Saturday, August 23, 2014

What ever happened to silly season?

Ah, chiles. What would life be like without them?
It’s hard to imagine, this time of year, when the Mesilla Valley is filled with the aroma of roasting green chiles. When we fill our freezers with what we estimate will be six months or even a year’s worth of the delectable, spicy pods. (Somehow, we always go through them faster than we think we will.)
Luckily, frozen, chopped Hatch chiles are as close as most of our nearest supermarkets, all year around. But I have learned that what we take for granted is still a luxury in most of the world.
In fact, I had a chile-deprived childhood, growing up in Michigan, where we mostly had to make due with horseradish, the chile of the Midwest. Yes, we had chili (with an “i” — the culinary concoction, not the chile pepper itself), but the low-octane red powder available then never quite managed to seriously spice our tame creations (usually ground beef, onions, canned tomatoes and red kidney beans, maybe with a green bell pepper thrown in).
My siblings and I loved mom’s chili nonetheless. It was as if we all knew there was something better out there, somewhere.
This, you understand, was during the dark ages, in the unenlightened times before salsa replaced ketchup as the the nation’s favorite condiment. Before there was a Taco Bell in every town.
I don’t think I encountered my first real chiles until I was in high school, at a Spanish Club banquet. And those were canned. It would be several more years before I would encounter my first jalapeño, and finally, taste my first green chile, fragrant and tattooed with char marks, fresh from the roaster. It was love at first bite.
When I first moved to New Mexico in the 1980s, and discovered green chiles were served everywhere, even at the most humble drive-throughs, I knew I’d come to my true home.
Since then, we’ve rarely been parted. When I lived in Jamaica, I got by with a large bag of powdered green chile (which I later realized was grown and packaged in my true querencia, right here in the Green Chile Capital of the Universe). Even native Jamaicans, raised on some formidable peppers themselves, agreed that my green chile made everything better, including jerk chicken, which was already pretty darn wonderful,
But “everything goes better with green chile” is my continuing credo, tested only once in the two decades since I’ve settled in chile paradise, when the Sun-News sent me off to a Sister Cities Fiesta in Nienburg, Germany.
I’d lived happily in the region as a teenage exchange student. I enjoyed my traveling companions and was happy to reunite with some old friends and favorite places, foods and brews. When I nonetheless found myself blue and listless after a few days, I realized I was suffering from green chile withdrawal. I found a Mexican native who grew chiles in her patio greenhouse and instantly perked up.
You may get a little taste of that, this time of year, when monsoon season cuts our sunlight a bit, and we come as close as we’ll ever get to knowing what Pacific Northwesterners experience during their winter months when endless drizzle triggers migraines and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) for many. Do what you can to elevate your green chile level a bit, and chances are, you’ll be fine.
In 2013, Paul Bosland, a New Mexico State University Regents professor and director of the Chile Pepper Institute, announced the results of their international cooperative chile pepper genome mapping project: “The chile pepper has approximately 3.5 billion base pairs, which are the building blocks that make up the DNA double helix [homo sapiens have about 3 billion]. The Human Genome Project determined we have about 20,000 genes. Chile peppers have about 37,000 genes.”
Bosland then raised a matter worth pondering: “Whether that means chiles are more evolved than we are, I don’t know.”
But we do know something for sure: Everything’s better with green chile.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @derricksonmoore on Twitter and Tout or call 575-541-5450.

No comments: