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Almost everybody who lives in Southeastern Colorado has an emotional connection to the famous chilies that are grown on farms on Pueblo’s Saint Charles Mesa, just east of Pueblo. Eaten throughout the year by many with practically every meal, chile is one of Pueblo’s staples. It can be found everywhere – in our Mexican, Italian, Chinese or American restaurants, as well as in thousands of people’s freezers, to be used in anything that needs a little “kick.” Locals use the roasted chilies on eggs, on cold salami and capicola sandwiches, on hamburgers, on pasta, and of course, in salsa and green chile.
Pueblo chile is the most famous chile of our region, attracting chile aficionados’ attention from around the world. Its pungency ranges between 5,000 and 20,000 Scoville Heat Units, the measurement method used to rank chile heat. Pueblo chilies are comparable to moderate jalapeno peppers, and are usually a little warmer than cayenne peppers.
The growing conditions in Southeastern Colorado render some of the best chile available. Hot, dry, sunny summer days, combined with our rich soils and pure Colorado water yield some of the hottest and most flavorful chilies. Watch out for the little ones – they’ve been tortured the most and are the hottest.
Pueblo’s farmers are entrepreneurial spirits, often found roasting some beauties at the Pueblo farmer’s market. Don Mauro has been growing chile for over 25 years on the Saint Charles Mesa east of Pueblo. His partner, Ed Siefford, roasts and sells their chile at the farmer’s markets in Pueblo on Tuesdays and Fridays during harvest season. Like many others doing the farmer’s market circuit, they also sell chile at their farm on the Mesa 7-days-a-week. Chilies in Pueblo sell like wildfire, as farmer’s market attendees restock their empty freezers in time for football season. Siefford suggests buying chilies early, as prices are typically higher late in the season due to high demand for a limited number available.
Although raw chile is often used in salsas, the best way to eat the little treasures is by roasting them and integrating them into, well, everything. For those unfamiliar with the Pueblo chile, roasting is simple. It can be a time-consuming project to do on your own, but for a little extra cash per bushel, you can have them roasted for you at the farmer’s markets, produce stands or at Pueblo’s Chile and Frijole Festival every fall. Many locals can be seen every fall purchasing full bushels roasted at DiTomaso Farms on the Mesa. Puebloans usually divide chilies into serving-size Ziploc bags (approximately 1 dozen chilies) and freeze them. Some opt to roast chilies themselves, grilling them over an open flame until the skins blister and turn black. After roasting, locals place chiles into a covered casserole or heavy-duty plastic bag to steam for at least 5-10 minutes to loosen their skins, then remove the skins, reserving the dark green edible flesh.
Snagging a bag of roasted Pueblo chilies from your freezer is like getting a grab bag from a church festival – you don’t know what each Ziploc holds. Some chilies are mild and can be eaten with reckless abandon. Each bag always includes at least one “little devil” that has the capsaicin capacity to bring tears to your eyes. Such is the beauty of Pueblo chile.
Pueblo chile connoisseurs have all been there. As capsaicin (the hot chemical in chilies) unleashes its fury on your mouth, you experience an adrenaline rush that sends a chill down your back and forces goosebumps to swell up everywhere. Pueblo chiles should be accompanied with a beer or a shot of tequila, as this is a known method to disperse some of the burn from your tastebuds. Of course, a glass of milk can do the same thing.
The “Big Don” chile can be found at the Pueblo farmer’s market. This hybrid, grown by local farmer Don Mauro, is a combination of a jalapeno and the classic Pueblo chile. It’s a scorcher – definitely not for the feeble or faint of heart.
Siefford describes his idea of the perfect meal – one that includes roasted chilies combined with garlic, vinegar, oil and onions, sautéed and liberally applied to sandwiches or an Italian sausage grinder. For a sure-fire crowd pleaser, try frying up a sizeable quantity of Pueblo Italian sausage, adding chilies and simmering in red wine until it evaporates. Serve alone or with pasta for a memorable meal.