Simple ground beef chili
Republic Steel Corporation (originally named Alabama Steel and Wire Company) came to Gadsden, AL in the early 1900s. A massive blast furnace was erected along with four 50-ton open-hearth furnaces with an annual rated capacity of 120,000 tons of ingots. In 1904, the first steel was produced at the plant.
For nearly 100 years, Republic Steel was one of Etowah County's largest employers. Everyone it seemed had a family member or friend who worked at "the plant." The plant had several owners before closing its gates in 2000, but the memories of the employees and their families will last forever.
My father was a pipe fitter with Republic Steel Corporation from Dec. 15, 1955, until Dec. 15, 1985. He made lifelong friends during his 30-year employment with the plant, and his job there allowed him to provide for his family and enabled us to enjoy a one-week vacation each year in Panama City Beach, Florida and an occasional road trip to Cherokee, North Carolina.
One of the highlights of my little girl life was going with my mama to pick up my daddy on the occasional Friday. She would allow me to sit on the bench outside the plant and wait on the 3 p.m. whistle to blow (I learned quickly to cover my ears) and watch all the workers rushing to clock out to go home.
When you're working with the same men day in and day out, naturally, a camaraderie is built. And, as is the case many times, that bond will include food. The steel plant was known to be one of the hottest places to work during the summer and one of the coldest environments in the wintertime. No one can agree on the details of how this recipe came to be other than chili was the subject one day, and various methods and likes and dislikes were open for debate and discussion.
The pipe shop foreman told the men to bring in their favorite ingredients, and he'd see what he could do with them. The result? What our family, and I'm sure several others, will always refer to as Republic Steel Chili. No hard-to-find ingredients here, just a working man's pot of chili. For anyone reading this who might have had a connection with Republic Steel in Gadsden, or any steel mill across the county, I hope this column brings a smile to your face and recalls good memories.
Republic Steel-Style Chili (Circa 1980)
2 to 2 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large white onions, chopped
1 quart whole tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons Tabasco hot sauce
1 to 2 packages chili seasoning mix
1 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
In a large Dutch oven, brown ground beef and drain. While meat is browning, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and, stirring occasionally, let them cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and add to the ground beef.
And tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar, Tabasco and chili seasoning mix. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, breaking up whole tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Cover and reduce heat so that chili simmers for 1 to 2 hours. Stir occasionally to keep from sticking.
Mix water and flour to form a slurry and add to the chili to thicken. Let simmer another 30 minutes or so. Taste and add salt if needed. Serve hot with lots of saltine crackers.