Everything was ready. I’d spent nearly two weeks tracking down and gathering ingredients from my gardening friends. The mixture had been simmering all night in crockpots and the wonderful fragrance in the morning held promise.
It was the day of the 2010 Chili Cook-off, an annual event sponsored by the Heritage Trust* on Lummi Island. I was entering for the first time with my recipe for Locavore Chili.
Initially I planned to make chili from ingredients grown in Whatcom County, but as I looked over my favorite chili recipe I realized I could use ingredients even closer to home. I knew Lummi Island gardeners who grew nearly everything on the ingredient list. I decided to try an all Lummi Island chili.
First I needed chili peppers. My friend, and Island gardening guru, Nancy Simmerman had some dried habanero peppers that were perfect, and she was willing to share a bag of last year’s fresh onions, too. I have to admit I was a little nervous about using habaneros since I’d never cooked with them before. They have a huge range on the heat scale, and are seriously hot. I knew I’d have to do at least one test batch to learn how to calibrate their heat for my recipe.
Tomatoes were just barely starting to ripen, so I was concerned about finding enough for the two gallons of chili required for the competition. Fortunately, Peg Larson still had a good supply of home canned tomatoes from her garden last year, and Pat Wales had some chopped garden tomatoes in her freezer.
Beans were the next concern, since this year’s harvest won’t ripen for weeks. I needed to find someone who had dried beans in their pantry. Pamela Miller came through with a big bag of dried beans still in their husks. I spent a little time shelling, and soon had exactly the amount of beans I needed.
I knew I could get flavorful ground grass-fed beef raised by Phil Tucker at the Islander grocery store. I’ve been eating Phil’s beef for several years now, and it’s one of my frequently used ingredients.
Thurid Clark let me pick a few more fresh onions from her patch in the community garden. I had some broccoli stems from Pat Wales that would add some green color and good texture. I also picked some fresh rosemary and thyme from my home herb garden to put in when I cooked the dried beans.
Finally, I needed a few more tomatoes and some garlic. I was running out of time, so I turned to mainland Whatcom County sources. The extra tomatoes came from Cloud Mountain Farm (Everson) and Lynden Fresh Farms (Lynden). Fresh green garlic came from Rabbit Fields Farm (Everson). (I’ve since found several Island garlic sources.)
Spices ended up being the only non-local ingredients in the chili. I added small amounts of cumin, cloves, and salt from unknown geographical sources.
So how did Locavore Chili do in the competition? People loved that it was local, they loved the taste, and it won a brand new prize for supporting local ingredients and sustainability. Over 300 people attended the tasting, and we all had a lot of fun. The top cash winners were Mike Moye (“Scottish Highlander Chili”), Joe Dowell (who operates the Beach Store Cafe, with “Beef Pork ‘N Chili”), and Gary Pittman (“Smooth Crossing”).
Most Unusual Ingredient prize went to Deanna Durbin (for the Taproot Cafe). Best Vegetarian Chili was won by Angie Dixon and Colleen McCrory of Lummi Island Realty (“Junkyard Chili”). Best Chili Name was “Screaming Seagull” by Pat Hayes and Rich Frye of the Artisan Wine Gallery. Congratulations, and thanks to everyone who participated!
*The Lummi Island Heritage Trust is a non-profit organization committed to preserving and protecting the natural environment and rural character of the Island. They own and manage several nature preserves, trails, and a community garden. Contact them at 360-758-7997 or visit their web site.
This week’s menu is: