New Mexico Chile Facts
Did you know 7,000 years ago chile originated in Bolivia & Peru? Or that Columbus introduced chile into Europe around 1650? Did you know Europeans thought it was a spice, something like black pepper then ingeniously named it Red Pepper? The spicy unique flavor of chili has taken hold of palates across the world and particularly those in America. Did you know the state of New Mexico leads the US in the production of chile? Well, if you didn’t and want to learn more- read on!
Chile is classified as a vegetable when green and as a spice when dried and ground into a powder. Green chile can contain up to 6 times more vitamin C than a Florida orange, while Red chile can contain two times more Vitamin A than a carrot. Red chile is said to be hotter than green because of its extended exposure to the sun.
People once traditionally dried chile on the ground or on roof tops (which can still be observed today). Approximately 100 year ago experimentation with methods to keep chile pods cleaner and away from birds resulted in today’s version of the Chile Ristra (chile pods hung on a string). This method proved beneficial to elongating the shelf life of the delightful crop. Thus began the tradition of hanging the ristra in front of ones home, which soon turned into the popular belief that this was a welcome sign to visitors. It’s also believed that hanging a chile ristra in front of your door brings good health and fortune to those who occupy the home. Chile has more recently become a popular decorative element inside the home. Creativity has spawned many craft item in various shapes, sizes and colors (red, green and yellow). Popular chile rista shapes consist of wreaths, crosses, and hearts that are frequently paired with colored corn, shredded husks and dried flowers to make beautiful home décor.
New Mexico Chile Traditions
End of August ushers in harvest time for chile farmers in New Mexico. Cities and communities throughout the state celebrate this important harvest with diverse, yet always tasty festivals like the popular Hatch Chile Festival in Hatch New Mexico held over Labor Day Weekend; the Whole Enchilada Festival held in Las Cruces late September; Santa Fe’s Wine & Chile Festival as well as the Fiesta de Santa Fe held in the Capitol city mid to late September to name a just few. Though chile peppers are small in stature they are a huge part of New Mexico’s heritage, culture and are a central part to most loved New Mexico traditions and celebrations. The sweet fiery scent of roasted chilies filling the late summer and crisp fall air bring welcomed comfort to visitors and locals alike.
Sample of a typical New Mexico Chile Recipe that is simple and freezes well follows: Note: *This recipe and others can be found in the “Red Chile Bible” a book available for purchase from Pueblo Bonito bed & breakfast for $13.00 plus shipping/handling. Limited supplies available so order yours today 1-800-461-4599. Enjoy!
Pork with Chile Colorado*
3 Tbs. lard or vegetable oil 4 New Mexico chilies
1.5 lbs. boned pork shoulder, cut into 1” chunks
2 lg cloves garlic 1 tsp. cumin seeds, toasted & grounded
1 tsp. Mexican oregano ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. salt 2 cups rich chicken broth
Heat oil in large heavy pot and brown pork in batches over high heat. Remove to a plate. Wipe the dried chile with a damp cloth, discard the stems and seeds, and tear into pieces. Fry the chile in the hot oil until fragrant (about 5 minutes), stirring to prevent scorching. Remove to a bowl, cover with boiling water, and soften (20 or 30 minutes). Put chile in a blender with about ½ cup of the soaking water and the garlic, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, and salt. Blend to a puree. Reheat the oil in the pot, and pour the puree into the hot oil. Sauté the puree, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Stir the stock into the puree, and then return the pork to the pot. Bring the stew to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and stew the meat slowly for about an hour. Remove the cover and continue simmering 30 minutes to an hour until the pork is very tender. Add more chicken stock, if necessary, to keep the meat moist. Serves 4.