Decorative wreaths made from bright ornamental chiles are seen and sold everywhere around Hatch this time of year.
Each fall "chile heads" travel to the unassuming town of Hatch as a sort of pilgrimage. About 40 miles north of Las Cruces, it is, many believe, home to the best chiles anywhere. Small family-run businesses operate out of modest storefronts and roadside stands along its couple of main streets. They sell sacks of chiles and long, colorful ristras. Locals use swift, practiced movements to fashion decorative wreaths of green, red, and bright ornamental peppers. Gas-powered roasters fill the town with a hoarse roar and a rich smoke from the chiles. Folks buy the roasted green chiles to peel, use in dishes, or freeze for future meals. These chiles, they insist, have no equal.
"First of all, we've got the best flavor," declares a proud Jimmy Lytle, whose family has been growing chiles since his granddad came here in the 1800s. His father helped create the 'NuMex Big Jim,' aptly named after him. The Lytles are clearly a fixture around Hatch. They sell green and red chiles--fresh, dried, canned, and frozen--at their Hatch Chile Express shop at 622 Franklin Street. For those who can't make it to Hatch, the family provides mail-order service, shipping out 10- and 25-pound boxes of fresh chiles in August and September. (For prices and ordering information, visit www.hatch-chile.com, or call 267-3226.)
The Hatch Chile Express, though, isn't just about produce; it's a fun take on all things chile. Shoppers can choose from chile preserves, chile jams, and chile jellies. There are chile salsas, dry powders, seeds, posters, dishware, towels, clothes, and even strings of chile-shaped lights. As much as this wacky variety of items says about modern-day marketing, it speaks as much or more to people's passion for New Mexico's chiles. And why not? Theirs is a taste deeply rooted in the land--and the heart.
• Hatch Valley Chile Festival--Each Labor Day weekend, this year September 1-2, Hatch welcomes thousands of visitors, who come to pay homage to its famous chiles, with two days of food, entertainment, contests, and more. For more information visit www.hatchchilefest.com, or call  267-5050.
• The Whole Enchilada Fiesta--An annual event in Las Cruces, it revolves around the making of the World's Largest Enchilada. (Think of the ingredients list in terms of pounds and gallons.) The fiesta will feature a parade, vendor booths, live entertainment, and, yes, lots of food. Dates are September 28-30; to learn more, visit www.enchiladafiesta.com, or call  526-1938.
• Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta--New Mexico's state capital puts its own upscale spin on the harvest season with five days of seminars, wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, and more September 26-30. Visit www.santafewineandchile.org, or call  438-8060.
"Chile Time" is from the September 2007 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.