Yesterday while driving around on the mountain in search of deer, I started thinking about how much I just plain love fall. I find myself actually anticipating its arrival, which is such an abstract idea. I am anticipating the arrival of something that has no official starting date or time. I mean sure, there is the autumnal equinox, which this year falls on September 22nd, and that is the first day of fall by a calendar standard. But just because September 22nd happens doesn’t mean fall has officially started. There have been year’s here in Southern Utah where it is still 95 degrees out, and that doesn’t feel very fall like, if you ask me.
Anyway, I think fall is upon us, and this got me thinking about all the things I love about fall. There are the obvious ones: the leaves melting from green to brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow; the temperature dipping from hot to cool and leading to evenings where a jacket is necessary when venturing outside; the start of a new school year.
And then there are all these other loves I have for fall, like pumpkins and pumpkin style food and drink, fall fruit harvests like apples, peaches, and pears, warm pots of soups and stews and chili, backyard fires with marshmallows melting on sticks, pulling out fuzzy socks to cover my cold toes, and elk bugling! It is just a beautiful time of year.
For this hearty chili, I used pronghorn, but elk or deer would be excellent as well. I took a package I had labeled as “sausage cuts” and ran it through the grinder. When I am cleaning my animals, I package steaks, roasts, and scraps all separately. Scraps, or sausage cuts as I labeled it this time, are those small pieces that might have too much tendon for a roast or be too small for a steak but are worth keeping. Chili is a great utilization of these types of cuts. I don’t even bother to remove the tendons since I am grinding the entire piece. I also didn’t add any extra fat to the mix, as I would if I were grinding burger or sausage. I like leaner meat for my chili. I ground up about a pound of meat.
In a large skillet over medium high heat, I added a tablespoon of olive oil and started to saute my onion and garlic. You can use whatever type of oil you want (vegetable, canola, etc). I only added the oil to keep the onions and garlic from burning to the pan. Cook the chopped onion and garlic for two or three minutes, just enough to soften them up.
To the onion and garlic, add three diced bell peppers. Usually when I make chili, I like to add yellow, orange, and red bell peppers to the pot. I do this because I believe of you eat as much with your eyes as your mouth, and the colors the peppers add are very visually appealing. I also like the slightly sweet flavor that the vibrant colored peppers add to the dish. This time, I went against my norm and used green bell peppers. My garden has been doing incredibly well this time, as opposed to the previous years where it has mostly died, and I have an overload of green bell peppers. And while I love the addition of the colored peppers, nothing can beat throwing in a homegrown ingredient! So, I used six of my garden peppers because they are a bit smaller in size than what one can pick up at the super market. Cook the peppers and onions for another three minutes.
Next, add the pronghorn to the pan. Cook for five to seven minutes, until the meat has browned. I also added a half teaspoon of salt and pepper to the mixture at this point. After the meat has heated through, turn the heat up to high and pour in an entire bottle of pumpkin ale beer. The beer will not only add flavor to the mixture, but also will deglaze the pan, allowing you to stir up all the goodness from your meat and onions that is starting to stick to the bottom of the pan. Stir the beer around for about a minute, and then drop the heat down to low.
In a large crock pot, add three cans of drained beans. You can add three of the same type or mix it up. For this batch, I used two cans of black beans and a can of red kidney beans. You could also use pinto, navy, or chili beans. You also might be someone that enjoys a lot of beans in your chili, and if you are then go ahead and drop in another can. This is chili, you can’t go wrong!
To the beans, add a can of pureed pumpkin, chili powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, salt, Worcestershire sauce, and some tomato paste. Give all that a little stir and pour in the meat, pepper, and onion mixture. If you like chili with a little kick to it, then you can also add a tablespoon of hot sauce. You could also mince up a jalapeno and add that. Things are sounding good, huh?
Alright, let’s continue with developing the flavors of this pumpkin themed chili! So, normally tomatoes are added to chili. Most recipes call for a 28 ounce can (the big boy cans!) of crushed tomatoes. That is a great way to go. But like I said before, my garden is doing really well this summer. I have been processing a lot of tomatoes, and it is super easy. I literally go out and pick a dozen or so tomatoes, squish them up, pack them into a quart sized freezer bag, and stick them into the freezer. I then have garden tomatoes all winter long for soups and chili. When the time comes to use them, I don’t even bother to defrost the bag. I break the bag off from around the tomatoes, and drop the entire block into the crock pot. It works super great, adds amazing depth of flavor to the chili, and I get a little moment of satisfaction in using something I grew myself (I am not much of a gardener, so these moments are rare and I must savor them to the fullest).
So, after the tomatoes have been added, it is time for the secret ingredients: cinnamon and nutmeg. I know, I know, cinnamon in chili sounds a bit weird. And nutmeg sounds just plain wrong! But this isn’t traditional chili; this is pumpkin chili. And cinnamon and nutmeg go hand in hand with pumpkin. The pumpkin adds a really subtle sweet flavor to the hearty, savory flavors of the chili and the cinnamon and nutmeg help develop and build this sweetness. So, drop in that teaspoon of each.
Set the crock pot to low and let it go for six to eight hours. If you are a little short on time, you could also set it on high and it will be ready in about four hours. Don’t forget to get some grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, chopped onions, and whatever else you like for chili toppings. Oh, and of course corn bread makes a great side for dunking into a hot, steamy bowl of this chili!
Imagine now it is six to eight hours later, and you come home from work to a house smelling just like fall, with the sweet hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin. Mmmm…sounds good right? You better get started on this chili!