Hatched…It’s Not an Egg
By Beverly Hicks Burch
Well, it’s finally happened. You know that green chilies have becomes a really big thing when Southern Living, the Bible for all true GRITS (Girls Raised In The South) does a six page full color spread in their magazine with accompanying recipes. I on the other hand was ahead of this trend and knowledge when I married Tall and Handsome, a Native New Mexican, but, I must add…he is a New Mexican with very Southern roots. Yes, I had foreknowledge of the chili revolution.
Bev is going to let you in on a little secret here. T & H and I met in a rather unconventional way. Yes, we met online…*gasp*…there I said it. No, it wasn’t in a chat room or anything like that…it was playing an online game. My very Southern momma will be very chagrined to know I’ve told that, although she is quite fond of Tall and Handsome. Daddy was afraid I’d met an ax murderer. Now, he, too, is fond of T & H and thinks he is head and shoulders above the ex, the regrettable Gomez the Unremarkable.
I was very cautious and we courted long distance for almost a year before we met face to face. Then, he had to meet me on home territory which meant meeting my former-mechanical-engineer/project-manager-retired-turned-pastor-father, mom and son who was returning home from duty in the Middle East. You could tell Tall and Handsome was raised by a Southern momma…he came bearing gifts from the southwest for each member of my family. (My gift was a beautiful silver and turquoise Cross hand-crafted by local Native Americans.) No wonder he’s been called the Silverfox…
I can tell you this…if he is an ax murderer he is the most patient one in the history of mankind…he’s still waiting to make his move five years later…
Well, after his visit, he returned to New Mexico and I planned a trip out to visit him and see some sights in the southwest. He made plans and squired me around the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta on a VIP pass. We drove up to Santa Fe and actually got engaged there. And, I had some fantastic food…I learn about chilies…both red and green.
New Mexicans don’t like chilies…they are passionate about chilies. Everywhere you go you can see chili ristras hanging…for sale in different sizes…for decorations, for use, and yes even a hot air balloon at the Fiesta, which I thought was rather bizarre looking and anywhere else would have been considered obscene. Those big blown up red chilies stacked on top of each other floating in the sky just looked…wrong…
Even though a chili is technically a fruit, it is the official vegetable of the state of New Mexico. They like `em green and they like `em red. If you can’t make your mind up which you want…no problem…ask for Christmas on the side and you get both.
There has been some competition between New Mexico and Texas over who is the chili state winner, but, I think New Mexico and New Mexicans pretty much win by default and the amount of Capsaicin per cc of blood. Let’s put it this way…if there was a way to measure chili intake like alcohol with a breathalyzer…well, most New Mexicans would stay three sheets in the wind on chilies.
This is not necessarily a bad thing though because unlike alcohol…chilies do have some health benefits. For example, one fresh chili pod has as much vitamin C as an orange, and a teaspoon of red chili powder has all the daily requirements of vitamin A. Capsaicin, the chemical in a chili that makes it hot is used in products to relieve the pain of arthritis and it’s used as an additive in bird feed to keep squirrels out…they really don’t like it, but the Capsaicin doesn’t affect the birds…other than that it will help the Cardinals turn really red.
They take the chili so seriously in New Mexico…as seriously as the South takes football…that there is the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University. The Institute does not have a football team…but, they do study Scoville units, or how hot the dang things are. They range from mild to “scorch you eyes out and melt you sinuses” to “blow out the back of your head”. T & H likes his somewhere in between the last two.
Like Georgia and their Vidalia onion, New Mexican swear there is only one sacred place to get the “right stuff” and that is in Hatch, NM. You can get the fresh or canned kind from there. When Tall and Handsome moved South from New Mexico for our nuptials, about 75% of his U-Haul was filled with Hatch canned goods. That was the only thing I had to sign a pre-nup on…just kidding honey…those puppies didn’t last long and the poor baby had to resort to buying other canned chopped green chilies that will remain nameless.
There is a big festival in Hatch every September during Labor Day weekend. During the fall in Hatch and in most of New Mexico you can buy a big burlap sack of chili peppers that weighs about 40 pounds and then have them roasted over an open flame in a big chicken wire barrel. It will cost you about $15. The scent permeates the air during the fall.
One year around September, not too long after T & H and I got married, we treated our neighbors in a sleepy little northwestern Alabama town to this exotic scent…for a very long time. Oddly, one day I found this HUGE brown box on our doorstep. It was emitting a very strong pungent scent. Since it wasn’t ticking, I went ahead and brought it inside, opened it up and…Viola mon amis…stuffed inside was a whole box of fresh green chili pods. Yep, one of T & H’s buddies had shipped him a box all the way from New Mexico.
Well, he couldn’t wait to get his hands on those puppies and roast them, but, he had a small problem. There wasn’t any chili roasting people with big ol’ chicken wire drums in Marion County, Alabama. Being the resourceful chap that he is, he decided to do them himself…you got it on the grill! Now mind you, this was in the days of pre-Weber grill. All we had at the time was a very small table top, camp size propane bottle powered grill. The surface top was about the size of a pin-head, but by Jove he roasted those chili peppers…and roasted those chili peppers and roasted those chili peppers. We finished just in time to put up the Christmas decorations…that is after removing the skins, placing them in plastic freezer bags and putting them in the freezer.
Now, I make chopped green chilies a staple in my pantry. Want to borrow some high quality chili powder? No problem. This is what happens when you marry a Tall and Handsome cowboy from New Mexico…with Southern roots and who grew up in the South…
As I was browsing my Southern Living I found this recipe. It had Tall and Handsome’s taste buds written all over it. I read it to him and his eyes lit up like a little boy at Christmas. We’re planning what meal we’ll have it with. Thought you folks might like to try it, too…
© 2007 Beverly Hicks Burch All Rights Reserved.