The “official” New Mexico State question is “red or green?” This question, referring to the color of the chile you want with your food, is asked in restaurants all over the state, But there’s a question before that. Were chiles, New Mexico’s largest agricultural crop, always here? If not, where did they come from and how did they get here?
According to the New Mexico Tourism Department’s website, chiles originated in Brazil as a wild plant with small round fruits. Between birds and people trading, chiles spread throughout South and Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico. It’s possible they came as far north as New Mexico brought by indigenous people on trade-routes. From evidence found in Ecuador, archaeologists estimate that varieties of capsicum (the botanical name for chile) have been domesticated since 7500BC. Chiles were even used by some as currency. However, the Spanish were responsible for the chile spread around the globe. According to Jack Weatherford in his book Indian Givers, how the Indians of the Americas transformed the World, this was just the beginning of the contribution of native people of the Americas to cuisines of the world.
Lois Ellen Frank in her beautifully researched and presented book, Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations, tells us chiles were not cultivated in New Mexico until the Spanish came north. Before that, the main foods cultivated in this area were squash, beans and corn.
Fabian Garcia, early 20th century horticulturist at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, is credited for pioneering the research that led to the hardy varieties of chiles cultivated in New Mexico today. The best known are Big Jim, Joe E. Parker, Sandia and Española Improved. Hatch and Chimayó are known for their chile.
What’s your answer to the New Mexico State question? Red of green? We’d love to know.
If you answered green, you’ll love this apple pie recipe.
Green Chile Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust
I like this because it uses two of my favorite New Mexico foods: apples and green chile. Try to get local apples from the orchard or the farmers market; that’s the best. For green chile, look in the freezer case at your supermarket. If you’re not in an area where you can find green chile in the supermarket, Hatch Chile Express ships roasted and frozen chiles. This recipe makes a ten inch pie.
1¾ cup all purpose flour
9 tablespoons well chilled butter (or a mixture of 2/3 butter and 1/3 lard or Crisco), cut into ¼-inch pieces
¼ cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/3 cup ice water
Put the flour in the bowl of the food processor. Add the butter and cheddar and pulse until you have a coarse consistency. While the processor is running, drizzle in just enough water for the pastry to hold together. Turn out onto a board and form into two balls. Wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups apples, peeled, cored and sliced
½ cup green chile, roasted, peeled, seeds removed and diced
Preheat the oven to 375˚.
In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the sugar, flour and cinnamon. Add the sliced apples and diced green chiles. Toss so that the apples and chiles are well coated. Roll out the bottom crust to quarter-inch thickness, put into the bottom of a ten inch pie plate and put the filling in. Roll out the top crust and cover the filling with it. Crimp the top and bottom together and cut off any excess. Pierce two or three ventilation holes in the top crust. Put in the oven and bake until top is golden brown and filling is bubbling (about 45 minutes).
For more on chiles in New Mexico:
Oh The Places You’ll Go
New Mexican chile – Red or green?