Chile, wine, and pecans make us proud to be Southern New Mexicans!
Our region is unlike any other in the country. The dry desert weather, coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit sparked generations ago by the farmers that settled in this area, has given way to three major industries that define how we eat, work, socialize, and enjoy the Mesilla Valley.
Fabian Garcia, one of the first graduates of the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now NMSU), developed the first New Mexican pod type chile pepper in 1921. The New Mexico No. 9 became the standard chile variety for the next 30 years. It was first grown in the Hatch Valley and eventually spread to other areas in the state. Over the years new varieties were developed, including the NuMex Big Jim, Sandia, and Anaheim.
Each year, New Mexico produces an average of 67,000 tons of chile for an annual production value of $50 million. Thanks to the work of “Chileman” Dr. Paul Bosland—who is widely regarded as the foremost chile expert in the world—there are now at least 44 additional cultivars, including the bhut jolokia, also known as the ghost pepper. Dr. Bosland also co-founded NMSU’s Chile Pepper Institute, the only international, non-profit organization devoted to education and research related to chile peppers.
Bosland and other researchers at NMSU are continuing their work, even using the newest innovations in DNA technology to study certain peppers. Dr. Stephanie Walker has been working on developing a green chile that can be harvested mechanically. (Currently, they are still hand-picked by laborers due to damage by machines in the harvest process.) The New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA) continues to enforce chile-labelling laws to ensure that New Mexico and Hatch chiles retain their place and reputation as the premier chile pepper.
The Lore of the Ristra
Chile in New Mexico dates clear back to the Spaniards in the early 1500s who settled in Mexico City and then decided to come up north. They had to find sources of food they could bring with them and they knew that the chile would turn from green to red, which made it a very storable product. Chiles were very small at the time and very pungent, almost inedible, but nonetheless, it was nutrition.
When these Spanish settlers started growing chile in Santa Fe and Bernalillo and other areas, they would tie them together and create what we now know as a ristra. It was a way for them to transport the chile and way for them to save it. When new settlers were moving up north, these ristras were a way to recognize if somebody had plentiful amounts of food. If they were coming up and started to run low on food and passed a house with ristras hanging from the porch, that was a sign saying that family had extra food. Settlers knew they could walk up to these houses and knock on the door and be given or barter for food. If they passed a house and didn’t see a ristra, it was a polite way of saying, “I’d love to help you, but I can’t.”
– As told by NMDA Marketing Division Director David Lucero at a media event hosted by New Mexico Wine.
According to NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES), pecans probably arrived in New Mexico with settlers around the turn of the 20th century. Fabian Garcia planted some of our state’s first pecan trees in the Mesilla Valley in 1913, many of which still stand. The first significant commercial pecan plantings in New Mexico were made by Deane Stahmann who, in the 1930s, planted 4,000 acres along the Rio Grande River. Many of Stahmann’s innovations, particularly with regards to pruning, are common practice among pecan growers in the west today.
There are 40,000 acres of pecan trees in New Mexico producing, on average, 70 million pounds of pecans each year for a production value of $160 to $213 million. New Mexico, one of the top-producing states in the country (second only to Georgia) produces roughly 30 percent of the pecans grown in the United States. The Mesilla Valley is home to 70 percent of New Mexico’s pecan acreage.
Third and fourth generations of established pecan families in the Mesilla Valley are beginning to take the reins at local farms. The pecan industry is poised for accelerated growth consistent with the implementation of innovative technologies such as sprinkler and drip watering systems, and new hedging and pruning techniques. NMDA and the American Pecan Council have launched aggressive marking programs, shining a light on these nuts both internationally and domestically by promoting new ways of cooking and implementing pecans into meals.
Did You Know?
• The United States produces 80 percent of the world’s pecans.
• There are more than 1,000 varieties of pecans, but only about 20 are grown for commercial production.
• Pecan trees may live and bear edible nuts for more than 300 years.
• A pecan, is not truly a nut, but is technically a drupe, a fruit with a single stone or pit, surrounded by a husk.
• There are about 78 pecans used in every pecan pie.
Source: US Department of Agriculture
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 cup water
1 cup light brown sugar
4 strips orange rind
6-8 shakes orange bitters
½ cup bourbon
½ cup ground pecans
4 pecan halves
1. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring pecans, water, sugar, and orange rind to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes. Strain and cool. Reserve candied orange rind.
2. Dip the rim of four lowball glasses into water and then into ground pecans. Fill glasses with ice. Add 1 to 2 shakes of orange bitters and 1 ½ tablespoons of the pecan syrup. Stir until chilled, about 10 stirs.
3. Pour 2 tablespoons of bourbon into each glass and stir until well chilled.
4. Wrap candied orange rind around a pecan, secure with a toothpick and place on top of glass. Serve drink immediately.
Recipe and photo courtesy ILovePecans.com
Wine making in New Mexico dates back to 1629 when grapes were first planted along the banks of the Rio Grande. It’s said that these vines were smuggled from Spain and planted by monks to produce wine for ceremony and sacrament. By the late 1800s, New Mexico was producing over a million gallons of wine annually.
These days, New Mexico is home to over 50 wineries and tasting rooms, 21 of which are located in Las Cruces, Deming, Alamogordo, and the surrounding communities. The state’s wine association recently rebranded itself as New Mexico Wine, with the slogan “Viva Vino” and last spring, they invited journalists from around the globe to tour vineyards across the state. Not only has the industry grown significantly, the wine has improved too. Morgan Switzer-McGinley, owner of NM Vintage Wine in Mesilla says, “We have a lot of customers who say they tasted New Mexico wines five to 10 years ago and didn’t like them, but now they are trying them again and really enjoying and appreciating what we have to offer.”
Chris Goblet, executive director of New Mexico Wine, says that many of the prominent New Mexico wineries are seeing a generational shift, with second-generation family members taking over and bringing new and innovative ideas to the industry. The wine industry is poised for growth and Chris and his team are helping the cause by implementing heavy marketing campaigns, creating new events and festivals, building partnerships with hotels and other businesses, and trademarking the slogan “Liquid Tourism.” Learn more at nmwine.com.