On a crisp Saturday morning in September, lines are forming outside the wooden barrier that keeps the chili lovers safely separated from the flames of the chili roasters. From the moment you step outside your vehicle, the scintillating aroma of roasting chili captures your attention, conjuring up memories associated with this unique odor and time of the year. It is just another one of the many annual traditions in New Mexico and it brings out the diehards in droves. My favorite stand is Wagner’s Farm in Corrales, a small agricultural community outside Albuquerque, owned by four generations of the Wagner family since 1910. Besides the fresh produce, they have hay rides, a pumpkin patch, a corn maze and a petting zoo which makes for a busy day for the children. www.wagnerfarmscorrales.com
Ristras are red chilies hung from twine, which serve a dual purpose: to keep a ready supply nearby that one can simply pick off the rope and also to offer a bright visual that is a work of art. They are strung across the face of the farm stand in different sizes, casting a welcoming banner. Inside the “stand,” which is really a full sized building, there is bin after bin of fresh produce, from corn, squash, peaches, pumpkins, okra, green beans, cucumbers and jalapenos to melons, varieties of apples and of course a whole wall of chili options from the mildest to the extra hot, in either bushel or standard burlap bag size. If you have the freezer space and want your chili to last all winter, most folks grab the large burlap bag, throw it into the cart, pay for it with cash or a check, (no credit card accepted), and take it outside to the roasting area to await their turn. Today the line is long and the customers take this opportunity to catch up with each other on the local news.
These farm stands are all over New Mexico during the chili harvest season, well known throughout the world as simply the best chili there is. Even next door in Arizona, the taste cannot be compared to the crop that is harvested in the Land of Enchantment. Fortunately today, those who live far away need not be deprived as many varieties can be bought on the internet. However, the experience of getting your chili freshly roasted is truly a treat. The aroma will stay in the vehicle for several days and it smells just wonderful. Once home, the chili must cool down so the sack is opened and allowed to cool to room temperature. Some like to peel their chilies before freezing, which makes it easier when you want to use them later. Others freeze it with the skins on as the chilies are easily peeled as they are defrosting at a later time. I use both quart and gallon bags to allow for a more appropriate amount for any given dish. A gallon bag would definitely go into a large green chili stew; several from a small bag would go into a batch of scrambled eggs.
One of my favorite breakfasts is a salmon and green chili omelet. My favorite chili is the Sandia hot variety, which has a nice warming effect on the tummy without an actual burning sensation. If I have a grilled salmon steak for dinner, I put some aside to put in an omelet later. Along with two or three chilies and some melted cheese on top, it is a wonderful meal to start off the day.