Nothing says fall in northern New Mexico than ristras and pumpkins. On a recent drive to the small mountain village of Chimayó on the High Road to Taos we saw both.
Traditionally, New Mexicans have made ristras (strings of red chile) each year. It was a way of preserving by drying them in the sun and then hanging them in the kitchen for use throughout the year. Simply pick a dried pod off and crushing it for use when cooking. Today, many hang these merely for decoration. The ones hanging outside of the almost 50 year old Rancho de Chimayó, at the north end of the town, do double duty. Restaurant owner, Florence Jaramillo told us that the kitchen plucks them as needed. The octogenarian Mrs. J says she’ll buy all she can get her hands on, but it gets harder and harder to get as many as she needs. In the early years, they grew their own, but it was just too hard to do that and run the bustling restaurant. “Chile farming isn’t easy,” she said.
How to make a chile ristra
Joan Medina who runs Lowlow’s Lowrider Art Place, a gallery devoted to low-rider cars, and the art her husband, Lowlow Medina’s art showed us how a ristra is made. Joan, an artist herself, makes the ristras from a patch of chile she plants each year. Making ristras is somewhat labor-intensive but fairly simple. Cut a length of string three times as long as you want your ristra to be. Then select three chiles and wind the string around the stems three times.
Pick up the next three chiles and repeat until you reach the desired length.
This will give you a single string ristra, fine for drying, but not really decorative.
And gets longer.
To creative the decorative effect, double back on the string with the bunches and make sure there is no space between the chiles. A good ristra maker can do this very quickly. Joan sells hers at a stand in the parking lot of the Sanctuario de Chimayó of at their gallery Lowlow’s Lowrider Art Place down the road from the Sanctuario. You’ll find Lowlow’s art there and other surprises as well.
Will you make your chile ristra or buy one?
Now you know how to make a chile ristra, but the easiest way to get one is to buy it ready-made. You can buy them in markets and stands all over Santa Fe and northern New Mexico. We either buy ours from a road-side vendor (the prices are often better) or at the Santa Fe Farmer’s market. You can hang it in your kitchen to use or purely for decoration or hang it outside. They look great hanging from porches, portals or on front doors. Ours hangs from a kiva-style ladder outside the house. It lasts us for about a year; when the new ones are out we replace it. If you’re not in New Mexico, you can also order ristras online.
This post is part of an ongoing series we are doing called The Chile Project. Read more posts from the series.
Its called green CHILE
Green chile roasting time in Santa Fe
The Chile Film: Red or Green?