Chilies a hot item for sale

By Tonya Fennell: Freedom Newspapers

Amy Jacoby inhaled the sweet, pungent odor of roasted chilies. As she lifted a hand to her swollen, pregnant belly, a small smile of satisfaction appeared on her face.

“I love the smell of green chilies,” she said.

The 22-year-old Clovis resident and her mother, Teresa Jacoby, stood patiently in line Friday morning at Albertsonss Supermarket to have a bushel of Hatch green chilies roasted.

They said they purchase a couple of the large, burlap bags of chilies annually to use throughout the year.

“This bag is actually for my mother,” Teresa Jacoby said pointing to her basket.

The chilies come from Hatch, which is located 40 miles northwest of Las Cruces and one of the nation’s leading chili producers.

In fact, the town proclaims itself the Chile Capital of the World. An annual chili festival during Labor Day draws tens of thousands of tourists.

Dona Ana County extension agent John White said about 2,000 to 3,000 acres of chili are planted in the Hatch area — about half of the 5,500 acres of chili planted in the county.

In 2004, New Mexico farmers produced 106,850 tons of chili worth more than $50 million. Agriculture officials say the chili industry contributes more than $400 million annually to the state’s economy.

Teresa Jacoby said she was lucky enough to get one of the last available bushels in the areas after massive flooding in Hatch create a chili shortage.

“They (Albertsons) said this was the last batch,” she said. “Wal-Mart actually ran out.”

The Jacoby women watched as a store employee, wearing thick black gloves, poured the long, green peppers into a barrel-shaped roaster. The process takes about 10 minutes.

“I don’t mind the wait,” Teresa Jacoby said. “Believe me, it is worth it.”
The real work begins once the chili enthusiast takes her roasted peppers home. Teresa Jacoby said she lets the chilies sit for about an hour before she peels and separates them into bags for freezing. “It takes about three hours,” she said.

The Clovis mother uses the chilies to make green chili stew, enchiladas and chili rellenos.

“I can’t remember any dish she (Teresa Jacoby) makes without peppers,” Amy Jacoby said.

“I was surprised I got any because of the floods,” Teresa Jacoby said, “but these won’t last me past January if I’m not careful.”

Sara Hernandez, 24, of Clovis was another who was thankful she was going home with fresh, roasted green chilies. She said green chilies are included in almost every family recipe. “You can buy them frozen,” she said, “but it just isn’t the same.”

Hernandez said the peeling and freezing is a family affair in her house with sisters, grandmothers and great-grandmothers playing a part.
“Everybody has a job,” Hernandez said, “so it only takes us about an hour.”

Hernandez said the best part of the process is the green chili chicken enchiladas she plans to eat when the work is finished.
“I can already taste it,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.