What do you get when you cross a chili pepper and a Labrador? A hot diggity dog!
Man, this summer is cruising by way too fast. The extended winter made for a disappointing season in my veggie garden, so the crops are late and puny. But the one thing we can always look forward to in late August and September is the aroma, sights and tastes of chili roasting! I’ve been gone a bit recently, so I haven’t gotten to a farmer’s market yet to get a whiff, but I roast my own at home and make a fiesta out of the event.
A 30-year tradition in my neighborhood will be “re-ignited” in a couple of weeks, at the height of the harvest season in those hot areas of New Mexico and Colorado. I inherited an ancient, heavy as hell, hand-crank tumble roaster. Hook this puppy up to a propane tank, light the burner and let the fun begin! It sounds like a small jet engine but smells much better.
My former neighbor Brad bought this monster from an old farmer on a back road in New Mexico. It’s the real deal. When Brad moved back to New Mexico, I asked to buy it. He generously gifted it, saying that bringing it back south would be pointless given the number of roasters down there in chili country. The only caveat was that I would continue the tradition of roasting chilies with friends and neighbors, passing on to others the love for this fruit. Yes, technically a pepper is a fruit. Pesky details.
Brad used to run down to Antonito, Colo. to meet up with a truck coming up from Hatch, New Mexico. Hatch chiles have dominated the scene for decades and put chili eating on the modern culinary map, but market share has been increasing from Colorado and even China (don’t get me started). Pueblo, Colo. has been upping the ante and now has a three-day festival attracting a hundred thousand people! It’s the third weekend in September. Maybe in my future?
Since taking over the neighborhood tradition, I’ve made annual runs to a warehouse in Denver, returning with anywhere from 10 to 25, 30-pound sacks or boxes of fresh chilies – AKA green gold. I get mild chilis for my household, but some friends order extra hot or dynamite flavors! But the last few years I have headed west instead of east, buying directly from a couple of farms in the Clifton area. These farm stands are so fun to shop with their local fruits, vegetables, pickles, jams and sauces. I also pick up some wonderful winter squash to store in my garage.
Their selection of butternut, delicata, acorn, hubbard and other beautiful squash fruit (remember that detail?) is delightful. After the farm visits, a stop at a brew house makes the trip more fun.
Chilies are a tasty and nutritious food. In fact, NASA has chosen the “Espanola,” a high-altitude quick-maturing variety of chili, to cultivate at the International Space Station! Astronauts will benefit from the high vitamin C content, as well as the zingy flavor which keeps their taste buds happy after consuming bland processed foods.
Historically though, in chili country, roasted peppers are served as a stand-alone vegetable side dish as well as in powdered seasoning blends and green chili sauces. One of my favorite simple eats is chopped roasted chilies mixed into cottage cheese, with a sprinkle of salt. But they also end up in my soups and stews, also topping Sunday morning scrambled eggs with cheese.
So, in mid-September I’ll go visit the farms and deliver the bounty. Friends and neighbors will gather and bring food and drinks to share. We flex our muscles cranking the old roaster ’round and ’round. Intoxicated with the smell, we sweat the steaming blackened chilies in large plastic bags for an hour before peeling them onto cookie sheets. I get out the Red Dragon weed burner and toss fresh tortillas onto a steel grate placed on the driveway. A blast of blue flame quickly toasts the tortillas, then we put grated cheese on them and melt it with the weed burner. I love the look on newbies’ faces when we torch our lunch! Throw a couple of chilies on those cheese quesadillas and chow down! It’s a tasty but bittersweet end to the heat of summer.
If you want to see the roaster in action, or join the fiesta let me know. I need to keep the blessings of chili moving along…
Kim Bock is donning her chili attire and prepping the roaster at her place in Metropolitan El Jebel, looking forward to the cooler weather and golden aspens. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org