Friday, August 29, 2014

A visit to Chile Traditions


 







To me, fall is the best time of year where I live. The monsoon fizzles out, but the weather is cooling down gradually. It's more comfortable to be outside. The sky during these months is beautiful. Oh, it's heartbreaking: dark blue, clear and open. You feel like it could draw you right up, envelop you in a cerulean cloak. Everywhere you look, there is a new burst of color: pyracantha studded with orange berries, locusts and cottonwoods newly tinged with gold, chamisa blooming sunshine-yellow. And the cooler weather is so welcome after the long, hot summer. I can't wait to wear my new brown ankle boots this year, to pile on scarves and a slouchy hat. Fall is my extra-super favorite.

In New Mexico, autumn begins in late August with the arrival of Hatch chiles in our grocery stores and at roadside stands. Hatch chiles are important to our state's economy and the chile is our official state vegetable. New Mexican cuisine makes heavy use of chiles in stews and sauces, and you can get chopped, roasted green chile on your burger in any fast-food outlet. This time of year, you can smell roasting chiles on the breeze, as chile vendors often roast them on site for customers. People also roast them at home, on barbecue grills. It's a spicy, smoky smell and it's everywhere. Roasting chile might as well be the official state scent.

This morning, I had several hours alone while the children were in school. I'm enjoying my new routine very much and making the most of my time, let me tell you. I was mostly shopping for party supplies - we've got a little girl turning six next weekend. A Frozen-themed party is planned. In Target, there was a little girl singing "Let It Go" while I shopped. It's a mania! Anyway, afterward I stopped off to see my favorite chile vendor, Chile Traditions, who operate a late-summer roadside stand in addition to their brick-and-mortar store nearby. I wanted to buy a new ristra, a decoration made from strung-together red chiles. I've always had one on the front of the house, near the front door. Ristras are a sign of welcome here in the Southwest. I buy a new one every couple of years, once the previous one has begun to dry out and fall apart. I love the look of them; at Chile Traditions, you can buy them in two sizes and different colors - all red or green, or mixed shades of red, yellow and green in one ristra. I chose a new all-red one, with large peppers. My old one was red too, but made of lots of tiny peppers. I felt like a change.

While I was there, I asked the manager if I could take some photos around the site, to share on my blog. He didn't mind, and I was soon snapping away. Chile Traditions' roadside stand is comprised of two big trailers where supplies are kept, with attached tents for displaying the chiles and making transactions. There's a sort of corral in front of the trailers where the roasters are kept; these are giant black metal contraptions outfitted with gas fires to roast the chiles. The workers load the chiles right into the metal drum and turn it to keep the chiles moving over the fire. It's hot work and there's a fair amount of smoke. The scent of the chiles is intense if you're standing close by; your eyes might start to water. The customer buys the chiles first, then they're roasted and returned to the customer in a big plastic bag, to be taken home and prepared. This is a huge task, one I don't enjoy - every pepper has to be peeled, the burnt outer layer of skin removed by hand (latex gloves are a must; don't touch your eyes!). The bag will have a lot of juice in the bottom and it drips everywhere. But every year, people buy 40, 50, 100 pounds of chiles and they get to work peeling and chopping and freezing - a whole year's supply of roasted chiles to hand whenever they want them (you can buy frozen ones all year in most food stores, but many people think it just isn't the same).

Usually, I just buy a few chiles and roast them on the grill at home. I'm not a big chile-eater, but I'll take a little here and there if it's not too hot. Chiles can be really spicy. I wanted to buy just six chiles today - the "medium" variety - mostly for the Bear to eat over the next few weeks. The manager very kindly included the chiles for free with my ristra purchase. He did that last time I bought a ristra too. I am certain I will always buy my ristras from him. I took my new ristra and my chiles to the car (you park in a dirt lot behind the trailers) and drove to my kids' school, hot sun on my face, the scent of roasting chiles still in my nose, my dusty, cherry-red ristra on the passenger-side floor. Have I mentioned how much I love living in this quirky place, with its beautiful skies and peculiar cultural staples? Oh, but I really do.

Chile Traditions roadside stand is located in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights, at the corner of Montgomery and Wyoming Boulevards. Their shop is just around the corner on Montgomery, in La Mirada shopping center.

46 comments:

  1. What an interesting post! I learnt a lot of new things today! Thank you! J x

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  2. I loved this post, Jennifer! I almost felt like I was there, smelling the roasting chiles. It is so different than where I live, which is one of the reasons I love reading blogs. I learn so many new things. I think your rostra is beautiful, as is the place where you live.

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  3. This is the sort of thing that I love reading about and finding out more about, things that would never happen over here. It is interesting to see and hear about you. I hope that you enjoy your new ristra and the chillies - and the birthday party! xx

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  4. I also get my chiles from Chile Traditions! How funny that we go to the same place. I'll be getting my chiles in a few weeks, but I am loving the smell in the air!

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  5. I love the ristra photos up there! They are beautiful set against the the sky and the mustard wall! And how very cool are these traditions where you live! It is what gives each region of our country unique "flavors" if you will! And how fantastic to be having a frozen party for your sweetie! It is mania! My daughter hasn't even seen the movie though we did read the book and she is taken with it as well! I am so glad you are enjoying your little me moments in the morning when the kids are at school! Wishing you a lovely weekend! Nicole xoxo

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  6. I think it's wonderful that you immerse yourself in the local traditions like that. I have always loved seeing ristras in decorating magazines when they do a shoot in NM. I would *love* to visit Taos, it's on my bucket list. Enjoy your fall.. I'm looking forward to bringing out all my pumpkins! ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  7. This was really interesting Jennifer. I had never heard of a ristra. I don't like lots of spices so I don't think I would do well eating that cuisine. :-). That store looks and sounds like it would be really fun to go through and just look at everything.
    Frozen is SO popular with the little girls right now. Piper listens to the CD in the car and watches the movie whenever we let her. (24 hours a day if it were allowed!!)
    Blessings,
    Betsy

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  8. Oh what a wonderful post! Full of lovely colour-words and great descriptions. Those ristras are beautiful - it's the first time I've heard what they're called. I love that phone number too. :)

    Enjoy your chiles and your pleasant weather.

    P.S. What a very handsome door in the next-to-last photo. Is it yours?

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  9. love that you posted this and funny because I am planning to get my chile this weekend and was hoping to get some pictures for my blog! I usually go to Wagners, they have really good green chile stew! this is the BEST thing about living in NM in the fall :)
    xo Lindsay
    middleofsomewhereblog.blogspot.com

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  10. I don't really eat them but maybe I should give them a try x

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  11. SO interesting and different to here. I'm sure my husband would love the cuisine, he adores hot food and chillies.
    Glad to hear you are enjoying your new routine and making the most of your time.
    Have a great weekend. More rain here at the moment. x

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  12. wow, how fascinating, this is one of the things I love most about blogging, you learn so much about cultures around the world, with little insights like this x

    and I loved your comment about bears on North of 49!

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  13. I love that tradition of hanging a ristra as a welcoming sign !! It resembles a little bit the tradition in some european countries, to hang a string of garlic in the house, to keep the bad spirits away. But the chile string is far more attractive :-) !

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  14. Lovely post, Jennifer. And isn't it great to love the place you live. xxx

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  15. I loved reading this Jennifer, so interesting to hear about different places and traditions, the ristra's look lovely. :)

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  16. What an incredible blue sky! And incredible to my parochial little brain that we live thousands of miles apart yet in my garden too, the pyracantha is full of orange berries.
    Lovely post, always good to learn how other people live, their traditions and so on. I can't eat chillies, have never had a taste for hot foodstuffs at all, and couldn't eat them now even if I wanted to.
    Thanks for taking us with you!

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  17. I so enjoyed reading this post, Jennifer. I'd love to smell those chiles roasting. I have seen ristras before but had no idea that's what they're called. I'm having extreme blue sky envy right now, it's very murky here.

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  18. Oh how wonderful and happy birthday to miss 6 ☺ I love chiles and do love visiting your blog, you write such beautiful interesting things xoxoxo

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  19. Wow the aroma must be amazing and I love the tradition of hanging a bunch of chilies by your front door!!
    V x

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  20. Such an interesting post, I don't think I have ever seen anything like it. That is what I love about reading blogs you learn something new everyday.

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  21. I loved seeing all the ristras while in Santa Fe. And our motel room had tiny chili peppers all over the place as little signs of welcome. Have a great weekend. Tammy

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  22. What a lovely tradition, I had never heard of that before. The red and green ones look very xmassy :)

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  23. Thank you for sharing this! I love to know what makes a season what it is in various places. In Georgia September is time for peanut harvest which is dusty and dirty and when cotton fields look like snow with ripe cotton. For season foods, boiled peanut stands pop up nearly everywhere with a small propane tank and the aroma of boiling peanuts. In a couple of weeks we'll be heading to see our kids and I'll stop on the way down and probably back at a favorite family farm where they sell fresh boiled green peanuts.

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  24. I really like the sound of autumn in your part of the world! You painted a wonderfully vivid picture with words, here. x

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  25. Well, that was fun and interesting! I've always thought those ristras were pretty, but never knew the tradition or even that it had a name. So pretty!

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  26. I've never heard of a ristra, than you for educating me:) Plus I think I want one now. I wonder what Asda (one of our supermarket chains, owned by Walmart) will think when I go in and clear them out of chiles LOL
    My children go back to school on Weds for the oldest and Thurs for the others. I've loved the holidays, but I'm looking forward to some me-time too ;)
    Jillxx

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  27. What a lovely idea, to have a ristra hanging outside your front door to welcome visitors. It would rot here unfortunately, due to the wet weather. James has grown chillies this summer, inside on our window sill. I wonder if they are hot? Only one way to find out. I bet GB will love her Frozen party! I know I would. Cx

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  28. I'm not a chile lover but they're so pretty on the plant that I've grown them in the past. Perhaps I should grow them again and make my own ristra, something I've never heard of before reading your post.

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  29. Marvellous, I use lots of chillies and love spicy food. What I still can't get used to though is your looking forward to cooler weather. All things are relative I guess!

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  30. Wow, how lovely to have this tradition. I like a little chile, but not too much. I'd love to visit the shop and see the street vendors though. And of course I would try them. I grew loads last year, more than I could use. I'm wishing now I made a ristra, it's a great idea. CJ xx

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  31. My boyfriend remembers driving by this place almost every day while he lived in New Mexico. Thank you for re-sparking these memories.

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  32. The ristras are so pretty, I'd love one hanging at our front door. I love chillies love my sriracha sauce! Your post is so interesting !! So what are your fall and winters like? We always assume it's warm year round there but your elevation is quite high.

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  33. I really enjoyed read about this as it's so very different from anything we have here, lovely photos.

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  34. A fascinating post, Jennifer! Like entering a different world.! Blogging is so wonderful for learning about different cultures, and I was so interested to hear about this amazing place.
    Helen xox

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  35. They are so pretty hanging by the front door! New Mexico looks like a beautiful place to live. The bright, blue sky is just breathtaking!

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  36. Hi! Really enjoyed reading your post! I love chillies, so reading this made my mouth water! It must be lovely to be able to buy fresh chillies (and roasted ones, yummy!) like this! I never heard of a ristra, what a cool custom!!
    Greetings!
    Ingrid xx
    http://myfunkycrochet.blogspot.be

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  37. Oh my, we just had some roasted chilies the other day. So delicious! It looks like it was a beautiful day to be out and enjoy the fresh air. I love how this is a tradition for you all. I absolutely love creating memories while enjoying such great traditions. :) I hope all is well friend.

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  38. Such an interesting post Jennifer...fascinating in fact. I think my husband would really love to visit Chile Traditions, he is a big chilli fan. I love the chile ristras they look amazing.
    Marianne x

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  39. I've found this really interesting. My husband uses chiles in some of his cooking but not the very spicy ones as the girls and I are not big fans. I also think it's great how much you love the place where you live. It really comes across in your photos and posts.. Have a lovely week! x

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  40. Just picture perfect... Thank you x

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  41. I can just imagine the smells from your photos and words, Jennifer. I do not use a lot of chillies in my cooking, although my husband would like me too! I have got better over the years and braver. I get scared to use them as you can never really tell how strong they are going to be, or whether you have used too much! I loved your photos. The autumn is my favourite time as well. It's very fresh here, we might be lucky to get some sunshine too. Our garden usually gets full of leaves, you cannot see any ground underneath! I leave it like that and do not sweep up the leaves for a while, it's just nice to look out onto the garden and know it is definitely autumn! Have a lovely week. :)

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  42. It sounds like you live in an amazing place. Very different from where I live. I didn't know the chiles all tied up like that is called a ristra. I make a small one every few years from some of our own chiles. Ours our coming on well this year - grown in the greenhouse. They'll soon be ready to use.

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  43. What an interesting post, I'm not a chile eater, but my hubby really is, can't get enough, I think he'd love to visit your home town at this time of year! He would probably appreciate a ristra to decorate our house too, so pretty and different and dare I say... festive? It would make a fantastic addition to the christmas decorations... Tim also had green chiles as part of his wedding button hole! x

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  44. What a special tradition, Jennifer. I've never had a ristra in the entire time I've lived in AZ. I think it's great that New Mexico celebrates its history. When we first moved to AZ, the "faux" southwest style was very much alive and going strong. It really had nothing to do with the true history of the state, and soon got replaced with more trendy styles. Of course, we were living in Scottsdale for the first ten years of our AZ time, and Scottsdale is definitely filled with many false trappings. We are happy to not be living there anymore. Where we live now is much more related to farming with no "Southwest style or traditions," authentic or faux.

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  45. Wow that looks like a fun day out and how lucky are you to have this close to you. Thanks for sharing it was interesting! xoxo

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  46. Thank you for sharing this story and the pictures! It's so different from where I live. No Hatch chiles here (only maybe in the supermarket)! It's very interesting to read about habits and traditions in other places in the world.

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