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60-year tradition for DeLeon clan
Shelly Beck and Don Joaquin collect Chili Colorado samples from Michael Dale of family team El Diablo Chili before the judging starts for Saturdays DeLeon Ultimate 7th Annual Chili Cook-off and Family Reunion. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Family, food and fun.

That’s what Joe and Eloisa DeLeon loved.

Their children, great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, and other relatives, neighbors, and friends gathered Saturday to continue a tradition the couple started when they moved to Manteca in 1945 and built a home with a large patio for family gatherings in the 100 block of West Wetmore Street south of downtown — a Chili Verde cook-off and potluck.

There were a little more than 100 family and friends attending this year — down from previous years. Even so it brought relatives from as far away as Susanville and Maui. The format was changed a bit this year. Instead of Chili Verde, they changed the competitive dish to Chili Colorado and added a ribs category.

Even though they change judges every year, daughter Charlene May said they wanted to mix it up to include others in the competition who may not know their way around the kitchen when it comes to whipping up Chili Verde.

This year the Chili Colorado winners were Tino and Myrtle Rosillo. Judged as making the best ribs were John and Tori Perez along with Tim Vicks of the Cast Iron Cook team.

Competitors bring all of their own ingredients and equipment and set up under tents in the expansive backyard of the home where one of the DeLeons’ daughters now lives. Other guests bring potluck dishes.

The DeLeons brought six children when they came to Manteca for work with the intent to build a better future for their family. The six children helped them build the house that Eloisa insisted have a large patio and backyard for family gatherings and parties. The family grew to 12 children over time.

May said there was something going on for family and friends every holiday in the backyard including Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

May recalls one Easter gathering where her grandmother Eloisa looked out in the yard full of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren extended her arms and proudly proclaimed, “I’m responsible for all this!”

“Family was very important to her,” May said.

While gatherings of family friends never stopped, the Chili Verde competition went to the wayside in the 1950s.

“We always have friends coming up to use any telling us how they remembered going to (the parties) and saying how much they enjoyed it,” May said.

Seven  years ago neighbor Vic Robles asked why the family wasn’t continuing the tradition that Eloisa created after listening to family members brag that no one could make Chili Verde as good as they could.

“Every year there are old faces including neighbors that moved away and new ones (from new neighbors).” May said. “It is just as (Eloisa) wanted it.”