Circle B's Chili Beans

October is the reason we Midwesterners stick around through July and August.  It’s all worth it to get to the end of September when we begin to feel that transition from the heat and humidity of summer to the beauty that is the month of October.  We have just recently felt the air rid itself of that moisture, and the days have turned crisp and cool and abso- ever-lutely gorgeous. 

Here at the Circle B Kitchen we have a tradition dating back as long as we can remember that the first day we feel that shift from summer to fall, we pull out the big pot and we make chili beans. 

That day occurred this week; we felt it the minute it arrived, and by that afternoon the aromas of these fabulous beans were wafting through the entire house.  We make chili beans all fall and winter, but there really is nothing like that very first bowl which signals the arrival of fall.

To understand and fully appreciate the significance of these beans, we have to go back about 42 years to when I was just a lass in my junior year of high school in Southern California and dating the cutest boy ever.  I still think he’s the cutest boy ever.  The summer of 1968 he invited me to a family party at his Grandparents’ rustic mountain home in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  I was just blown away by the beauty of the place, the beautiful pines and cedars, the creek which ran through the property, the wildlife, but most of all, his Grandmother’s cooking.  No party, no gathering, was ever complete in those days without Grandma B’s beans bubbling away on her wood stove.  They were everyone’s favorite (except for maybe her ollalieberry cobbler), and they made every visit worth the trip up that mountain.

Once I secured my position in the family, she graciously shared the recipe with me, and I’ve been making those beans ever since.  Over the years I’ve tweaked the recipe a tad, but these are still Grandma’s beans, and they will always be a happy reminder of those wonderful times with her in her kitchen. 

So now it’s fall and we’re thinking about bringing out the sweaters and tucking our shorts back into storage.  We’re thinking about the cool weather to come, fires in the fireplace and down comforters on the bed.  But we’re very excited to also be thinking about chili beans.  Here’s the recipe….

Circle B's Chili Beans

Even though these are not exactly Grandma's chili beans, her delicious pot of beans were the inspiration for my version.  So even though they're not the same, I feel bound to pay homage to the memory of those mountain beans.

Printable Recipe

1 lb. dry pintos (or see alternate below)
1 ½ lbs ground meat (I use turkey)     
1 large onion chopped  
4 cloves garlic, minced    
3 tsp dried cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp cayenne pepper (or more or less spicy depending on how much heat you want)
2 T chili powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 large can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes (I use Dei Fratelli)
3 teaspoons of Kitchen Bouquet if using ground turkey (optional)

Place beans in a large stockpot and cover with water by about 3 inches.  Soak overnight*.  Dump out the soak water and then pour in clean water, add a tablespoon of salt and cook the beans until soft, about 1-2 hours.  Or, alternately, you can start the beans in the morning and boil for about 3 hours to soften.  Do not drain.

In a dutch oven or other heavy pot, saute  the onion and garlic over medium low heat for about 6 minutes, or until soft.  Add the oregano, chili powder, cumin and cayenne and cook for a couple of minutes until fragrant.  Raise the heat to medium high, add the meat, breaking it up with wooden spatula or spoon until cooked through.    Stir in the salt.  If using ground turkey, I add 3 teaspoons of Kitchen Bouquet at this point.

Add the tomatoes to the pot and stir to combine.  Using a spider strainer or other handled strainer, add the beans to the pot along with enough of the bean cooking liquid to just cover the beans.  Stir to combine and cook, partially covered for 4- 6 hours.  Taste for salt about halfway through the cooking.  The longer these cook, the better they get.

*If you didn't soak your beans overnight, you can do a quick soak in the morning.  Just bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Cook the beans for 1 minute, then remove the pot from the heat.  Cover with a lid and let the beans soak in the warm water for one hour.  Drain the beans and continue with the recipe.

If you would rather not use dried beans, you can easily substitute 4 cans of pinto beans, drained, but not rinsed.  Skip the 1st step and add the beans after you have browned the meat and continue with the recipe, adding just enough chicken or beef broth to create a good consistency.  The beans should be fairly thick and not watery.