A World of Peppers
A self-proclaimed "chile head," Danise grew up on a farm in the northern part of the state. "I started eating jalapeños when I was 6 years old," she remembers. Flashing a wry smile, she adds, "I used to have jalapeño-eating contests with my dad." Obviously, a passion for chiles heats her blood. That and her knowledge make her a great guide in the institute's neat, little patch of peppers off University Avenue.
The demonstration garden's 1 / 3 acre showcases some 150 different kinds of chiles from all over the globe, including those developed at New Mexico State University. Danise explains the process of growing and harvesting as she winds through the 20-plus rows of plants. She details, too, the ongoing research that takes place here. This time of year, the various bushes sport a full complement of fruit (yes, chile is a fruit, not a vegetable). From Anaheim to jalapeño to poblano to habanero, they come in shades of green, brown, purple, and fiery reds, oranges, and yellows. Some are mild, others, searing; and many of the names are as brilliantly tinted as the chiles themselves: 'Prairie Fire,' 'Orange Sun,' 'Inferno,' 'Starburst.' It's a pepper-lover's dream, a paradise of heat, color, and taste set under the wide sky and washed by the open sun. A tour definitely stokes the taste buds.
Chile Capital of the Universe
Orderly fields of chiles grow along the two-lane roads outside Las Cruces. In September, south along State 28 and north along State 185, which parallel the Rio Grande River, you'll see workers moving through the rows as they harvest. Here and there, handwritten signs hawk fresh chiles for sale: A burlap sack filled with 40 or so pounds of New Mexican mild to medium peppers sells for $15 or less.
Did You Know?
• Chile, officially dubbed as one of New Mexico's state vegetables, is actually a fruit.
• One fresh green chile pod contains more vitamin C than an orange.
• One teaspoon of dried red chile powder meets the daily requirements of vitamin A.
• Chile is processed in everything from mayonnaise to lipstick. Capsaicin--the chemical that makes chiles hot--can help alleviate arthritis pain and is an ingredient in some medicinal ointments and creams.