Red chile ristras are strung pods of dried red chile frequently displayed near arches, front doors and windows throughout New Mexico. They are iconic in Santa Fe for decorating, especially during harvest months- September and October. Holidays also are popular times and are symbolic of a warm, inviting “welcome.” Ristras have practical uses as well. Red Chile is the featured ingredient of delicious sauces, marinade, and traditional New Mexican culinary dishes.
New Mexico’s arid climate and abundant sunshine provide ideal conditions for annual chile crops which on average produce 80,000 tons a year. Late summer, early fall are unique times when large chile pepper crops are harvested and frequently picked fresh, roasted and eaten as green chile. When the fruit is left on the plant a little longer to ripen, it turns a vibrant red. This causes the fruit to completely change its properties and then is dried, crushed and eaten. Red chile is often strung up into chile ristras to dehydrate in the sun.
Traditional methods were to sun-dry fruits by laying them out, however, contamination among birds and rodents has prompted people to begin tying them together in strings and hanging them on walls, etc. However, you can still see rooftops of homes, stores covered in red chile for drying purposes – especially in the little town of Hatch, NM! Hatch is known at the Chile Capital of the World and rightly so. It grows more green chile than anywhere on earth and its crops are highly sought after by locals and tourists alike! As ristras dry their color darkens to a subtle rusty red color. At this point, they are ready to use in cooking or as decoration as ristras!
Dried Red Chile Ristra as Decorations:
Fall traditions of Santa Fe, New Mexico include red chile ristras adorning farmers markets and roadside stands around the state. Red Chile Ristras are commonly used for decoration as seen with backgrounds of adobe brown buildings. They are said to bring health and good luck! Interested in taking a good luck chile ristra home with you? We invite you to enjoy the thrill of fall Santa Fe travel with the purpose of purchasing a red chile ristras for yourself. They make great gifts too! A visit to Santa Fe in fall is much more advised as boxing and mailing isn’t a preferred method in handling these beauties! Their vibrant red color makes for a memorable statement for welcomed guests. New Mexico’s arid dry climate provides a perfect showcase for these lovely hanging chiles, however, they might not do so well back home. If visiting Santa Fe from a more humid state, your ristra may need to be treated with lacquer before taking it home. Lacquer will help preserve the chile from moisture in the air and avoid messes later on. We use Aquanet hairspray on ours- even in Santa Fe to highlight the color, prevent flying pests from enjoying the chile, and simply to provide a longer hanging life!
Dried Chile in Cooking
Use dried red chile in cooking, either crushed as powder or rehydrated, blended, boiled and then strained to make red chile sauce (also just called “red chile”). Red Chile, along with green chile, is a staple in traditional New Mexican cuisine! Red chile sauces can be ladled over dishes, such as enchiladas and tamales; used as base for stews, such as posole; or marinade for meats, as with carne adovada. Green chile, however, is most often used in soups, dips and chowders. Regardless of how you choose to use chile- red or green- it’s a New Mexico tradition! Pueblo Bonito bed and breakfast is famous for their “Pueblo Tamale” which is featured every morning for breakfast. How better to start your day than a red chile pork tamale with fresh fruit and coffee?