The Lighter Side
March 30, 2007
Were not sure how February 22 came to be National Chili Day, and why the government doesnt shut down to observe such a momentous occasion. It was, however, a suitable backdrop for an evening conversation with the Waco Chili Dude.
Actually, even the Waco Chili Dude, a.k.a Russell Ritchey of Waco, Texas, didnt realize Feb. 22 was National Chili Day until his wife reminded him. Of course, this holiday could not sunset until Ritchey whipped up a bowl of red (what Texans often call their chili) to celebrate.
Texas and chili go together like Georgia peaches, Idaho potatoes, and Florida key lime pie synonymously. But even as Texas chili aficionados go, Russell Ritchey is more aficionado than most.
Who else can quote a bible verse that seems to shine on this divine creation? (and Esau said to Jacob, please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished. Genesis 25:30). And who else shows up at the local airstrip with a pot of chili to share with marines (after a security check, of course the Waco Chili Dude is clear) who guard Air Force One and Marine One, the helicopter that shuttles Dubya to his ranch about 25 miles away from Waco to nearby Crawford?
Members of the Ritchey family have won numerous state and world championship chili cook-offs. An engineer by trade, Ritchey likes to tinker with different chili and Tex-Mex spices (for authentic Tex Mex, you gotta dig back into cookbooks that are at least 40 years old, he says). While chili was proclaimed the official state dish of Texas by legislative decree in 1977, there is one debate that may always linger in the Lone Star State: with or without beans?
Ritchey has researched this philosophical matter. Chili goes together with beans like the handle on a good wooden spoon or a crack in your favorite cast iron pot. Or its true chili sacrilege, depending on whos stirring the pot.
He points out that even the first book devoted in its entirety to chili was titled With Or Without Beans, written by Joe Cooper in 1952. Although Cooper did not make a dogmatic proclamation about beans in chili in his book, he did happen to conspicuously leave them out of his own personal chili recipe. He also made their exclusion his only substantial rule in the Worlds First Chili Contest held on October 5th, 1952, at the State Fair of Texas.
Then again, Ritchey says theres no chili without chili powder, and in New Mexico, the next door neighbor to Texas, the chili pepper and frijole (the pinto bean) are so inseparable that in 1965 the New Mexico State Legislature proclaimed them both (together, as a pair) the official state vegetable.
The family chili recipes of two native Texans who went on to become President only further the debate Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnsons recipe for Pedernales River Chili does not include beans; Ikes Chili Con Carne includes beans.
Ritchey figures it should be up to the current U.S. President who calls Texas home to settle the beans or no beans debate with his own recipe. Hes given Dubya a loaner a chili recipe developed for Bush using the different winning recipes from the Ritchey Family until the President officially endorses it or comes up with his own. Ritchey calls it Prairie Chapel Ranch Chili. Also referred to as the Western White House, Prairie Chapel Ranch is the name of Dubyas 1,583 acre spread.
Ritcheys take on bean or no beans? Im a purist. To me, chili is the meat and gravy, and once you add beans, its chili with beans. But most people expect chili to include beans. Id say most recipes, probably nine to one, are with beans. I sneak beans in my chili all the time. I just dont tell anybody.
Hes almost as much a connoisseur of pintos as he is chili. He created a special seasoning for pintos that is so good, he believes it would elevate pinto beans as a mostly barbecue and Southern side to more of a widely consumed main dish. If anyone doesnt like pinto beans, its probably cause theyve never tasted a good recipe forem, Ritchey says.
In fact, when you have a good plate of beans, the debate might even switch from with or without beans to with or without chili. The concept so inspired Ritchey, he wrote a poem about it.
The presidential chili recipes are posted on Ritcheys web site, www.c-h-i-l-i.com. The With or without Chili poem is there too, and right underneath it, a link to Ritcheys pinto bean recipe and pinto bean seasoning. Try it. Spread the word. And if you happen to run into Dubya, tell him the Waco Chili Dude is waiting for an official Western White House endorsement of the Prairie Chapel Ranch Chili recipe.
With Or Without Chili
Russell H. Ritchey
I use to eat chili with beans.
But now that I have a good recipe,
I dont want to ruin my beans.
Im just a lowly pinto bean,
So why is everyone so mean?
I only make a little gas,
And as they say, this too, will pass.
Uh...maybe, too, I make some smell,
(Therere other guilty dogs as well).
But is this all that much to pay,
For so much music ALL can play?
So Pintos are respectable,
If well prepared, delectable.
Great for dinner (leftovers - equals),
Just like movies and their sequels.
We pintos need no compliment,
Were meals-in-one and cash well spent.
Its recipes that need-a-fixin,
If pinto beans you go-to-mixin.
Its kind of like No-Beans-In-Chili,
I think those Texuns arent so silly,
For truth is oft misunderstood;
Wed change the world if Lone Beans could.
But beans along are not enough,
To sway the masses minds (too tough),
For reputation taints our name,
(Though being Pinto is no shame).
We need a partner with some clout,
To ever get our message out.
What better neighbor by our side,
Than Texas Chili - Texas Pride.
So tell the masses (Steer and Pinto),
And toot your hors in secret tunes,