The Great Chili Cook-Off

by Eric Ode
At the Great Chili Cook-Off of Tenderfoot Valley,
the whole town was gathered—each Tom, Dick, and Sally—
to see who would win and be given the crown
of Chili Bean Princess of Tenderfoot Town.

Now, Millicent Milkweed was graceful and stunning,
and she’d been the winner for seven years running.
She stood near her kettle with beauty and style
and waved to the crowd with a confident smile.

The other contestants expected the worst:
that Millicent’s chili would surely be first.
The best they could hope for, as far as they reckoned,
was coming in third or perhaps even second.

A sweet, spicy smell filled the fall afternoon
as bravely they waited with kettle and spoon.
Then in walked a lady quite new to the town,
with sun-speckled freckles of cinnamon brown.

She carried a kettle that gurgled and bubbled
and sheepishly grinned, looking timid and troubled.
Her hair, like a bison’s, was woolly and shaggy.
Her apron was rumpled. Her bonnet was baggy.

She set down her kettle on top of the table
and brushed from her fingers the dirt from her stable.
She smoothed out her dress for a moment or two
and pulled out a spoon she had tucked in her

Then Millicent glared at this strange-looking lady,
who said to her, “Howdy. I’m Isabelle Grady.
I came here as soon as I finished my chores.
I hope I ain’t late for this contest of yours.”

The judge entered in with a top hat and suit.
He turned to the crowd, and he gave a salute.
He said not a word, but was off like a shot
to see what he’d find in the first chili pot.

This chili belonged to one Bernadette Bly,
who watched as the judge gave her chili a try.
He grunted, and soon without further ado,
he moved down the table to pot number two.

Now, pot number two the judge met with a yawn.
He sniffed and he nibbled, but soon he was gone.
And three, four, and five were each greeted the same.
That judge hurried on just as quick as he came.

But pot number six—that was Millicent’s chili.
She smiled at the judge, and he winked back at Millie.
He said as he tasted, “Well, Millicent dear,
that’s pretty good chili you’ve cooked up this year.”

“But still,” said the judge, “there’s no need to be hasty.
There’s one kettle left, and it smells rather tasty.”
He lowered a spoon into Isabelle’s pot
and said to her, “Now then, let’s see what you’ve got.”

The judge took a bite, and he blinked and he shivered.
His mouth, it dropped open. His mustache, it quivered.
And long wisps of steam drifted up from his nose
while billows of smoke left his fingers and toes.

And then before anyone there was the wiser,
he flew through the air as if shot from a geyser.
But Isabelle heard as he vanished from sight,
“Now, that pot of chili is just about right!”

Text © Eric Ode, reprinted from Tall Tales of the Wild West (And a Few Short Ones), published by Meadowbrook Press. Illustration © Ben Crane. Any copying or use of this poem or illustration without consent is unlawful.

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