A Splash of southwest Fall color
Every year in September and October, all of New Mexico becomes dotted with splashes of red, as if an artist painted the scene. These colors come from chile ristras, one of the most beautiful things in New Mexico.
A chile ristra is simply put, just a string of dried or drying chili peppers. Although any pepper can theoretically be used, New Mexico chile peppers are the ideal chile for them due to their size and sturdy nature. After all, Hatch chile is not known for its spiciness as much as its size and overall flavor. The thick meaty walls are resistant to breakage, and they even hold up well under direct sunlight.
Ristras have been made for hundreds of years in order to preserve chile peppers and prevent birds from stealing such a precious food source. A fun fact that many New Mexicans know is that birds are immune to capsaicin.
Ristras are great for a few reasons. First is that they make a beautiful decoration for yourself or someone you care about. Anyone would be happy to receive such a unique and useful gift. Another great reason is the flavor. Hatch chile is famous for a reason, it tastes amazing! A chile ristra is an aesthetically pleasing food storage system. What’s not to like?
Personally, I keep mine in the kitchen, where it is close if I need to quickly blend up a nice chile sauce. Another benefit of the kitchen is it stays out of the elements. Wind and rain are a giant nono for keeping a red chile ristra in good condition, and the sun will also leave its mark, though not as quickly. Many people like to hang them outside their front door as a welcoming touch, similar to a Christmas wreath. A patio can work great, provided it is somewhat sheltered from the wind and rain.
Although most ristras in New Mexico are made with Sandia chile, many others are made with colorful chile varieties as well. Additionally, many special shaped ristras are made with chile de arbol, because its long and woody stem is easy to arrange.
In Mexico especially, but also in New Mexico, you will often see other things tied into ristras. Perhaps the most common of these are garlic ristras, but other vegetables are sometimes used as well. Hanging things on strings is great to keep them away from most pests. Growing food takes a lot of work, and it is really unfortunate if that work is gobbled up by mice, birds, or some other thieving animal.
I highly recommend checking out a chile roaster to see the large selection of ristras that are available. My favorite location is Farmers Chile Market at 2010 Eubank Blvd NE. There are a ton of different options available, so find a convenient place on google maps and head over. If you travel to New Mexico for the Balloon Fiesta, you can be sure that there will be plenty of places with lots of ristras for sale. Best of all, the event is in early October, which means you can also catch some late season Autumn roast green chile.
Although I love red chile ristras, green chile is more famous, largely due to its convenience. The fact is, you can put fresh roasted green chile in or on just about anything. From tacos to pasta, soups, or even desserts, green chile is a huge part of New Mexican culture in Las Cruces, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and everywhere in between. Hatch is famous for chile, but there is great chile all over in the Land of Enchantment, and we like it hot over here.New Mexico Chile Ristras