My grandfather was an engineer for the Frisco Railroad in southwest Missouri. Every day, he’d get in the cab of his locomotive and haul freight and passengers between Monett and other towns in southeastern Kansas, northeastern Oklahoma, northwestern Arkansas and southwest Missouri. I got to ride with him a couple of times on those trips and loved to go down to the “yards” where he worked. In those days, kids could sneak into the area or roam around if they knew the “right people.” My grandfather was one of the “right people.”
When he finished his shift, he loved to cook and this was one of his recipes. He said he got it from the cook in the dining car, back when there used to be passenger service on the line, before AMTRAK. Of course, it was made in much bigger quantities to serve the travelers then.
I don’t know exactly when I came by this recipe. I’m not sure it’s written down anywhere, although it might be stuck in the papers I have saved over the years. Most likely, it’s just residing in my memory, along with odds and ends of other things I’ve been carrying around in there. I imagine I’ve modified this many times from what I do remember that he told me.
My grandfather always seemed to have a pot of soup on the stove when I went to visit, so I image the beans in his chili were ones that were left over from other meals. I don’t actually remember him putting dark beer in his chili; I think he drank Schlitz or Falstaff most of the time, and those aren’t dark, that’s for sure. The tomatoes would have come from his garden, as would the onion and herbs. He was a good gardener, having raised six kids during the Depression. I always remember rows and rows of beans and corn and potatoes and greens and tomatoes in his garden, in addition to the irises he grew. He was an avid iris collector and I managed to save some from his garden after he and my grandmother had passed. I’ve planted and replanted those at seven or eight houses over the years. Even though we live in an apartment complex now, I have a couple of window boxes filled with iris.
Well, so here’s the recipe, as he passed it along and as it has been slightly tweaked each time it has been made. I hope you enjoy.
1 lb ground chuck
1 lb ground sirloin
1 T. oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can chicken broth
1/2 bottle dark beer (drink the rest while you prepare the chili)
2 cans navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 T. cumin
1 T. ground chili powder
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried parley
2 T. brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
In a dutch oven or large pot, heat the oil and cook the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute, then add the chuck and sirloin. Without stirring or breaking up the meat, let it get a bit crispy on the bottom. Break up the meat and continue cooking until it is thoroughly browned. Add the cumin, chili powder, basil, parley, salt, and pepper and mix. Add the tomatoes, broth, and beans and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add brown sugar and ketchup. Simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally.
Notes: The secret ingredient in this recipe, of course, is the brown sugar, which give the chili a slightly sweet flavor to compliment the cumin and ground chili powder. It’s also important to drain and rinse the beans before you add them so the chili doesn’t get “muddy.”