Once my time at the Balloon Fiesta was over, I left Albuquerque, heading south. My destination? Deming, New Mexico. But before I tell you about Deming, which I will beginning next week, I must tell you about the drive there as well as my education on Hatch chile peppers. It’s fun and fascinating.

The drive to Deming is less than four hours from Albuquerque, mostly south on I-25. Along the way I saw signs for some interesting adventures that are now on my list for next time, including the Harvey House Museum in Belen and the Very Large Array in Socorro (that’s those giant satellite dishes in the desert).

I-25 ends in Las Cruces, New Mexico. But before that, I took a cutoff at the town of Hatch onto New Mexico Highway 26 (NM-26) to cut over to Deming. I could’ve kept going to Las Cruces and then took I-10 to Deming but taking NM-26 was the fastest and shortest route. Even though Hatch is a tiny town and I spent all of five minutes driving through it—didn’t even stop (except at the single stop light)—I want to tell you all about it.

Hatch, New Mexico

I knew nothing of Hatch, New Mexico, as I made my way to Deming. But I was so fascinated by my drive through Hatch, I had to research the town of 1,600, after the fact.

Okay, so let me back up and say that I’d also never heard of Hatch Chile Peppers, or Hatch Chiles as they are more commonly called. In stores, I’d never seen the yellow can of green chiles, reminiscent in my mind to the predominantly yellow New Mexico state flag. The brand isn’t sold in Alaska. That’s probably why the town was especially surprising to me.

New Mexico’s official state vegetable is the chile pepper. And Hatch is known as the Chile Capitol of the World. Only chiles grown in the area earn the right to be called Hatch chile peppers. Hatch chile peppers aren’t a type of chile pepper. Rather, they are referencing the location. Many varietals are grown in the area.

Driving Thru Hatch

Hatch, in and of itself, is a cute quirky town. At least from what I saw on my drive through. There are lots of big kitschy statutes you can stand next to for a photo. Uncle Sam, a hot dog in a bun, dinosaur and, of course, a giant red chile pepper. Plus, a bunch more that I cannot remember. You can also stick your head through a hole with a painted chile pepper.

Four painted tiles put together to form a square. The painted picture is red and green chiles on a purple background.
This is one tiny section of a much larger mural on the side of a building in Silver City, NM. More on that adventure soon. The added tiles give the mural texture and depth. Plus…Hatch Chile Peppers.

But what I didn’t understand at the time of my drive mid-October was that it was the end of the picking and roasting season. And here’s the thing: the entire town smells of roasted chiles. I say this having not stopped nor having rolled my window down. That’s how pungent the town becomes. There are bundles of chiles hanging everywhere. Everywhere. Super cool and unique.

I couldn’t figure out how such a small town could support so many chile stands and foods-made-with-chiles stores. But during picking and roasting season, it does. There’s a big chile pepper festival every Labor Day that draws 30,000 people.

If I’d understood any of this, I most certainly would’ve stopped to partake in the fresh chiles. But in my mind, since it wasn’t far from Deming, I’d get settled in Deming and make a visit to Hatch on one of my adventure days. Like I said, it turns out mid-October is the very end of the season. By the time I figured this out, it was over and Hatch no longer smelled like roasted chiles.

The New Mexico State Question

Who knew that in addition to state flowers, birds, flags and vegetables, there was such a thing as a state question? Okay, maybe they made it up but in New Mexico, the official state question is, “Red or green?”

New Mexicans ask it to each other as if the answer explains a lot about the person. Apparently, it is a hotly debated topic. Nearly every restaurant will ask the question. And the good news is that if you don’t know, you can never go wrong with the answer, “Christmas,” which means bring me both.

Close up on a t-shirt front. Two adult dogs, both white. One is covered in red chiles and the other is covered in green chiles. A little puppy between them has both colors. Underneath it reads, "Chile Dogs, New Mexico, Deming."
The New Mexico State Question in visual form. Red, green and Christmas. I loved this t-shirt. It was one of the harder ones to not buy. But you know, in RV life, you have to be very discerning about bring more stuff into the tiny living space.

What I Learned About Red and Green

Much like bell peppers, green chiles are harvested earlier while the red ones stay on the vine and ripen longer. The green chiles are described as light, sweet, spicy and smokey. Typically, they are served roasted, peeled, de-seeded and chopped and added to sauce or canned.

Because the red chile stays on the vine longer, it retains more of the flavor and depth by adding earthiness. It also adds the heat bite, the kind that gets you in the back of the throat. Typically, the red chiles are dried and powdered which are then put into sauces.

You might be inclined to think this all means the red chiles are hotter. But that isn’t necessarily the case. The amount of heat really depends on the time of year, the source and the variety of chile.

If You Visit New Mexico

Green chiles are so popular in New Mexico you will see huge bags of them in the frozen foods sections at stores. I was so tempted to buy one but I just don’t have the freezer space.

However, I found a case of the canned chiles at Costco that I couldn’t resist. Great to add to chili, soups, taco fixings, bean salads. So many things. And, in case you are wondering, chili made in a pot with meat, beans and spices ends in an “i” while the vegetable itself and sauces made with it is chile with an “e” on the end.

A case of canned Hatch chile peppers (green) taken looking down at the package. A single can sits on top of the case.
My case of mild Hatch green chiles. Yummy. The one on the top is “hot” which I didn’t notice when I got it at the store but I can use that one for a big pot of chili and be okay.

Finally—and this isn’t chile specific, but still an important note—if you are a mild salsa eater, stock up before you get to New Mexico. I’m not kidding. Stores had tons of salsa as you’d expect but I’d find a few lowly jars of mild Old El Paso salsa. Everything else was medium and hot, both of which are too hot for me. It would be a great irony to run out of salsa while visiting New Mexico.

Now you know everything I know about Hatch, New Mexico, and the Hatch Chile Peppers. Makes you want to visit, right? Me too. Can’t wait to go back, hopefully in 2021 after the Balloon Fiesta. Next week, I’ll share the history of Deming.

A long string of dried red chiles hanging outside from the  roof of a building's overhang.
The full string of dried red Hatch chile peppers from the feature photo.

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