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That Smoky Smell Means Chile Roasting Season In New Mexico

Fresh picked green chiles are bound for stews, burritos, enchiladas, pozole and more. Fall is chili roasting season in New Mexico.
Tim Robbins
Fresh picked green chiles are bound for stews, burritos, enchiladas, pozole and more. Fall is chili roasting season in New Mexico.

It's chile season in New Mexico, where they take their chiles pretty seriously.

Indeed, the chile is the official state vegetable, so it's probably best to not mention it is actually a fruit. No matter what it is, the fall harvest is on, and that means it's time to fire up the grills.

Green chiles roasting over a hot gas flame give off a smoky, sweet, pungent perfume.

That smell is part of what has drawn customers like Lorenzo and Peggy Lucero to the Diaz farm in Deming, in southwest New Mexico, for the past 30 years.

"Oh yeah," says Lorenzo Lucero. "It makes you get hungrier. You just want to eat more."

It only takes a few minutes for the tough skin to blister off in the roaster, leaving the meat of the chile. As the big steel mesh cylinder stops rotating, the medium-hot "Big Jim" chiles are dumped into plastic bags.

The Luceros already have their next move planned.

"Get some cheese and tortillas, and I'm going home and make a burrito with the chiles," Peggy Lucero says.

There are green chile burritos, green chile chicken enchiladas, green chile stew with pork, chile and cheese rellenos. A green chile on top of a hamburger. If it has green chile, you're in New Mexico.

Eddie Diaz runs his family farm and roadside produce stand with his dad and brothers. The stand is on a road which leads from cities to the north to Interstate 10 in the south. To Diaz, that aroma means customers.

"When they come to my stand to smell that chile and that beautiful smell, they say, 'Oh, I love that smell!' " Diaz says. "I say, 'Yes, it smells like money to me!' "

He's a satisfied man, not necessarily a rich man. He is part of a tradition which goes back generations to folks who roasted chiles at home.

"That smell will take you back to your grandma, your great grandma, and those tastes, you know, that's just part of who you are," he says.

Diaz says he thinks about the traditions from the moment he tills the land and plants the seed. For him, that makes this a sacred business.

"I ask the Lord to bless the crop, and I really take to heart what I do and my spiritual beliefs," he says. "This is my calling, to be here at this produce stand."

For the record, I left the Diaz farm in Deming with 35 pounds of roasted chile, all for $20. I can't get the smell out of my car.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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As supervising editor for Arts and Culture at NPR based at NPR West in Culver City, Ted Robbins plans coverage across NPR shows and online, focusing on TV at a time when there's never been so much content. He thinks "arts and culture" encompasses a lot of human creativity — from traditional museum offerings to popular culture, and out-of-the-way people and events.
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