- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Albuquerque didn’t have to wait quite so long to get its chile fix this year.

Vendors around the city started firing up their roasters last week to sear what some say is the earliest pepper inventory they’ve ever had.

“Everybody thinks it’s too early, (but) I’m not the only one — there’s other people who have started as well,” said Miguel Garcia, who mans the roaster at the Fruit Basket on Fourth Street NW.

The Fruit Basket put its first batch of New Mexico-grown chile over flame last Tuesday, about a week earlier than usual. Garcia said many customers are surprised, some even doubting the quality of a mid-July supply.

Then, he said, they try it.

“They come and taste it and (say) ‘It tastes as good,’” Garcia said. “And I’m, like, ‘It sure does.’”

Jhett Browne of Farmers Market said tenderness can sometimes mar early-season chile, but that he’s satisfied with the quality and flavor of the bounty his family’s Northeast Albuquerque store began selling last week.

It is, however, a little more expensive.

Farmers Market is selling bags between 35 and 38 pounds for $34.99 — roasting included. But Browne said the price will likely dip once the season ripens and the grown-from-seed supply starts flowing into the store.

In 45 years in the industry, Browne can’t remember selling New Mexico chile any earlier. He said the batch came from a farmer who worked with transplanted chile rather than plants grown from seed. That explains its midsummer arrival, though he said, “It really does not (mean anything) — the main crop is going to come up about the same time it always does.”

The New Mexico crop has had some minor problems, but overall is looking good, said Stephanie Walker, vegetable specialist with New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service.

This season, there’s “just very minor instances of disease, a small amount of localized hail damage,” Walker said.

In general, some growers have been pushing up the start of the green chile harvest by starting their crops earlier in the year with transplanted chile seedlings, instead of starting with seeds. Early-maturing chile varieties help catch the early end of the sales window for the crop, Walker said.

“People are clamoring for green chile,” she said.

Ken DeWees of Chile Traditions began roasting Friday, earlier than he has before in a quarter-century in the business. He credits rain for the fast start, but said customers shouldn’t read too much into the moisture. The chile has the same kick.

“A lot of people think if it’s a drought year, your chile’s going to be hotter,” he said. “(Drought) doesn’t make chile hotter — that’s not how you control temperature. The temperature is by the seed. Certain seeds bring certain temperature.”

This report includes material from

the Las Cruces Sun-News.

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(c)2015 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

Visit the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) at www.abqjournal.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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