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Chili Con Carne

I'm feeling all of the fall feels as we just came off of a weekend of mild temperatures and a crisp cool breeze. I hate winter, no denying that, but I absolutely love fall. Some of my favorite fall memories come from visiting The Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur, Illinois or Curtis Apple Orchard in Champaign, Illinois. Perhaps what stands out even more in my memories are the scoops of pumpkin ice cream and the apple cider slushes. Really, it all comes back to family and food. But, doesn't it always?

Great- great- grandma Nellie has a page in her journal about chowders and chilis. It was an article clipped from a 1935 edition of The Chicago Tribune. In this small excerpt, journalist Mary Meade dishes out a brief history on chowders and soups, ending with a recipe for Chili Con Carne. Nellie clipped this, added some of her own notes (as she typically does) and in the end we have a recipe for an excellent main dish for fall weather.

One important note in this recipe, and probably why it's taken me so long to cook, is the fact that it calls for 1/4 cup chopped suet. What's suet? I had no idea so I turned to Google and learned here that it is a raw, hard fat of beef or mutton found around the kidneys. I also found a guy on Reddit who was trying to recreate his grandpa's chili recipe and was equally as baffled by suet. I was very excited when I came upon a suet recipe from Martha Stewart, until I started to watch the video and realized she was using it to make bird food. Then it clicked, I recognized suet as the fatty substance used to make the bird seed rings in the fancy bird feeders. I proceeded to call around to my favorite specialty food shops including Art Mart, World Harvest, Old Time Meat & Deli, and Harvest Market. All of them were familiar with, but do not carry, suet. I did find that Blain's Farm & Fleet carries suet, but it's for the birds. Literally.

So, when all else fails, call grandma (or since it's 2018...text grandma). I texted my grandma Sharon Schwengel and explained my struggle to find the missing ingredient from Nellie's chili. I explained that I was on a hunt for suet and read online that when a recipe calls for this suet that there really is no great tasting substitute. So, along with my grandpa Phil, they hopped in the car and drove down to Arthur, Illinois where they found beef suet at Dutch Valley Meats. WOW! Mystery solved! I mean, aren't they just the best for entertaining my crazy cooking hobby and traveling an hour round trip to find me hard beef fat?

Don't be discouraged if at first you don't find suet. Please don't toss this recipe aside like I almost did. All it takes is a butcher that deals with the whole animal, or a couple of amazing grandparents to help solve the puzzle.

I've put an * by the items I can purchase at my Illinois farmers market.


  • 2 pounds ground round steak*

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 3 tablespoons flour*

  • 1/4 cup chopped suet

  • 1/4 cup oil (we use Olive or Avocado oil)

  • 1 small clove garlic, chopped*

  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped*

  • 2 tablespoons chili powder

  • 2 cups tomatoes, diced (can use fresh, just drain a little bit of any excess liquid or don't use as much water as noted in next ingredient)*

  • 3 cups water

  • 2 cups cooked red kidney beans


  • Sprinkle the chopped meat with salt and flour.

  • In a medium sized stock pot, heat the oil and sautee the onion, garlic, floured meat, and suet. Cook until browned.

  • Add the chili powder, tomatoes and water.

  • Cover and simmer for about an hour.

  • Add the beans and continue to cook until everything is hot.

  • Serve immediately!

Notes: Serve this with a little bit of shredded sharp cheddar and a spoonful of plain greek yogurt or sour cream. Also goes nicely with a few warmed corn tortillas on the side!

Serving size: About 8 bowls.

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