Old Fashioned “American” Chili

There was a time when the most popular Chili used to be quite a bit different than the trendy varieties of today. A time when it was made with simpler ingredients and was served as a family meal, not a culinary adventure. A time when it was saucy enough to add a few crackers – and saucy enough that one HAD to use a spoon. I miss that chili.

Old Fashioned American Chili
Old Fashioned American Chili

My little sister recently suggested I do another Chili post; my last was White Bean and Chicken Chili, posted in 2011. I confessed to her that I couldn’t and somewhat shamefacedly (is that a word) admitted it was because I like this simple Chili we grew up with best, and I didn’t think anyone would be interested in it. It’s nothing fancy, nothing trendy, it’s made with beans and ground beef, tomatoes and spices. It’s considered in culinary circles and by chili aficionados to be a rather inauthentic dish.

My sister, though, surprised me by her vehemence when she said she liked it best, too! The following week I ran into a young lady puzzling over cans of tomatoes in store, consulting with her boyfriend on her I Phone. Turns out she was making her (long passed on) Grandma’s Chili recipe to surprise her Dad, who had been craving it for years. They were concerned, never having had this type of chili that it was too thin and were trying to figure out how to fix it. We went over her recipe, which was almost exactly like my Mother’s. She just needed to simmer it longer.

(So now you know me…one of those strange people who actually sometimes talks to others in the grocery store…sorry, child number 1, but it’s true.)

Perhaps comfort food to both my sister and myself, as well as to this unknown (and I’m sure, very happy) man from Minnesota, this Chili is just a simple dish enjoyed by all who ate it just because it was good, all while never knowing any “better!” I concluded that sometimes “Good” is really “Good Enough.”

So here’s the recipe my Mom used, a recipe I’m sure was passed around and turned out by many of her generation, and this is how I make it for my family – but I use Pintos rather than Kidney beans. I always double this and use dried beans for economy’s sake, although one can use canned beans, instead. One package of beans (a pound) is too much, so I soak and cook the whole package and put about three cups of the beans in the chili and store the other cup and a half in the freezer for a later use.

This Chili is generally served with plain old saltines, although corn bread would be good. Add toppings as desired, which my kids love, although my sister and I had never heard of such a thing when we were young! This recipe cost me well under $5.00 to make – see Strategies Applied, below.

Old Fashioned American Chili

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 3 1/2 hours
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound chopped  (or ground) beef
  • 3 cups water (see note)
  • 1 1/3 cups canned tomatoes with the juice
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon crushed cumin seeds (use about 3/4 teaspoon ground)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon basil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 15 to 16 ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained, equivalent of 1/3 pound of dried, about one and a half cups, cooked. I substitute Pinto beans.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven, add the onion and garlic and saute until golden brown. Add the meat and brown. (I drain off the excess oil and fat at this point.)

While this is cooking, bread up the tomatoes by hand, squishing them. If the top portion, near the stem is hard and unpalatable, remove.

Add all the remaining ingredients, including tomatoes to the pan, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered until the sauce is thickened to desired consistency, about three hours (traditionally this chili is served on the thin side.) If desired, add one can of kidney beans just before serving.

note: I often use about a cup and a half of water so it doesn’t need to simmer for quite as long. A good, long simmer is important to meld all the flavors, but three hours, in my mind seems rather excessive. I’ll generally simmer it for an hour and a half or so, give or take, maybe two. I also normally double this – If I’m cooking for so long, it seems a shame to make just one recipe’s worth. Better the next day, this recipe also freezes very well.

from the kitchen of http://www.frugalhausfrau.com

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read Strategies Applied for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Put Your own Spin on It:

  • This recipe, can of course, be varied any way you’d like, but like many old fashioned dishes, too many changes may cause them to lose their charm. I’d actually suggest if you’re looking for another type of chili recipe, to start with another chili rather than attempting to modify this recipe into something it’s not.
  • A few minor changes may easily be made, like substituting the ground beef for cubes, poblanos for the bell pepper, which would make this a bit more authentic while still keeping in the spirit of the original.

4 thoughts on “Old Fashioned “American” Chili”

  1. I love your comment that good is good enough. I still make the same chili I grew up with; very much the same recipe you shared. My kids enjoy some fresh parmesan on it, or a sprinkle of cheddar. I baked a lot of bread when they were all home, so their favorite with chili is cinnamon rolls. Yes, just like the school lunches!
    Don’t be afraid to post some of the good old standards. As you said, there is always someone out there trying to find them!

    1. Nancy, thanks so much for commenting! I think we had some of the greatest school lunches, didn’t we? It was a big thing for me when I was old enough to work in dish center – for those of you who don’t know, at our little school, the older kids took turns washing the dishes during and after lunch. It was a great experience, looking back on it. Maybe not so much at the time…*g*

      It sounds like you have some pretty lucky kids!

      I may have told you before, but when I was in 4-H in 9th grade, I put in two entries at the county fair. One was Apricot Shortbread and the other was a loaf of White Bread made from the recipe your Mom had handed off to mine. Since it made two loaves, Mom and I would make 1/2 the dough as a loaf of bread and use the second half as Cinnamon Rolls. By the way, both took the blue ribbons in their category, a testament to how good the recipes were! (And also how good of a teacher my Mom was.)

      If you look on the tags to the left of my posts, you’ll see two tags that might interest you. One is Family Recipes, which are posts of some of the favorites Mom or Grandma made and handed down. The other is Heritage Recipes, which are recipes that have been around for generations, but aren’t necessarily from MY heritage. I’ll keep slowly adding over time, and please let me know if you’d like me to add any of YOUR favorites or have any suggestions!

Comments and discussion always welcome - tell me what you think.

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