The Red Chile Ristra, Only in New Mexico!
A red chile ristra is perhaps the second most iconic symbol of New Mexican home decor, exceeded only by ubiquitous Adobe-style building construction seen throughout the state. Made from the strung pods of dried red chiles, they are both a home decoration and a star ingredient in New Mexican home cooking.
Chiles are a type of pepper. They fall into the same family as sweet bell peppers, jalapenos, and spicy habaneros. The New Mexican chile, which is grown throughout the state but is most well known as coming from Hatch, is usually an Anaheim chile. In New Mexico, we spell it chile with an “e.”
The dry climate and plentiful sunshine of New Mexico offer ideal conditions for growing chile. It is picked, roasted and eaten as green chile in the late summer and early fall. However, the chile pods turn red as they continue to ripen on the vine. Once they turn red, they are strung up into a chile ristra to dehydrate in New Mexico’s plentiful sunlight. If they are to be consumed, they will be hung in kitchens after drying to be crushed into chile powder or rehydrated to prepare red chile sauce.
Red chile sauce is a staple in New Mexican cooking, used to flavor posole, enchiladas, and many other local favorites. It is quite easy to find red chile powder or frozen chile puree in many grocery stores throughout New Mexico.
Red chile ristras are also used year-round for decoration on New Mexican homes and storefronts. Typically, they are hung on front porches and doors. You will find decorative ristras of red chiles are sold at farmers’ markets in the late summer or early fall. Also, you may find them for sale year round in Old Town Albuquerque. They can last indefinitely in a dry climate. If you plan to hang your ristra in a state that has more humidity, be sure to lacquer them (or buy them already lacquered) to protect them from rapid deterioration. Of course, they will not be edible after lacquering.
Chile is so important to the state of New Mexico that we have a state question: Red or Green? In other words, would you like red or green chile with your meal?
While chile is grown throughout the state of New Mexico, the Village of Hatch is known as the Chile Capital of the World. It celebrates its annual chile harvest with the annual Hatch Valley Chile Festival every September.