Chilling with a Chili Winter in the Hudson Valley

Here in the Hudson Valley, chili has been hot when it comes to fundraising. 

Over the past few months, pounds and pounds of chili have been cooked in New Paltz in the name of charity. 

In late January, Water Street Market hosted their 12th Annual Local Ingredient Chili Challenge. On Feb. 29, the town of Gardiner’s Fire Department hosted their parks and recreation chili competition and fundraiser. On the same day, the Women’s Studio Workshop hosted its 23rd annual chili bowl festival fundraiser. 

All of these events are leaving some people asking, “what’s with all this chili?”

Each event has aimed to fundraise for a specific cause. Ruth McKinney Burket, the ceramics studio manager at the Women’s Studio Workshop, was able to give the “scoop” on why this non-profit uses chili to spice up their fundraising, a method they have stuck with for 23 years. They have been fortunate enough to have loyal restaurants donate chili annually.

“[Chili is] something that is pretty easy for restaurants to make and there’s so many different ways it can be made. Vegetarian, vegan, it can have meat in it … it’s nutritious, tasty and kind of fun,” Burket said. 

The proceeds go to a pretty tasty cause.

“[The Women’s Studio Workshop] was founded to make opportunities for female-identifying artists who, at the time the founders started this, were really excluded from a lot of opportunities,” Burket said.

The proceeds go to their parent residency program which creates opportunities for women all over the world.

“We started a parent residency grant where [women] can bring their children, work here and have their children here while they’re working,” Burket continued. 

Theresa Fall, events coordinator for the Water Street Market, says that when planning the chili challenge fundraiser 13 years ago, she thought chili would be ideal because it was both sustainable to make and something warmer for the winter.

Without a doubt, Fall is certain chili will not be going anywhere. She raves, “[People] love it! [Chili] seems to be a universal thing that everyone likes.”

Chili’s origin stories tell a similar tale of universal love:

In San Antonio, Texas, in the 1880s, a new invention was brewing that may have changed the history of food and community gatherings as we know it. In the extremely open and vast, yet somewhat desolate towns, the women bringing life and nourishment to the community were referred to as “chili queens.”

These queens were praised because they would bring homemade chili on carts to sell to people in the town. Chili was a revered and universally loved dish especially for its low cost. Hungry people could have a bowl of chili, some water and bread or a tortilla for just one dime. 

A Texan tradition that began hundreds of years ago to feed the Spanish army has continued through modern day, and legacies of the tradition have remained present in mainstream culture as well. 

But inmates of Texas prisons of the 1800s said they deserve some credit for the beginnings of chili, saying it was a food they made in prison with a combination of the food they were given and some creativity. In fact, they rated prisons on how yummy the prison chili was and it got to such a level that some freed inmates said they missed the chili. 

To this day, chili remains a cost-effective, hearty and historically rich way to bring people together and make money for a good cause simultaneously.

It is no wonder that chili has been the dish of choice for the Hudson Valley this winter.