Hillbilly Chili

chili (1)A memory from another August …

So we have our annual Chili Cook-off last Sunday. And just like every year, little paper donkeys hung on the walls of the church office. Honey-combed sombreros and chili peppers dotted the tables. A giant blow-up jalapeno bounced and jiggled in its pinned-up spot near the door.

One by one, potholder-clad women carried in casserole dishes of cornbread–some plain, some cheesy, some flecked with peppers or corn or a little of both. One by one, confident-looking men strode in with their crock pots of chili. You could see by their faces that each of those men had already cleared a spot back home for the Chili King plaque; each could already feel that Chili King crown on their big heads.

Like I do every year, I had to smile at all that confidence.

Waiting hands took each entry, numbered them, and shooed the contestants outside. While the men stood around in clusters not telling each other their recipes, the women wandered from group to group encouraging each other. “Ooh, you put green chilis in your cornbread — I love that!” “White cornmeal … that’s a good idea.” “Yours looks so cheesy! I’m definitely trying yours.”

Only God could have made men and women so different.

Though most of the men were mum about their entries, one man (who shall remain unnamed) began campaigning pretty much the moment he handed his entry over and heard his number. “Try number 10,” he urged. “You gotta try number 10.”

A lot of people tried number 10. All the judges did, of course. And then, after Sue Kunkle was crowned Cornbread Queen and Scott Mayor was crowned Chili King, and Dave handed over the plaque from last year and we all lined up for chili, a whole lot of people dished themselves up a big scoop of number 10.

We ate. And then, when it was far too late to do anything about it, the maker of number 10 spilled the beans. It seems the meat in his chili was meat he had trapped, killed and skinned himself. At his house. Where the varmint had just, the day before, killed one of his ducks. Number 10 chili was full of … raccoon.

Oh, the gagging that ensued. The retching. The groaning. Laughter came later, but people in shock don’t usually think to laugh. It took quite awhile for the color to return to that crowd.

The jokes have begun, of course. Suzzanne Schalo, one of the judges, took it the hardest. Her husband, Joel, and I have had a good time teasing her about the ordeal. “Did it taste like chicken?” I asked. Joel told me she’s been picking whiskers out of her teeth all week, and that she might be coming down with a cough … unless it’s just a fur-ball. I told her I didn’t want to see her nosing around the garbage cans or chasing ducks.

Pretty much the second we got home from the Cook-Off, Dave began writing up the rules for next year. Rule number one: ingredient disclosure.

Only in Marysville, Washington — home of Hillbilly Chili, and Calvary Chapel Boone-ville … or should that be Coon-ville?


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