Since long before I was born, it’s been a Busch Family Tradition to have chili & hot chocolate on Christmas Eve. Nobody’s sure exactly what year or why this began, but given that my father grew up in Wisconsin, we imagine it probably happened whatever year was the coldest, and when his family didn’t have a lot of extra cash for extravagant dinners. It worked out so well, we suppose, that people in my family have enjoyed it every year since.
Well, most of us have enjoyed it. We found out almost after the fact that my two sisters really didn’t enjoy chili & hot chocolate all that much. My younger older sister had a habit, I recall, of stirring macaroni noodles into her chili, which was weird enough, but to declare you don’t like it? Why, that’s almost un-American! Anyway, since that revelation, the chili night has had to be moved sometimes. My sisters grew their own families, and they had their own bizarre ideas about what is proper to happen on December 24, and for a few years chili happened on the 23rd (Christmas Eve Eve, we’d call it) with whatever girlfriend-of-the-year or friends of mine that wished to join us.
I got married earlier this year, and I’ll be 30 years old next May. Tomorrow is the first Christmas Eve I’ll be spending away from the family that helped raise me, and I figure I’m responsible for the chili-makin’. Except I’ve never made chili before. In fact, it was always my father’s job, and, aside from the occasional barbecue, it was the only thing Dad cooked all year long. And the recipe was always a mystery.
It was a mystery because Dad would make it up as he went along. We’d watch him open the spice cabinet, pull something out, look at the label, and shrug whimsically before sprinkling whatever it was into the pot. It seemed he would do this at least a dozen times. It made the chili seem kind of dangerous, which in retrospect is one of the reasons I loved it so much. It took hours, and I would spend my time vacillating between the kitchen and the tree with all the presents. The hot chocolate was nowhere near as mysterious, as I recall. Probably Swiss Miss. We’d add our own non-stale tiny marshmallows.
Anyway, I’ve got my own family, now, so the chili is down to me. My wife’s family lives nearby, though (did I mention my family is 2,000 miles away?) , and get this: they want to have chili on Christmas Eve now, too! So, while touched, I also feel a certain amount of pressure to get this right. This is my first time making The Chili, and a lot of people are trying it for the first time! So, I asked my Dad for the recipe, such as it is.
Among the vague chili instructions (“Well, you see,” my Dad says, “there really is no recipe…”), I also received the following fabulous fruitcake recipe (valid XHTML tags are my own):
Great Recipe for Fruitcake
- 1 cup of water
- 1 cup of sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups of dried fruit
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
- lemon juice
- 1 gallon whiskey
Sample the whiskey to check for quality.
Take out a large bowl.
Check the whiskey again to be sure it is of the highest quality. Pour one level cup and drink.
Turn on the electric mixer; beat one cup of butter in a large, fluffy bowl. Add one tsp of sugar
and beat again.
Make sure the whiskey is still ok. Cry another tup.
Turn off mixer.
Break two legs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit.
Mix on the turner.
If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers, pry it loose with a drewscriver.
Sample the whisket to check for tonsisticity.
Next, sift two cups of salt- or something. Who cares?
Now sift the lemon juice and strain with your nuts.
Add one table. Spoon.
Of sugar or something. Whatever you can find.
Grease the oven.
Turn the cake tin to 350 degrees.
Don’t forget to beat off the turner.
Throw the bowl out of the window.
Check the whiskey again.
Go to bed. Nobody likes fruitcake, anyway.