Eee, it's time for chiles, no?! Yes, it is that time of year when motorists cut across three lanes of oncoming traffic to pull to a screeching halt in front of some guy parked in a dirt lot with a truck and a roaster. Southern New Mexico's chile harvest usually begins around the end of July but according to Dr. Paul Bosland, a horticulture professor and director of the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University, the middle of the season is the perfect time to buy chiles. Early season fruits tend to be thin-walled and less flavorful, he says. These immature chiles often have less flavor than the thicker, heavier pods of midseason fruit.
Can't eat a whole bag? There's no reason why you can't split one with a friend. Just get out there and get you some chiles!
David Lucero of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture says it's been a good year for growing chiles, mostly because of ideal weather conditions. Chiles like hot, sunny days and they suffer greatly from drenching rains. Lucero says that the timing of summer storms worked out perfectly with farmers' irrigation schedules, making for a crop that, while perhaps not larger than usual, is notably high in quality.
Chiles from Dr. Bosland's demonstration garden at the Chile Pepper Institute are the best in decades, he says. While curly top virus has damaged crops in years past, it was all but absent this year. Chile wilt, a fungus that, you know, wilts the chiles can do damage when the plants get too much rain at once but it also hasn't been a factor this year.
By Labor Day weekend, when most of the chile harvest festivals are held, many green chiles have ripened to red, making it the peak season for buying some of all chile varieties. Early season red chiles, when they're thickest, are the best, Bosland says, so get your greens now and wait a few weeks for reds.
Not sure whether to have them roasted on site or roast them at home? Many people like to roast their own chiles over a barbecue grill because it allows them better control of the level of roastiness. Of course, it's also more of a hassle. No matter who roasts your chiles, don't leave them steaming in the bag too long. At warm temperatures bacteria can ravage your chiles.
To peel before freezing or not? While most folks seem to prefer peeling their chiles before putting them in plastic bags and freezing them, Dr. Bosland says he freezes them with their peels on, removing the skins as he thaws each bag. The skins do seem to come off more easily after the chiles have been frozen and thawed.