The first thing you should know about Chilli Con Carne is that it not Mexican, but American. It is a Texan dish whose early recorded origins seem to stem from a food market in San Antonio in the early 1880s.
The American spelling of chilli is with just a single letter ‘l’, but as we promote the most divine and most fabulous chilli ever made which is of British origins, then we keep with the British spelling of chilli. However, as it happens it’s not just the Brits that spell it with an extra ‘l’. The folk of Springfield, Illinois, USA take their chilli very seriously and buck the American trend spell chilli the same as the British!
In the 1880s, a market in San Antonio started setting up chilli stands from which chilli or bowls o'red, as it was called, were sold by women who were called "chilli queens." A bowl o'red cost diners such as writer O. Henry and democratic presidential hopeful William Jennings Bryan ten cents and included bread and a glass of water. The fame of chilli con carne began to spread and the dish soon became a major tourist attraction. It was featured at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893 at the San Antonio Chilli Stand.
However, many chilli historians write about Sister Mary of Agreda, a Spanish nun in the early 1600s. It appears Sister Mary wrote down the first recipe for chilli con carne which consisted of chilli peppers, venison, onions, and tomatoes. This was said to be an old Southwestern American Indian recipe that she wrote down while in a trance having had her spirit transported to America to preach Christianity to the Indians. She never physically left Spain, so how did she get the recipe?
Another version of the origins of chilli state that people from the Spanish Canary Islands who emigrated to the city of San Antonio in 1731 made a Spanish stew that is to all intents and purposes the same as chilli. T
here are a few other stories that suggest chilli con carne was created by others and if that was not enough we also have the chilli police who try and dictate what is allowed in a chilli and what is not. The purists say that chilli must not have beans in it. Other say chilli does not have tomatoes, but we say put whatever you want into a chilli and enjoy!