to grow and grow until I have enough to feed an army. I keep adding tomatoes, beans and onions until I think it looks right. Cook several hours. Serve over cooked drained spaghetti and top off with grated cheese, chopped onion and oyster crackers.
If you want a more authentic Cincinnati chili taste and don’t have the Cincinnati chili powder sold in supermarkets in – where else? – Cincinnati – then add a small amount of ground cinnamon, ground allspice and a wee bit of ground cloves. Ok, it’s an acquired taste.
There’s another old favorite chili recipe of mine that comes from the very first church cookbook I ever owned. The name of the cookbook is “50th Anniversary Cookbook – Women’s Guild Matthew’s United Church of Christ”, (in Cincinnati) published in 1961. A coworker was selling copies for one dollar each and my father bought one for me and one for my mother. This book was really my introduction to church-and-club or community cookbooks and I made this recipe for years, until I began bastardizing the recipe and turning it into something more California-ish.
To make CHILI PARLOR TYPE CHILI you will need:
2 lbs lean ground beef
1 tsp ground cumin
2 large onions, chopped
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
4 tsp chili powder
1 toe garlic, cut up
1 tsp pepper
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp red pepper
1 can tomato paste
1 quart water
And following wrapped in cheese cloth bag: 35 whole allspice alls, 4 red peppers (dry), 5 bay leaves.
Brown meat, onion and garlic; ad rest of ingredients. Simmer at least 3 hours. Add one #2 ½* can kidney beans last half hour. Serve over cooked spaghetti with chopped onion and grated cheese.
Sandy’s Cooknote: Not sure what a two-and-a-half can of kidney beans is now, almost 50 years later. Maybe a two pound can of kidney beans? Or less if you don’t want that many beans in your chili pot. And to brown or not to brown the meat? If you cook the meat in water, not browning it, you will have a finer ground beef mixture than if you brown it first in a skillet. Purists of Cincinnati chili say “never brown!”.
One more? The L.A. Times has had an SOS column in the weekly food section of the newspaper for decades—in an undated clipping that I came across, someone originally from Cincinnati asked for the famous “Coney Island” chili from the chili parlors and could SOS get a recipe. Marie Ryckman, food editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer provided a recipe that she said was typical of the Midwestern chili-parlor chili served on Coney Islands.
To make Coney Island Chili you will need:
1 ½ lbs ground beef
2 large onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
3 cups water
1 ½ TBSP chili powder
1 TBSP vinegar
½ tsp pepper
2 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
¼ tsp allspice
1 tsp cayenne, optional
1/8 tsp hot pepper sauce
2 bay leaves
Brown meat and add onions and garlic. Saute until onion is tender. Add tomato paste, water, chili powder, vinegar, pepper, salt, cumin, allspice, cayenne, hot pepper sauce, and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 3 to 4 hours. Use as a topping for frankfurters on buns. Top Chili with onion and finely shredded cheese, if wished.
And now, I suppose you are waiting for a Hot Tamale Recipe. Well, if you are on the west coast I’d suggest you go to a good Mexican restaurant and order tamales from the menu. Much as I love tamales – I have never made them “from scratch” – and the ones in a can? Ew, ew! I’ll have to get back to you on making tamales – I do know that some of my Mexican-American girlfriends get together once a year at someone’s house and make A TON of tamales. I’ve been waiting for an invitation to join them.