A couple of weeks ago I got a whiff of roasting chile. All of a sudden it’s fall, and I am reminded once again of how New Mexico made me her own.
I ready myself for the annual pilgrimage to Wagner’s Market in Corrales. I line a large cardboard box with a trash bag and put it in the trunk. I pick up my friend Marjorie, and we head out. The drive to the village of Corrales is easy, and we know we’ve arrived when we see the sign: “Drive slow and see our village. Drive fast and see our jail.”
We drive slowly. Corrales’ winding road takes us through the kind of landscape that filled picture books 50 years ago—horses graze, small shops line up in clusters, and when we arrive at Wagner’s, the marketplace is already a beehive of activity. Folks line up at the registers with shopping carts full of sweet corn, ripe melons, fresh peaches, apples and chile—big burlap bags full of chile.
We wander for a while. You don’t rush a pilgrimage. We have to check out jars of preserves and pickles, spices, ristras, and get some zukes and some onions. I have to buy a candy apple from the café. Marjorie has hers. It’s time.
We choose a bag—medium Big Jims from the Wagner farm in Socorro. We pay at the register and they give us a number. We trundle the shopping cart out the door to where a small crowd has gathered at the fence surrounding the chile pit. A half-dozen black, grated drums are in motion over fire, turning fresh green chile into sweet, roasted goodness. It takes about seven to 10 minutes for the chiles to go limp. Sparks fly when seeds hit the flames. An operator checks the bin and stops our machine. He guides the chiles down the chute into a waiting double-lined plastic bag and ties it shut. It’s hot as blazes. I drop it into the box I prepared earlier. Three layers of plastic and a box keep the chiles from leaking out. The pilgrimage isn’t complete until we drive around for an hour or two in the heady aroma of chile steaming in the trunk of my car. It’s a New Mexico high.
Last year someone told me they don’t peel and seed their chiles when they freeze them—just pop them into Ziplocs and done. I tried it—and never again. This year I will do the right thing—peel, seed, sort (messy ones to chop, whole big ones for rellenos), pack and freeze. Quarter-pound bags are the perfect size for a recipe—just thaw what you need.
In 2011 the Wagners will celebrate their centennial year in New Mexico. Gus and Arlene Wagner now share the work with their children and extended family. Sons Jimmy and Bobby work the farms. Son Anthony is a familiar face at the Uptown and Corrales growers’ markets. Grandson James sells at the Santa Fe market. Daughter Gina operates the farm’s onsite Apple Tree Café, and Jimmy’s wife Roxanne is the family entrepreneur and spokesperson.
With some 600 acres at work in Albuquerque, Socorro and Los Lunas, four generations of Wagners are sharing their love of the land in The Wagner Farms Experience, a seasonal venue to entertain and educate kids about farming with a 13-acre corn maze, hay rides, orchard tours, a petting zoo, a pumpkin patch and seminars to show kids where their food originates. The Experience operates from Sept. 18 to Oct. 31 this year.