A few weeks ago, reader Beth Gillham, who taught dietetics and nutrition at the University of Texas from 1975 to 2005, emailed me to ask if I could find a recipe that ran about a decade ago:
"I have been trying without success to discover how to search old editions of the Statesman for recipes. Specifically, I am looking for a chicken chipotle chili that I believe had been collected from Jordan and Jaxon Shipley’s grandmother. I used it several years back but have misplaced it and have been wanting to find it again."
Now that the weather is starting to feel more fall-like, I was excited to find a chipotle chicken chili that had a little history, but when I searched for "chicken chili," I didn’t find anything that matched her request.
So I went down the grandma rabbit hole and discovered a delightful 2009 story from Mike Leggett about Wilma Shipley, the Burnet resident who, at that time, was watching her grandson Jordan become a star of the Longhorn football team.
A few years later, another grandson, Jaxon, would join the ranks of all-time great UT receivers, which wasn’t surprising for this family of football players. Wilma Shipley’s husband, Dan, who went to SMU and was a minister for more than 50 years, and three sons played college football.
Dan died in 2011, not long after his wife’s recipes were featured in the paper and grandson Jordan, who caught the most passes in UT history, got drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. Younger grandson Jaxon Shipley rose to third on the Longhorns’ career receptions list before graduating in 2015. Son Bob retired from coaching high school in 2017 and now works as a liaison between high school programs and the Longhorns.
Daughter Julie continues to work as a librarian at an elementary school in Burnet, and she’s the one who helped me connect with Wilma, now 88, last week to talk about her newspaper clipping-worthy soup and what she’s been up to during this most unusual year.
"I was afraid to stick a toe outside at first," the former elementary school librarian says of the coronavirus, "but as time went on, I go wherever I want to. I go to church, visit elderly friends, visit my family."
On Sundays, she hosts lunch after church with Julie, son Stephen and their families, which brings us to the recipes that Beth had clipped and misplaced.
Wilma’s recipes for tortilla soup and Hopkins County Stew aren’t exactly chili, but I can see how it would be remembered as one. The tortilla soup is an easy version of a widely loved Mexican dish, but the "old timey" stew, as Shipley calls it, offers a history lesson from Shipley’s native Hopkins County in Northeast Texas.
Hopkins County Stew dates back to the late 1800s, when, according to the Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce, the 100 or so schools in the area would cook a stew supper in a big pot over an open fire to celebrate the end of the school year. (Sulphur Springs hosted the 51st annual Hopkins County Stew cook-off last weekend.)
"Families just brought what they had and threw it in the pot," the chamber says on its website. "The meat most likely was squirrel, and typically the most dominant vegetables were potatoes, onions, corn and tomatoes."
It was a humble, efficient way to feed a lot of people, but it’s since become a beloved tradition for many families in the area, and even for people like Wilma who now live somewhere else.
These days, when Shipley’s cooking Sunday supper, she’ll sometimes make the Hopkins County Stew, but usually, she’ll put a pot roast or a chicken in the oven before she goes to church. She also starts a batch of yeast rolls and lets the dough rise while she’s gone.
"A lot of young cooks think making yeast rolls is something really difficult, but it’s not," she says.
After making them so often, she rarely measures all the ingredients, but she explained her process: Start with a cup and a half of warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add 1 tablespoon yeast and 1/4 cup of sugar. Stir that up and let it sit until it foams, and then add 1/4 cup of melted butter, a teaspoon of salt and an egg.
Mix those ingredients together and then start adding flour until it pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl but doesn’t get too stiff.
She turns out the dough on a floured counter and kneads it for a few minutes. Place it in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for a few hours. She then pulls out pieces of the dough — smaller than a golf ball, she notes — and places them in a buttered (or Crisco’d) 9-inch-by-14-inch baking dish. Let those balls of dough rise, covered, for about an hour and then bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes.
"The kids love it," Shipley says, not referring to any of her sprawling family specifically.
With 13 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren (and the 19th on the way, not to mention her first great-great-grandchild), Wilma doesn’t let a day go by without counting her blessings for "good health and a good mind."
After all these years either playing football or watching from the stands, it wouldn’t be a Shipley family get-together without a little football in the mix. "I still watch football, but it’s not as exciting as when they were playing," she says.
In addition to her husband and sons playing college football, so did four of her grandsons, and now several of her great-grandsons are already picking up the sport, including Jaxon’s son, Stone, who is growing up in Austin.
It’s rare that all 50 members of Wilma’s family can get together, especially during a year like this one, but this Thanksgiving, she’s hoping to host a dinner on Friday or Saturday. It always depends on the football schedule. "If everybody was here, we’d spill out into the backyard, but that would be OK."
Hopkins County Stew
This is a base recipe that is intended to be adapted to what you have on hand. Old-timers used to use squirrels or rabbits in place of the chicken, Shipley says. This is a good way to use leftover turkey, but you must make it the same day the turkey is cooked, even if you don't eat it then, she adds. Wait to add the corn until the end or it will stick on the bottom of the pot and burn.
— Addie Broyles
1 whole chicken
3 potatoes, diced
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 heaping tablespoon chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1 can cream-style corn
Boil the chicken until tender, saving the broth. Remove meat from bones and cut up. Return meat to broth and add the vegetables and seasonings. Save corn until later. Simmer for an hour or longer if you can, stirring occasionally. (The longer it cooks, the better it is.) Add the corn when the vegetables are tender. Serve the stew with saltine crackers, slices of longhorn cheese and sweet pickles.
— Wilma Shipley
Wilma Shipley makes these yeast rolls to go with just about every Sunday supper. It’s a good recipe to serve at holiday dinners, too. She rarely measures the flour, so adjust the measurements according to how the dough looks, she says.
— Addie Broyles
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
Place water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add yeast and sugar and stir. Let sit for 10 minutes. Add butter, salt and egg, and mix to combine.
Add flour, one cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl but doesn’t get too stiff. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. Place dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for at least 2 hours.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch-by-14-inch baking dish with butter or Crisco. Roll dough into small balls and place in the baking dish. Cover and let rise for an hour. Bake for about 20 minutes. Makes about 20 rolls.
— Wilma Shipley
This is another soup that Wilma Shipley loves to make, especially when the weather turns cold.
— Addie Broyles
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
2 pounds boneless chicken, cooked and cubed
5 cups chicken broth, canned or homemade
1 (10-ounce) can Rotel tomatoes and chiles
1 (7-ounce) can chopped green chiles
1 (16-ounce) can stewed tomatoes
1 (10-ounce) can beef broth
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups cooked pinto beans (optional)
Grated cheese (Monterey Jack or cheddar)
Tortilla chips, for serving.
Sauté pepper, garlic and onion in small amount of oil. Add all other ingredients except beans, cheese and chips, and simmer for at least one hour. Add two cups beans. Serve in bowls, top with cheese and tortilla chips.
— Wilma Shipley