What’s So Special About Hatch, NM?
Why, the Chiles, of Course! This year marks the first year we have been in Taos, NM during the months of August and September. About the middle of August, we started to notice an unusual phenomenon that, at first, we did not understand. In the produce department of every grocery store in town, large piles of sacks began appearing, labeled “Hatch.” Perplexed, we looked a bit more closely at one of the sacks and noticed they contained green chiles. But what was the significance of Hatch?
Upon further investigation, we were informed that Hatch was THE place in the world to grow the famous New Mexico green chiles, which made the infamous New Mexico green chile sauce. But what was Hatch and what made it the only place to grow chiles?
Hatch is a small community (2007 population was 1600) located off of I-25 in the southwestern part of the state between Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences, NM. It was born from an extension of the Santa Fe Railroad Company in 1880 and began as an adobe post office and a railroad flag station. Named after General Edward Hatch, Commander of the Southwest military, the town grew until a flood in 1921 destroyed many of the adobe buildings constructed of earth and wood. Hatch rebuilt and continues to prosper as an agricultural community to this day
But what makes it special? Most say it’s the soil. There is something unique about the composition of the soil in and near this community that cultivates the characteristic New Mexico chiles. Of course, they are grown in other communities as well, but only the Hatch chiles are considered the genuine article. But you need not drive to Hatch to make your purchase. Just about every grocery store in New Mexico ships them in, in 25 pound burlap bags or boxes, in large quantities and carries them until mid-September or later. I even had a reader tell me he purchased a case in the parking lot of a supermarket in his home state of North Carolina!
But the mystery doesn’t end there. We noticed about the same time that it looked like the supermarkets were roasting corn in their parking lots. Upon closer inspection, we noted they were roasting chiles. You see, in order to make sauce, stew or just put them on top of your meal, the chiles must be roasted, peeled and seeded. Grocers took the trouble to set up large roasting cylinders in their parking lot, powered by propane fuel and staffed them so that customers purchasing chiles from their store would be able to have them roasted free of charge. Typical charges ranged from $17.99 to $19.95 with free roasting included. But you have to get to the store early as the chiles soon sell out. We made several trips, trying to participate in this new tradition/phenomenon only to leave the store empty handed when the quantity delivered for the day had already sold out. Coming Next: Our Quest Continues…
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