The Sweet Side Of Potent Peppers
LAS CRUCES, N.M. In the Southwest, hot has two meanings. There's temperature hot, like the dry desert summers. And then there's spicy hot, the kind you find in food.
New Mexico is famous for the second kind of hot thanks to the state's homegrown chile peppers.
In fact, New Mexicans can get a little carried away with their chile. There's chile beer, chile pizza, chile ice cream. It's everywhere.
To beat the summer heat, Luis Flores, owner of Las Cruces Candy Company, gets up at 3 a.m. to prepare his chile specialty.
In his commercial kitchen located in a strip mall in Las Cruces, Flores hunches over the mouth a large copper kettle stirring a gooey mixture of sugar and water.
"What we're making here is green chile pecan brittle," he said.
Flores stirs the goop until it reaches a steamy 280 degrees. Then he adds the most important ingredient: green chile powder from New Mexico's famous pepper fields. The powder drops into the kettle in a cloud of cough-inducing dust.
Following the green chile are pecans, another staple crop in southern New Mexico. When the mixture is complete, Flores pours it onto an 8 foot stainless steel table and stretches it thin.
The brittle then cools and hardens, resembling a giant continent. Flores then breaks it up in smaller pieces, like tectonic plates.
"Nowadays you can make peanut brittle in a microwave," he said. "This is the old fashioned method of making the product."
Just like his parents used to make.
"My father had started as a young boy working with a candy maker in Mexico when he was 8 or 9 years old," he said.
Flores sells his candy to gift shops across the Southwest and is a regular at the farmer's market in his hometown of Las Cruces.
On a sunny Saturday, tourist Mike Gardner of Los Angeles stopped by to sample some chile brittle. It tastes sweet at first but seconds later the chile sneaks up and delivers a sharp tongue punch.
"Oh yeah, it’s got a good kick," Gardner said crunching a piece between his teeth. "Yeah it’s the after-burn. That's good."
New Mexico's green chile pepper is so beloved that a new state law now protects its authenticity. That means any chile product advertised as New Mexican better be the real deal.
And if all this chile has got your mouth watering-- you're in luck. The first chile harvests of the year are just getting started.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect last name of Las Cruces Candy Company owner Luis Flores.