While food orthodoxy dictates that Chili is a sans beans dish, and a fact not to be trifled with by the Great Unwashed, in Central New Jersey, going back about 45 years or so, one would be hard-put to find a can of chili on the grocery shelf that indeed had no beans in it.
Chili WAS beans, at least to us.
This was foreign food. If grocery stores had an International section back then, the chili would be there. And if it had no beans, we’d feel cheated: "Hey, Mr. Storekeeper…there ain’t no beans in this chili. What’s the big idea?"
Accepting chili with no beans would be like buying a Mounds when, for the same price, you could get it with two almonds in an Almond Joy. In other words, we felt we deserved the beans. There was very little less is more back then.
In my neighborhood, Italian food was…now get ready for this…Franco American or Chef Boyardee.And aside from pizza and an Italian hot dog, that’s what I thought it was, practically until the time I left for college.
Little did I know that if I traveled a few blocks I could have learned the finer points about the proper sauce (or gravy, depending on which specific neighborhood) to put on your macaronis.
But the closest I got to eating pasta was when my Mom made beef goulash with wide Goodman’s noodles. Potatoes and bread were our carbohydrates of choice.
Don’t worry. I’ve since made up for said deprivation. Now, I like a little pesto here, a bit of broccoli rabe there. Ooh, and you should hear me order. "Another helping of polenta, por favor."
Yep, chili had beans, if you please. But while maybe someone made a big culinary faux pas about the chili, not so for the kielbasi. That was serious business.
I knew folks who could steer you to kielbasi in Harrison that was slightly better than the kielbasi in Newark, but maybe not as good as the kielbasi in Clifton.
The discussion might then lead to a debate on whether to age said kielbasi hanging on the back porch or in the pantry.
But wrong or right, Chili had beans in it. And now it doesn’t. It’s getting to be everything’s like that nowadays. Next thing you’ll be telling me, Horn & Hardart is closing its Automats.