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Today's Case

Chili Peppers & Chili

Subject: Quick Chile Pepper Question...
From: Jamie
Date: 11/12/2020, 12:11 PM

On 11/12/2020 10:05 AM, Jamie wrote:

Hey Phaedrus!

Quick question that I am hoping you know...
I have been doing more research on vintage and historic chili con carne 
recipes and when people talk about old fashioned "real" Texas style chili 
(without beans,) a lot of recipes I've been finding from the 40s and 50s 
mention simply "dried red chile pods". I was just wondering if you happened 
to know the variety of pepper they are referring to? Since the 50s there 
have been many more varieties of peppers that have become commonly available 
in the US such as habanero and chipotle, but those essentially didn't exist 
back then. Cayenne was only really available as a ground powder then too... 
I'm leaning towards "New Mexico" chile pods but if you have any insight on 
pepper varieties that were common in cooking decades ago versus now, I would 
love to learn!


Hi Jamie,

No way that this is a "quick question." It's more like a can of worms. Not only is there a lot of disagreement about what kind of chilies to use, there is a lot of contention about the origin of chili itself. I did a lot of reading on the subject without reaching any solid conclusions, so I'm just going to give you comments.

The type of chili pepper used in chili years ago was according to what was available locally. Originally, in the 19th century, it was probably pequin peppers (bird peppers), because they were widely available due to the fact that they grew wild in Mexico and the SW. New Mexico chilies,which are rather mild, may have been used in New Mexico, but probably not in Texas, which is where chili is said to have originated. Many older recipes just say "red chilies" or "red pepper", which is usually made from cayenne. Whole cayennes were available in areas where they were grown, which was quite a large area of the South and West. I disagree that chipotles weren't available. They are just smoked jalapenos, and smoked jalapenos are thought to be some of the chilies that were first carried back to Europe by explorers. Even poblanos/anchos would have been available in the SW, although they may have been difficult to find in other parts of the country.

I can't give you a definitive answer, but if this were a "Jeopardy" question, I'd say "What are cayennes?". People grew cayennes in the SW and SE in the 1940s and 1950s. They weren't the only chilies used in chili during that time, but I'd say they were the most commonly used. Their shape and color have long been iconic of chilies.


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