Boiling Point: Eat chili on a hot summer's day

Jim Hillibish

It’s the great disappearing act of summer. Long about this time of the year, chili falls off your favorite restaurant’s menu. Overnight, we are without.

That’s wrong for a lot of reasons, not the least being there’s no season more than summer when we need a good, hot, steamy bowl of chili.

“Nobody eats chili in summertime.” I hear that from every waitperson when I beg for it.

If that were true, all the other hot foods we enjoy in summer should be toast, too. All that salsa we slurp on the patio. All those enchiladas we engulf at El Something or Other.

The root of our summer chili drought is a stereotype that real people only eat hot food in winter. It goes against the pepper culture that says “any day, any way.”

Take note that hot food is very popular in the hottest of climates. We’re talking India, the Caribbean and, especially, Africa. There’s good reason for this. Food spoils fast in these climes. The hot spices help preserve it and counter the off flavors.

The damning evidence is that Texas, one of our hottest states throughout the year, consumes more chili than any other, followed closely by the Death Valley desert states. If they summarily removed chili from the menus, there would be flash riots.

Still, the biggest reason to eat hot on hot days is nothing chills you faster than a steamy bowl of chili. Really. You’ll note it activates nature’s most formidable air conditioner: our sweat glands.

Chili, for many of us, is a yearlong passion, and not some desire that flickers out at the start of June. Even Rachael Ray, no less, falls for the stereotype. She gives us “Indian Summer Chili,” pausing her breathless banter to explain why.

“It warms us for the coming winter,” said Ray.

Not really, dearie. Chili leaves you cooler. More evidence: Think for a moment, when are chili peppers at their peak flavor? Answer: During the hottest days of summer.

There have been various attempts to summerize chili, with about 2.3 million recipes on Google. Basically, this involves taking your favorite chili recipe and adding corn scraped off the cob, chopped zucchini, green beans and other surplus effluvia from your garden. All these veggies soon give us a stew, not a chili.

Even the cowboys knew what was going on. They dehydrated chili in the summer sun, then reconstituted it on the trail, dried meat and all. Filet de chili. Good stuff, the hotter the better.

The Chicago World’s Fair opened on a scorching May 1 in 1893. The most popular booth was not the ice cream; it was the state of Texas’ chili stand, introducing the nation to the joys of eating chili on hot days.

I rest my case. Hold the beans, please.