The Green Chile.

green chile
Photo by Todd Fuqua A familiar sight all over New Mexico, lighting up the drum to roast fresh chile in the fall.

It’s green chile, not green chili.

For New Mexicans, the green chile is more than just a vegetable – it’s a fruit, actually – it’s the embodiment of everything that makes New Mexico unique. It’s the super-versatile ingredient that is part of an entirely separate type of cooking. It’s not Mexican food when green chile is present, it’s New Mexican food.

Probably no other symbol – not a howling coyote, a yucca plant, a roadrunner – better embodies what being a New Mexican is about. It’s a food, it’s a spiritual journey, it’s a rite of passage.

Oh, and don’t ever get caught by a New Mexican trying to spell it “chili,” with an “i.” You’ll never hear the end of it. Fall, of course, is Green Chile Harvest Season in the Land of Enchantment, and the smell of roasting green chile at grocery stores, roadside stands and pickups parked on the side of the highway is the intoxicating aroma that everyone looks forward to.

Also – let’s be clear – not just any green chile will do. It has to be grown in the fertile fields of Hatch, NM, just south of Elephant Butte Lake. “We’d been getting a lot of calls, waiting for our chile,” said Demaris Fisher, owner of Seasons Home and Garden in Ruidoso. “We sell probably 200 sacks in a season, probably a lot more.”

green chile
Photo by Todd Fuqua

Green chile sales are more than just a cultural touchstone, they’re an economic way of life for many New Mexicans. Fisher said plant sales slow down as summer comes to an end, and the chile sales are the shot in the arm that they need. But what if you grow the chile for harvest? That means that fall represents your entire year’s worth of income. Just ask Kerra Franzoy, who – along with husband Ryan – own R&K Farms in Hatch and sell their wares at a storefront on Highway 70 in Ruidoso Downs. Three days out of the week, they’re busy supervising the harvesting of chile on their property. The rest of the time, at least one of them is in Ruidoso Downs selling their – and many other local producers – wares.

“It’s a labor of love. I watch my husband work all year until this point, and the amount of labor that goes into this little chile pod is crazy,” Kerra said. “We have a 200-ton contract in several locations, so there’s a lot of chile we’re picking.” So what makes Hatch green chile so much better than chile grown elsewhere? For one, it’s local. When you eat Hatch chile, you know it’s a product of New Mexico, so it’s a source of pride. “It’s like the wine growing regions in France and California, it’s all about the soil, and Hatch is a perfect place for that,” said Teresa Anderson, manager at Seasons. “The same kind of chile grown in Santa Fe or Roswell will taste different because of that soil.”

If you haven’t stocked your freezer with green chile yet, now is the time. By stocked, we mean filled to the brim. You’ll find uses for it.

—Todd Fuqua