Issue: December 2002

Chile Warms Up Holiday Season

Chile pods are one of the few vegetables that can survive the icy grip of December, at least in their dry, red state.

Long strings of red chile pods called ristras are the traditional technique for drying red chile. Ristras and red chile wreaths also brighten the holiday season.

Competing with the poinsettia as a household plant for the Christmas season, potted chile plants display a multitude of colored pods like bulbs on a Christmas tree.Unlike Christmas bulbs, however, these pods can be eaten, although most varieties tend to be very pungent.

Generally, the smaller-podded varieties work best as potted plants, including Tabasco, Chiltepins and ornamentals like Black Plum. Tabasco pods vary from yellow to red and are very hot. Chiltepins have small, round to somewhat pointed pods and are extremely hot.The plants can be easily pruned to form a bonsai.

Multistemmed ornamental chile plants have a compact growth habit and are relatively short. Varieties developed by New Mexico State University, such as 'NuMex Centennial' and 'NuMex Twilight', produce pods that range in color from purple to red and even yellow.Taste ranges from mild to very hot.

Chile varies in pungency. Varieties ground into paprika are sweet to mild. Habaneros or Scotch bonnets are the hottest chiles available.Heat generally occurs in the whitish placental tissue of the pepper, along the cross wall of the pod that holds the seed.

On chilly December afternoons, try a hot bowl of chili con carne, or chili with meat.The term chili with an "i" normally refers to this particular type of cuisine and should not be confused with chile with an "e" that refers to the plant and pods.

The holiday season is a great time to find dried chile products, especially in traditional New Mexican stores. Try some ancho chile, which has broad, heart-shaped and usually dark-brown to black-colored dry pods. Grind the pods up for moles or sauces. Add spices and other ingredients for flavor, such as cilantro, garlic, chocolate, peanuts, onions, tomatoes and fruits.

Other unique dried chile pods include dark brown pasilla pods, which have a raisin-like aroma. Like anchos, pasillas are popular in many moles. Also, try cayenne pods, which are 6 to 10 inches long and one inch wide. They are very hot and are used in many Cajun and Asian stir-fry dishes.

For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications World Wide Web site at

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Also Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly garden program made for gardeners in the Southwest on: KNME-TV Albuquerque at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, KENW-TV Portales at 10 a.m. Saturdays,and KRWG-TV Las Cruces at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays (repeated at 1 p.m. Thursdays.)

George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.