From the 1860s until the late 1930s, one of the primary amusements of both visitors and locals was the food and entertainment offered in the plazas of San Antonio by the Chili Queens.
These women served chili con carne and other Mexican American delicacies from dusk until dawn at various San Antonio plazas over the years — setting up tables and benches and bringing pots of food to cook or reheat over their flickering mesquite fires and to serve by the light of their oil lanterns. As morning came, their families helped them cart everything away. Wandering musicians and singers provided a festive air to the unique proceedings—unique, that is, outside Mexico. In Mexico, the open-air plaza restaurants were not celebrated for their charming food-servers. Only San Antonio had Chili Queens—and while they liked to joke, banter, and flirt with customers, they were well chaperoned by family members who guarded their virtue.
At first, only a few women — such as Sadie and Martha, sometimes pictured in old books about San Antonio — were called Chili Queens. Sadie was called “Anglo-Celtic;” Martha was Hispanic. Eventually, the royal title was applied to all the women—most of them young and virtually all of them Hispanic. Continue reading
by Steven Doyle
Temperatures are dropping this week and many of you will be seeking out great bowl of chili. We will be running our 2015 chili line up next week for your pleasure. We also have the tale of the original chili cook off in Terlingua if you are interested in any more history today. This article was read last week on the main stage of The Original International Chili Cook Off held in Terlingua each year, which we are honored. That cook off is always held in Terlingua the first week of November.
This week we have been discussing the perfect bowl of red, as we do each year about this time. It is certainly something we enjoy and take to heart as a true Texas original. However, it has been disturbing as each one of these conversations always ends with a debate on “beans or no beans”. Our stance stays true to the no beans camp. We have a few original chili recipes to prove that this is the way God intended chili to be served. Beans may join the table as a condiment, just as you might add a fresh brunoise of onions, or even Fritos to make your own pie. Continue reading
by Steven Doyle
When it comes to modern home chili remedies we have a few people to thank. First there were the “powder men”, a term I believe chili maven Frank X Tolbert to have coined, and then there are the butchers who first canned and made brick chili to sell to the chili loving consumer. The former dating as far back as the mid 1800’s, and the latter at the dawn of the 20th century.
Tolbert devotes a chapter of his book “Bowl of Red” to the powder men, and waffles on who he thinks brought powdered and packaged chili to mankind. He first attributes William Gebhardt of New Braunfels, but paragraphs later he names DeWitt Pendery of Fort Worth. A little digging shows that both started grinding a powder chili mix in 1890, so it is easy to understand Tolbert’s quandry. Continue reading
by Steven Doyle
There was a time when Dallas was ripe with bowls of chili. I’m not talking the bean-ridden nonsense infiltrated by our neighbors to the north. I refer to the perfect bowl of red that has somehow escaped our dining landscape.
Back in the 1880’s the San Antonio chili queens dominated the Plaza, hawking their home-made chili that was often made with just meat, tomatoes and chiles, served with a side of beans and tortillas. The queens would offer chili to the soldiers and just about anyone that happened by as they kept the pots waed over a mesquite fire. In 1937 with a concern for public health, the chili queens were banned from the Plaza, and some of them took to brick and mortar restaurants. Consider these dames the early pioneers of the modern day food truck. Continue reading