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We Were Chili Makers Long Before We Knew Heirlooms!
Chili Smith Family Foods has its roots in northern California when our family began their first restaurant in the early 1960’s when Ed and Betty Smith migrated from San Francisco to Sacramento and finally to Chico. Both were great cooks and had brought many great recipes from family and friends from many areas and had a special love for the sourdough breads only found in the San Francisco Bay area. Many of the recipes dated back to the time of the Gold Rush Days featuring simple foods, well prepared and deliciously spiced and served in abundant portions.
Those restaurants were very popular for their good food and friendly people and became a favorite meeting place in the small cities they were located. Many of our family members worked in those restaurants as we went to school or spent the summer in the farm country of northern California in those days.
Customers became friends and like family – some lived in the communities and some stopped in for a bite and a visit on their way to vacation spots. Many of the friends coming through would as if we could send some chili with them in their camper or car so they could share it on the road or with friends as a gift. In truth, that chili and sourdough cornbread, cheesecake and a few other ‘specialties’ we offered made up for the sins of slow service when we were extremely busy! That’s pretty good chili!
Years after those restaurants were sold and both Ed and Betty were gone, we family members would occasionally be asked by someone we had not seen in several years that knew us from those days “Do you still make that chili?” That’s high praise considering we got out of the restaurant business in the 1980’s! We would have to tell them ‘no’ because all the restaurant formulas and family recipes could not be found.
Recently, while cleaning up and preparing the family home for sale after several decades of retirement – one of the original binders with all the formulas – including some handwritten notes from Ed and Betty and later, Helen were discovered! What a special and tearful afternoon that was – finding those notes and those old recipes in that crusty, dirty binder was like a treasure to us.
Making a small batch of the chili and filling the kitchen with those special smells brought back memories for all of us. We loved it but recognized that our eating habits and tastes had changed since 1965…so we set about finding ways to retain the original aroma, flavor and eating experience and make the product lighter eating with less fat and healthier ingredients.
Our search for natural, wholesome and flavorful ingredients for our chili’s, we discovered heirloom beans. We went to Rancho Gordo in Napa and bought some to test and they were excellent! Then we researched the internet for growers and found Mohr-Fry Ranches in Lodi, California - their family has been farming in northern California since 1855!
When we talked with the family, we learned that not only do they grow great heritage beans, they grow for many distributors. They really wanted to concentrate on what they do best – grow great products – and wanted to know if we would be interested in partnering with them as a marketer. We agreed in no time!
Why Heritage Beans?
Heirloom seeds are original in their plant DNA structure. They do not yield the same tonnage per acre, are not as disease resistant and are not all the same color or identical in size – so why would anyone want to grow them? Not many farmers do! They thrive in the great soil with superb drainage and nutrients found on the Mohr-Fry Ranch in Thornton. This property is used for wine grapes and beans love the same conditions of warm days and cool nights with the Delta breeze bringing fresh cool air inland from the Pacific Ocean. Irrigation is from clean, clear water that flows from snow melt of the high Sierra Mountains. It is a beautiful property and perfectly suited for growing these beans.
All this is for one reason – flavor! Yes, the beans are more nutritious, high protein and up to three times the fiber of other beans. Yes, they truly are better for us – but it is the flavor – that’s why we grow them. They are just flat out delicious! One bite and everyone agrees they are just a better bean.
Chili Smith is committed to bringing great tasting, healthy foods to the tables of families and friends. We are delighted to be in the company of other great California family businesses like Mohr-Fry Ranches and now, other great growers. Something magical happens when delicious, aromatic food comes to the table – everyone gets together, there is conversation, laughter and joy – and if the food is also good for you? Well, that’s the magic!
From our families to your family – all the best!