After several days of rest and relaxation, along with some great excursions in and around the Northern New Mexican resort town of Taos, we packed our bags and followed the Rio Grande River downstream to Albuquerque. Although I’d looked on the map I hadn’t really paid much attention to the fact that our planned route would follow the river from Northern New Mexico, close to where the waters originate in Southern Colorado, all the way to our final destination, El Paso, Texas. More importantly, we would see through several interesting examples the significance of this river and its relevance to New Mexico’s economy and environment.
At nine AM on 31 October our ultimate chile tour resumed and Dave collected us from our hotel and took us to visit Sichler Farms Albuquerque where we met owner Eleanor Sichler. She showed us her retail operation which specializes in roasting fresh New Mexican Green chile right there while you wait. I’ve always heard about these chile roasting machines but we actually got to see them in action. They’re fantastic to watch and and they produce a wonderful aroma as the chillies are turned inside the large metal cages over a gas flame. After a few minutes they’re emptied into a cardboard box lined with a plastic bag. Apparently if you leave the freshly roasted chillies in the bag for about five minutes you can literally peel the skin off of the pods.
Sichler’s Albuquerque is only open between August and October (the chile picking season of course) and Eleanor informed us that we’d actually visited her on the last day of their season, which was very lucky for us. The Sichler family knows a thing or two about chile. They’ve been farming in the Rio Grande Valley for six generations and started growing chillies in the early 1900’s on their farm near the town of Los Lunas. In 1987 John and Eleanor Sichler entered the family business opening Sichler Farms, Albuquerque. All their chillies are grown on the family farm just 25 miles outside of Albuquerque where they’re picked fresh daily except for Sunday’s. They specialize in four main varieties including Joe Parker (mild), Big Jim (medium), Sandia (hot), and Barker (extra-hot). These are all what I would describe as “Anaheim” or classic “New Mexican” chile varieties. They’re typically large, green pods (or red) averaging between 50 and 150 grams in weight.
I’m guessing Eleanor is only about five feet tall at the most, maybe less, but she more than compensates for her modest stature with the enormous passion she has for her business and her customers. She spent several minutes explaining to Joanna and I how fortunate she feels to have such a business where she can make such great quality food available to her customers.
Eleanor explained that her customers will purchase either a bag or a bushel (25 pounds) of roasted peppers. They then take them home and freeze them in one-quart plastic Ziploc style bags. Some customers will peel the skin from the chillies first while others will just freeze them as they come and peel them later. Typical New Mexican recipe’s include salsa’s, soups or stews, and the classic favourite of red or green enchilada’s.
Sichler’s also sell fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen green and red chile, dried red chile pods, a variety of chile powders, salsas, and sauces.