Open fire chili in cast iron pot

By Gloria Yoder - The Amish Cook

My husband, Daniel, is the type to always be looking for something to keep life interesting and find things to do off the beaten path. One aspect he has been a blessing for me in this area is that of food. He likes coming up with new ways to prepare food or simplify and shorten the time I need to spend in the kitchen. Whether it’s baking a big batch of cookies and freezing some for his lunch or making a mega amount of sandwiches, wrapping them in tin foil ready for him to pop them in the oven at work, or making a big batch of creamsticks with the children, having enough to freeze and share, I always enjoy hearing his latest brainstorms.

I was especially impressed a while ago when he suggested making a huge batch of chili soup. Our friend, Owen, has a large, 40-quart, cast iron kettle,which he was delighted to lend to us. It really sounded like a good idea: we would have an ample supply for the winter months ahead.

We had plenty venison in the freezer that would work well for the project at hand and thanks to Mom, who had more tomatoes in her garden this summer than she could use and kindly shared with us. I had cut them up and put them in the freezer for later use. Now it only seemed like the practical thing to do to make a large batch of chili soup. Our main problem was the cool weather that kept us from pursuing the project. We kept watching the weather, in hopes of pleasant weather so we could take the children out with us. This week, we were delighted to have lots sunshine as the weather warmed up once more. We snatched the opportunity to build a bonfire and tackle the soup.

Owen brought his big kettle, which he had purchased at his grandparents’ auction a couple years ago. It’s the old-fashioned cast iron type that I’ve always admired but never owned. My parents and sisters joined us in the woods behind our house, where the steam rolled in great billows as the tomato juice boiled rapidly. The weather was pleasant, just cool enough to enjoy the heat of the crackling fire. Daniel even wrapped baby Jesse in a blanket and took him out to join us for a while, where I sat beside the fire, holding him.

Making large quantities of food was always something I enjoyed, but having the opportunity to do it over a fire added an entirely new dimension, in my way of thinking.

First we browned the venison, then added the chopped onions. We’re onion lovers, so I put in plenty of those before adding a mixture of seasonings and flour. After browning this a bit, we added the tomato juice, maple syrup and the pinto beans that I had cooked on the stove. Next came the fun part — tasting and adding some of this and that to give it just the right taste and consistency. We wanted it to have a good chili flavor without being too strong for the children. And yes, we were quite pleased with the turn-out. Even the little ones liked it! It’s hard to imagine that I used to have a fairly strong dislike for chili soup. Thankfully, some things change for the better as a person adds years to her age!

By 7 p.m., we had 32 quarts filled, ready to be sealed. Of course, we also saved some for our supper. I served it our favorite way — with cheese and corn chips. Our friends in Alaska introduced us to this idea when we visited them a number of years ago.

Here is a recipe similar to what we used, only in a smaller quantity.


3 pounds hamburger

2 cups onion, chopped

1 cup flour

2 1/2 quarts tomato juice

1 19-ounce can kidney beans

1 tablespoon cumin

2 tablespoons chili powder

3 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon taco seasoning

2 teaspoons paprika

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup sorghum or maple syrup

Fry and chop hamburger in a 6-quart kettle. Add onions and fry a bit longer.

Sprinkle flour and seasonings over this and stir with a spoon to mix. Add tomato juice and turn on high, stirring frequently until it thickens and boils. Reduce heat, adding the rest of the ingredients. Simmer for 1 hour to allow the flavors to develop.

If you like a sweeter chili, add 1/2 cup brown sugar. If you like a fiery soup, add red pepper. This makes around 5 quarts of a nice, thick soup.

By Gloria Yoder

The Amish Cook

Readers can write or visit Gloria at 10437 E. 300th Ave., Flat Rock, IL 62427.

Readers can write or visit Gloria at 10437 E. 300th Ave., Flat Rock, IL 62427.