IT WAS A NEWBIE MISTAKE. Back in March, I’d purchased a few jars of Hatch green chile salsa and mentioned in a meeting that they weren’t as spicy as I expected. “To New Mexicans, it’s not about the heat,” I was told. “It’s about the flavor.”
Okay, so my first lesson in chiles stung like a bhut jolokia, but I very quickly realized two things. First, I was nowhere near ready to wade into the red-versus-green debate. (Just give me Christmas, thanks.) And, more important, New Mexicans have some serious passion for this fruit in all its various forms.
I learned a long time ago that food writing isn’t really about what’s on the plate; it’s everything that goes into it—how history, culture, art, science, family, and love add distinct flavors.
Each chile you roast or stuff or tie into a ristra is part of an important story—a very New Mexico story. It’s how New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute has blossomed, in less than 30 years, from a tiny, closet-size space to encompass a shop, teaching garden, test plots, laboratories, seed bank, and more.
It’s also why NMSU’s Paul Bosland spent a decade working to recapture the lost flavor profile of the Big Jim, and how Jemez Pueblo Governor David Toledo feels while looking out over his quarter-acre garden—the result of seeds handed down through generations.
It’s what the Río Grande, long, hot days, and rock and soil impart—terroir, as the wine connoisseurs call it.
It’s what it means to put in time on the farm, in the lab, or in the kitchen to get things just right. It’s why the scent of chiles roasting or a plate of chiles rellenos transports us to another time or another place. It’s memory, taste, and scent all rolled into one. Or, as Tía Sophia’s owner Nick Maryol told me about his family’s chile, “It’s a big, spicy, hunger-feeding hug from Mom and Dad.”
We hope this special September/October issue will warm your soul for an extra month (no need to freeze; the issue keeps just fine on the coffee table). We’ll also make sure all subscribers get one issue tacked onto their subscription.
As a newbie, I plan to follow the wisdom of chile roaster Matt Romero: “Green chile is why you move here, red chile is why you stay.” I’ll happily—and hungrily—continue my research until I’m very well acquainted with this place.