Not Your (grandmother’s) Classic Chili

We visit Ratchford Buffalo Farm in marshall to try an old family recipe 

By Lacey Thacker  
Photos by Matthew Martin

Homemade cornbread, sour cream and cheese are the perfect toppings for a heaping bowl of buffalo chili

Homemade cornbread, sour cream and cheese are the perfect toppings for a heaping bowl of buffalo chili

 

“I couldn’t do any of this without them,” LC Ratchford says of the help he receives from his family on his farm, Ratchford Buffalo Farm in Marshall. On this particular day, his mother, called Granny Madge, sister Delora and niece Tabitha are cooking a big pot of chili from a recipe LC can’t put an exact age to, but estimates to be between 100 and 130 years old.

We’re sitting in the living room of a cabin made from reclaimed wood LC and a couple of hired hands built several years ago, surrounded by hand-planed cedar walls and stuffed creatures from land, sky and water. 

LC, the youngest of six children, grew up on this farm, where his parents grew strawberries. While they had several crops and livestock, strawberries are what draw the most conversation.

Granny Madge remembers working in the field during the day and spending evenings making strawberry crates by hand, often working ten- or twelve-hour days. “They probably had as many strawberries on their one farm then as there are now in Arkansas combined,” LC comments, to which his mother replies, “Oh, honey—as they are now? There were twice as many!” Delora affirms that at the time their farm raised more strawberries than any other farm in Arkansas. 

Though strawberries were a big cash crop for the family, their cattle also have quite a story. According to LC, an ancestor of theirs from Georgia served in the Civil War before coming to Arkansas. “The story I got was that he actually got out [of the state] with a herd of cattle and drove ’em into this area. We’ve had the descendants of the same cattle [ever since]. I like to think they’re superior. We’ve got a very docile herd; that’s what we breed for.

“I always wanted to farm full time, then when I was 13 or 14 I decided welding was the way to make the money, because it was going to take a lot of money,” LC adds. As for the buffalo? LC credits a PBS special he saw on television as a child with lighting a fire under him. From the moment he watched it, he said he was going to raise them, and he committed to his path. He’s been farming full time for about 16 years.

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As LC begins to serve the chili, he says, “You’re gonna love this chili. I’ve been eating it my whole life and I still can’t get enough.” Now that LC is in buffalo, they frequently use that variety of meat instead of cow, though any kind will work. The final ingredient added is Granny Madge’s homemade tomato juice, though she won’t give up the recipe. It’s so good I pour a glass     by itself.

After I put some Fritos and cheese in my bowl, I top it with a generous portion of chili. When I finally take a bite, it tastes like fall should taste. All we need now is a fire pit to sit around. 

“The fat of the oil is basically nonexistent,” LC remarks, referring to the lack of grease in the chili. And he’s right—it’s as lean as any chili I’ve ever had. And the flavor? Beyond comparison. 

Ready to make your first pot of fall chili? Granny Madge has you covered. She was kind enough to share her recipe—though, you’ll have to find your own tomato juice.

 
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Ratchford Family Chili

Ingredients: 
2 pounds ground buffalo meat
1 ounce chili powder
12 ounces stewed tomatoes
½  quart of Granny Madge’s tomato juice
12 ounces cooked red beans
Worstershire to taste
Salt to taste

Directions:
Combine all ingredients in a crockpot on High for 4-6 hours depending on model. 

Serve warm and top with shredded cheese, sour cream, and corn chips or cornbread.