Ristras and pumpkins: How to make a chile ristra

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.

Ristras and pumpkins at Rancho de Chimayó, photo/Steve Collins

Ristras and pumpkins at Rancho de Chimayó, photo/Steve Collins

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.

.Joan Medina getting ready to string chiles into ristras, photo/Steve Collins

.Joan Medina getting ready to string chiles into ristras, photo/Steve Collins

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.

First gather three chiles, photo/Steve Collins

First gather three chiles, photo/Steve Collins

Pick up the next three chiles and repeat until you reach the desired length.

Pice three more and tie them together photo/Steve Collins

Pice three more and tie them together photo/Steve Collins

This will give you a single string ristra, fine for drying, but not really decorative.

The string ristra takes shape, photo/Steve Collins

The string ristra takes shape, photo/Steve Collins

And gets longer.

Now the first string is ready to be doubled, photo Steve Collins

Now the first string is ready to be doubled, photo Steve Collins

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.

The completed ristra, photo/Steve Collins

The completed ristra (just needs a few strings cut), photo/Steve Collins

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?


20 Responses to “Ristras and pumpkins: How to make a chile ristra”

  1. Suzanne Fluhr (Boomeresque)
    October 14, 2019 at 3:14 pm #

    As you know from trying to find me a restaurant in Santa Fe that did NOT put chile in everything, I would be buying my ristra for decoration — not cooking 😉 They are really very pretty and very popular, judging by the number of homes that had them hanging up outside.

    • Billie Frank
      October 15, 2019 at 7:20 am #

      I didn’t think you liked chile in anything-lol. They make wonderful decorations. I can see them hanging off a porch just about anywhere.

    October 15, 2019 at 2:57 am #


    • Billie Frank
      October 15, 2019 at 7:25 am #

      I suggest Googling as I don’t personally know anyone who does mail order and I’ll only recommend places that we know sell quality items. I was actually going to put a few resources that we found on Google in the post and decided against it as we didn’t know them. They are out there, Google chile ristras for sale online and you should find some. Good luck.

  3. Agness
    October 15, 2019 at 5:59 am #

    Unfortunately, I’m not the biggest fan of chili. They are way too spicy and I got my spots after eating them :(

  4. Gloria
    October 15, 2019 at 6:29 am #

    how do you keep them from getting moldy?

    • Billie Frank
      October 15, 2019 at 7:18 am #

      Ours stays fine as we leave it outside. I think because they are dried when you get them, they are a bit resistant to mold. For a more definitive answer I suggest contacting someone who sells ristras and ask them. They would know much better than I would.

  5. Leigh
    October 15, 2019 at 8:42 am #

    We went to Santa Fe several times in the fall when we lived in Boulder. O would always return with a chile ristra - something I miss being able to get my hands on here in Calgary.

  6. Dee Martinez
    October 15, 2019 at 11:34 am #

    I love red chile and want to order a chile ristra where do you suggest? Thanks 😉

    • Billie Frank
      October 15, 2019 at 2:00 pm #

      As I mentioned in another reply, as we buy ours in person, I don’t have any mail order source to recommend. Google has a number of NM places that do offer them. Search for “chile ristras mail order” and a bunch will come up. I don’t have experience with any of them and therefore cannot recommend any of them. Good luck with your search.

    • Billie Frank
      October 18, 2019 at 10:24 am #

      Joan Medina of Lowlow’s Low and Slow Art Place and featured in this post commented that they offer them via mail order.

  7. Patti
    October 15, 2019 at 11:47 am #

    They are so synonymous with the southwest - festive! But I don’t think I’d have the patience to make one.

  8. Joan N Lowlow Medina
    October 17, 2019 at 7:46 pm #

    Hi ! We ship chie ristras…and chimayo Chile products..sage…lavender….Chimayo Natural Body N Bath products too….e-mail me thanks. We have big Chile’s and Chile pequin

  9. Irene S Levine
    October 18, 2019 at 8:57 am #

    Love this post. They give such a lovely look to the city. How long do they last outside?
    Irene S Levine recently posted..Too sick to fly: Why sick passengers don’t stay homeMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      October 20, 2019 at 10:40 am #

      Thanks! We keep ours outside for about a year. At the end, they don’t look as good as they did in October- but they are still usable.

  10. Linda ~ Journey Jottings
    October 18, 2019 at 7:22 pm #

    There’s something so lovely about hanging strings of produce -
    Like a craft it reflects the hours of tender loving care that’s gone into their production and creation.
    Linda ~ Journey Jottings recently posted..Why Not Tell Your Story with Doodle Drawings… as Well as Words?My Profile

    • Billie Frank
      October 20, 2019 at 10:20 am #

      I agree. Long before I knew about chile ristras I had a love for garlic braids and I love hanging herbs in the kitchen.

  11. Bonnie
    November 3, 2019 at 6:23 pm #

    Hi Billie and Steve, I’m a friend of Donna’s, we’ve met and even dined
    together. I happened on your interesting site while looking for information on how to make a ristra, as my chiles are ready. We bought Socorro rather than Hatch this year, they seem to be plumper and may not dry as well, I’ll give them a try anyway.Bonnie

    • Billie Frank
      November 4, 2019 at 9:51 am #

      Of course we know you, Bonnie. I don’t know anything about which chiles dry how. I would think they’d all be pretty much the same. You can call the NM Chile Institute in Las Cruces. They are great sources for any chile question. I’d think if you made a ristra and hung them out in the sun they’d do just fine. Glad you discovered the blog!

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