The Comox Valley Exhibition is celebrating cowboys’ historic connection to chili and celebrating the Exhibition’s theme of Cowboy Trails and 4-H Tales by holding a chili contest Aug. 28.
Beans, beef and biscuits were an integral part of working cowboy “grub” when herding cattle.
Dried beans were easy to carry, fairly non-perishable in the 19th Century, and there was a ready source of “beef” ambling alongside the Chuck Wagon.
The first chili mix was concocted around 1850 by Texan adventurers and cowboys as a staple for hard times when travelling to and in the California gold fields and around Texas. Needing hot grub, the trail cooks came up with a sort of stew. They pounded dried beef, fat, pepper, salt and the chile peppers together into stackable rectangles, which could be easily rehydrated with boiling water. This amounted to “brick chili” or “chili bricks” that could be boiled in pots along the trail.
“Lavanderas” or “Washerwoman” that followed around the 19th-century armies of Texas made a stew of goat meat or venison, wild marjoram and chile peppers.
In the 1880s, Latino women nicknamed “Chili Queens” sold stew they called “chili” made with dried red chiles and beef from open-air stalls at the Military Plaza Mercado, in San Antonio, Tex. They made their chili at home, loaded it onto colourful chili wagons and transported the wagons and chili to the plaza. They built mesquite fires on the square to keep the chili warm, lighted their wagons with coloured lanterns and squatted on the ground beside the cart, dishing out chili to customers who sat on wooden stools to eat their fiery stew.
In 1937, they were put out of business due to their inability to conform to sanitary standards enforced in the town’s restaurants (public officials objected to flies and poorly washed dishes). Unable to provide lavatorial facilities, they disappeared overnight.
So to rectify that situation and bring chili into the 21st Century, we are holding a contest Aug. 28 during the Comox Valley Exhibition.
The Chili Contest is open to amateurs and professional chefs. It will be held Aug. 28 from 2-4 p.m. at the Culinary Demo Booth near the entrance gate and the curling rink at the fairgrounds.
There is a $1 entry fee, and contestants must pre-register by Aug. 17 by calling the CVEx office at 250-338-8177 or online at www.cvex.ca.
The Chili Contest rules will be available on the CVEx website.
— Comox Valley Exhibition