Grim’s Grub: Here’s the Ghostly Story Behind a Wintry Dish – Pine and Lakes Echo Journal

As a Catholic, I grew up learning about the saints in spurts. We didn’t learn about them like you learn about US presidents or other influential people.

Instead, it’s a kind of oral tradition.

Mom told me about St. Anthony when things got lost. Each of us learned about our namesake saint (middle name) to some degree, and one of the family favorites was St. Christopher, the patron saint of travellers.

Recumbent statue (above) and incorruptible body (below) of Sister Maria Jesus de Agreda, in the church of the Convent of the Conception of Agreda (Soria, Castile-Leon, Spain)

Zarateman, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you are Catholic, you know there are many saints to know. Regardless of your religious background, I think we would all be entertained by stories of people who have achieved apparent supernatural qualities through their devotion to Jesus.

One such saint is Sister Maria of Jesus, also known as Sister Mary of Agreda. Sister Mary was a prominent missionary in Spain. She took great pleasure in proselytizing and evangelizing. It is said that her faith was so strong that she saw visions of the soul when bathed in grace and stained with mortal sin.

These visions inspired her life as a nun.

Her caption says she got “bilocation”, which is like astral projection. Although she never left Spain, in 1622 she was seen in New Mexico where reports say she would appear to Native Americans and testify, encouraging them to seek missionaries and become Christians. They called her La Dama de Azul, or the Blue Nun.

She apparently did more than evangelize. Legend has it that, satisfying the hunger of a group of natives, Sister Mary guided them in assembling a hot stew made from venison, tomatoes, onions and chili peppers.

Honest to God, this is one of the most enduring stories to explain the history of chili con carne, of course without the beans. It was, fascinatingly enough, later countered by an 18th century priest who dubbed chili pepper the devil’s food because of the spiciness. Some say it made it more popular.


Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

This is not the only explanation, because for many foods there are other stories. Another origin story says that he arrived in San Antonio in 1732, with 16 families emigrating from the Spanish Canary Islands.

Although some of the ingredients are more South American in nature, it turns out that chili is decidedly a North American food. Not only does it not survive south of the border where it is found only in very touristy restaurants, but traditional South American writings treat it with disdain, calling it “detestable”.

I think if they were subjected to colder weather, they would find a love for chili peppers. I know that when winter rolls around, as it certainly has lately, nothing tastes better than soup. And there are few soups or stews that warm you up like chili.

I guess if we have a blue ghost nun to thank for that, we should all tip Sister Mary.

Debbie Grimler’s Sweet Chili


Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

  • 2 pounds of burger
  • 2-3 large cans of tomato juice
  • 2-3 cans spicy chili beans, drained
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 2 green peppers, chopped
  • 2 beef stock cubes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder

Brown the burger over medium heat, then drain the fat. Add it to a large pot. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for several hours, stirring often.
To enhance the flavor, let the chili sit in the refrigerator overnight to allow the flavors to blend better. Mum always separated some of the chili towards the end and added hot peppers for those of us who preferred hot food. This is especially useful if you have children.

I admit I’ve had better chili, but this one is easy to like.

Chili from Mrs. Owen’s Cookbook (1880)

  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • Whole dried peppers, seeded
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground oregano
  • 1 tablespoon of flour
  • cooked beans (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Lean roast beef, cut into small cubes
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 tablespoons of Espagnole (a brown sauce, also called demi-glace)

Cook your beef in vegetable oil over medium heat until browned on all sides. Add onions, garlic and flour. Mix to make a roux paste in the stock, then add water or broth and the Espagnole, oregano, cumin and coriander.
In a separate pot, cover the dried peppers with water and boil them. Once tender, pass them through a fine sieve to make a puree. Use this mash to make your chili as spicy as you like.

Add the beans to your chili mixture and simmer the entire pot until thickened. Salt to taste.

Travis Grimler is a weekly editor for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He can be reached at 218-855-5853 or

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