In 1999 “Red or Green?” was adopted as the official question of New Mexico. Along with (in 2003) official animals, trees, birds, etc. the question refers to, of course, chile. No, that’s not misspelled. We do things our own way here. And the green chile is of course an official New Mexico food.
And now the question: What the heck is a green chile? I could wax poetic but to keep it simple, chiles or chilis are the fruit of the Capsicum plant, including everything from bell peppers to those tiny, mouth torturingly hot tiny peppers. Green chiles, in particular New Mexico Green Chile would be the large immature fruit of one of these sub species of Capsicum. For the scientific detail, here’s a Wikipedia article. My main concern with green chile is eating them. Yummm. When mature the chiles turn red, which is the difference between green and red chile…statement of the obvious!
Green chiles are a major part of New Mexico cooking, never better than when sliced, stuffed with cheese, coated in various substances, and deep fried to create Chile Relleno. Double Yummm and pretty easy to convert to low carb. A common question in restaurants is “red or green?” and yes there is a difference. Green is fresh and brash, red is subtle with a rich depth of taste. Some people prefer mixing the taste experience and ask for “Christmas” which would be both at the same time.
The scent of chiles roasting permeates the New Mexico fall air and can get my salivary glands going faster than just about anything, including chocolate. Which if you know me, you realize that’s a huge deal. When I first moved here the smell triggered an old memory but it took several years, and a trip to a small Farmer’s Market at the right time of year to make the connect. I mentioned to the friend I was with that roasting chiles smell like marijuana, and she pointed out I could actually be smelling marijuana, considering who might be at the Market.
Those who have never been around green chiles are probably wondering why the roasting. Roasting or in some other way heating the chile, then storing in an air tight container helps to sweat off the tough skin so the meat is ready to eat. Some people roast their own either over coals or in a very hot oven. Those who haven’t been able to grow enough chile to roast their own buy in large bags to be roasted on site then brought home to put up in smaller plastic bags to be frozen until ready to use. Having bought my thirty pound bag of Hatch green chiles at the market where I find beef heart for my dogs, I now have a shelf in my freezer loaded with quart sized bags, and I’m wondering if I have enough to last the year. Hmmm.
Okay, I know at least a few people are waiting for the marijuana connection, and you might even remember my promise to share an embarrassing memory about Monica and Marijuana. Well, okay.
I grew up around someone addicted to sucking burning tobacco into her lungs, for whatever reason. Smoke permeating the house, holes in clothing, occasional accidental burns. I never saw the attraction myself, fortunately and since I also grew up horse crazy I was never tempted since the idea of barn fires scared me more than just about anything, including performing in public. I never had any desire to smoke.
I did, for a while, give in to my passion to work with horses which led me to a job as stable manager in Far Hills New Jersey, which means I was the groom who kept working when the others quit. Part of my job was getting horses ready for fox hunts, some of them rented by people who worked in New York City. These people all seemed quite exotic to me, very F Scott Fitzgerald with their manners and fascinating jobs. When one of them asked me to come to a local party I was overwhelmed. Here I was, a groom, going to a party with all these special people.
At this gathering they were playing Backgammon (never played), smoking, drinking, and talking about plays and society and all sorts of things foreign to me. I knew horses and dogs and books. Seems no one there had ever heard of Mary Stewart or Andre Norton. Then I watched them rolling a cigarette, and wondered why since these people all had more than enough money to buy their own pre made cigarettes. They offered me a puff, which I rejected as politely as possible, explaining that I worked in a barn and didn’t smoke. They persisted, then gave up, sharing with each other as if they couldn’t each afford their own. As they smoked down to the end of the hand rolled cigarette they pulled a wire sort of holder off the mantle, so they could smoke right down to the last bit of paper. Well, they were people outside my realm of knowledge, who knows why they did things?
That was my first and last social encounter with any of these people. I moved on with my life. It wasn’t until at least five years later it dawned on me, pretty much out of the blue. Oh, that was Marijuana!
Told you it was embarrassing. And I’m occasionally reminded when the green chile smoke drifts past. Wonder where all those people are now?