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HUCKABY: Chilly fall evenings call for good pot of chili

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

It was damp and cool when I left the house Wednesday morning. By the end of the school day, brisk fall weather had arrived in the North Georgia Piedmont. I set aside all other business and drove straight home to take care of my husbandly duties.

When my lovely wife Lisa got home from work, at dark-thirty, I had a big pot of homemade chili simmering on the stove. And yes, there was hot cornbread, chopped onions and grated cheese to go with it.

Honesty compels me to admit that I wasn't a big chili eater growing up. In fact, I can't remember my mother ever serving it at our house. We would have had a steaming hot bowl of vegetable soup on such a day as Wednesday. When I was in college, however, I read a magazine article about legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp, the Bluegrass Baron of Basketball. The article revealed that Coach Rupp's favorite diner was a place just off the UK campus that served spicy chili with purple onions on the side. He was said to have eaten there several times each week.

When the Georgia team, of which I was manager, went to Lexington, I found that diner and had a bowl of the stuff myself. I was hooked, and have been a fan of good chili ever sense.

Whenever Lisa makes chili I think about her first attempt at the dish. We were practically newlyweds and our friends from Valdosta, Ken and Beth Cooper, were coming up for the weekend. The Christmas season was approaching and Beth and Lisa were going to spend an entire Saturday shopping at Lenox Square. I shan't reveal how Ken and I would spend that particular Saturday, because it isn't relevant and may serve to incriminate me.

What is relevant is this. When Ken and Beth arrived on Friday evening, Lisa had a huge pot of chili ready for them. She had gotten her recipe from an old church cookbook. I am pretty sure it had been submitted by Larry Laster, an old Porterdale boy who played running back for Auburn in the early '60s. Lisa was a novice cook understand, and can be forgiven for getting the abbreviations for tablespoons and teaspoons confused.

We all gathered around the table and said grace and I served up the chili. Now I don't know how much red pepper and how much chili powder Lisa put in that pot, but I know that when Ken Cooper took the first bite of his, sweat broke out all over his face. Always a trooper and always the gentleman, Ken simply took a sip of sweet tea and tried another bite. His eyes bulged out. Steam may have come out of his ears. He reached across the table and grabbed Beth's arm and said, "Don't baby; I love you too much."

Suffice it to say that we went out for supper that night. On a positive note, Ken's sinuses stayed clear all winter.

I had a similar experience at a Men's Club dinner at the Methodist church in Porterdale. I had been invited to speak, on a Monday night, and Jack Rawls was cooking the chili. Mr. Jack was a big man with half an ear on one side of his face. He was a wonderful cook but lived by the principle that too many cooks spoil the broth and wouldn't let anybody in the kitchen with him while he was at work.

On this particular night Jack finally declared the chili ready and two of the men brought the giant kettle of the delectable dish into the fellowship hall. We eagerly lined up and had our bowls filled with the rich, meaty concoction. When everyone had their bowls filled to the brim we took our places on either side of the long table that had been set up in the big room.

When grace had been said, we all took our long awaited first bites. Jack's chili was hotter than a twelve-alarm fire. Beads of sweat broke out on my face and, like Ken Cooper had done, I reached for my iced tea. So did every man at the table -- except one.

We all looked at one another and laughed and then, as one, looked toward the end of the table where the cook was seated, oblivious to the commotion his chili had caused. There sat Jack Rawls, pocket knife in hand, cutting hot red peppers into his bowl of chili.

The pot I cooked Wednesday night wasn't of the twelve-alarm variety -- and my measurements were accurate. It didn't clear our sinuses or create the need for us to eat out, but it was good enough to make my children wish they were home enjoying it with us -- and that is plenty good enough for me.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com. Darrell Huckaby's chili recipe is in his new cookbook, "Second Helpings," which he will be signing at Evans Market on Hwy 20, Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.