I learned something new.
I knew that New Mexico is synonymous with green chile, and we love green chile... we buy the big jars and flats of little cans of "New Mexico True" Hatch chiles at Costco (and we did that also in Wisconsin before moving). We eat chiles just about daily.
But yesterday I think I figured out how New Mexicans universally become hooked... I guess before that, if I had thought about it, I would have figured it was because of green chile cheeseburgers.
I wish I could post smells... these most incredible smells!
My education started a couple weeks ago at the end of August. We had stopped at a flea market and saw folks selling huge burlap bags of chiles, raw or roasted. We were heading out of town soon on two back-to-back trips, and had no use for 30 pounds of any kind of fresh food, so I just thought "hm!" and we went inside the trading post.
On our way home from the first trip a week later, we stopped to pick up some groceries, and there were big burlap bags of chiles near the entry way. I asked the clerk how people use them. She explained that you bag them and freeze them, to last all winter. Yum! Another reason to long for the day when we are settled in a house!
But wait... we *do* have a freezer... and it is grossly underutilized. We had been spending $20/week on ice for the cooler, so we got the freezer mainly to freeze gallon jugs of water to use in the cooler. We have the freezer full of water jugs as heat-sinks, but we really only need 2 in the freezer and 2 in the cooler at any time. We could probably fit 30 lbs of chiles in there! We crossed our fingers that chile season would last until our return.
On our way home from the last trip, we stopped by the store... no chiles... the clerk said they are still getting them, but they sell out fast. So yesterday I ran in... and found bags of chiles filling the entry!
The clerk patiently explained what to do, and after I paid, we loaded my bag of hot chiles onto the cart and I took it outside with my receipt.
There was a woman outside with a roaster, roasting a bag of chiles at a time. It's $29 for a bag of chiles that they roast for free. When I asked, another customer explained the second sign: for an added $40 they will bag the roasted chiles for you peeled, or peeled and chopped.
The mouth-watering smell of charred chiles was impossible to describe. You'll just have to come down some time in September! I did notice that a few red chiles snuck in with the batch...
My car was filled to the gills with recycling, and boxes to take to storage, so I arranged to pick up my chiles on the way back out of town.
A few hours later, the finished chiles were brought out of the cooler and unglamorously presented in a garbage bag. Still very hot to the touch, very heavy, and still exuding a glorious aroma! After a most delicious car ride home, before unloading groceries, water, and propane, I told Chip, "Sit in my car, close the door, and notice."
His eyebrows raised and mouth tightened with uncertain expectation as he got in my seat, but before he even closed the doors he relaxed into a huge grin: "Chiles! Where are they?"
The clerk had stressed that we need to wait until they are completely cool before peeling them -- she gets hers roasted early in the morning so she can bag them in the evening. We sat on our hands and left them for morning!
So today, after an early morning arroyo walk with Ike, I set up shop and opened the bag. I took note that the inner bag was also a black garbage bag -- I never realized those were food grade...(!) I gave Chip a couple red chiles and he made a chile scram while I dug in to work.
Yesterday on NPR's Science Friday they were talking about quantum physics. The first picture above is an example of the observer (you) affecting the outcome: I felt guilty about the idea of filling a bunch of single-use plastic bags with chiles and embarrassed about posting it on the blog... Then I remembered that we had a bin of one-off plastic containers that are annoying to use because you can never find both the container and its matching lid... so I got those out to fill instead of the Ziplocs. Thank you for being a good influence!
Here's what it looked like a bit over an hour into it (after breakfast)... Left to right: chiles in the garbage bag waiting to be processed, whole peeled chiles for rellenos, chile strips, and whole peeled & seeded chiles. Above is the trash -- peels and seeds. To the right is my almost untouched coffee...
Above is our hard work... me at the chiles, the ants cleaning up the fallen seeds, and Chip's second load of dishes (we both hate doing dishes, and they tend to pile up!)
After six+ hours of work and another hour for breakfast and lunch, I was a little brain-fogged and stir-crazy, and ready to wrap up! We had ten containers of processed chiles, the blue pot of 50 chiles that I ended up packaging without processing, three containers of peels and seeds, and a quart of opaque black chile juice! (We tell ourselves that it's chile char, and not essence of garbage bag.)
Chip went out harvesting during the last hour of chile processing and came home with piñon sap and juniper berries (more smells that I wish I could post for you!). We capped off the production by putting together an infusion of juniper berries in Everclear, and some bottles with chile char mixed with Everclear, vodka, and tequila... after testing them, of course!
A weird thing is that the chile char coagulated in the Everclear and looks like a black brain. What the heck is that about??
I did do one more step before calling it a day. For three of the containers heading to the freezer, I first froze the pieces separately so we can pull out just what we need for a quick addition to dinner. (So I did end up using a Ziploc, ahem!) The rest will just be ice blocks that need to be thawed for a big meal.
I was glad to get this introduction to a new seasonal ritual,. It was fun to try, it was meditative in a way, and I know we will enjoy having our own chiles in the months to come! But like pressing cider, tapping maple trees, or putting up sausages, I imagine chile stripping is best done as a community event. By hour five I felt like a mom doggedly baking holiday cookies after the kids have moved out. Next year we'll have to host a chile party!