The Future of Chiltepíns
On the drive back to Cumpas, Antonio spoke of his dreams–and the problems inherent in achieving them. He wanted to create a chiltepín plantation, where all the bushes were centrally located and irrigated, thus eliminating wasted time and money with pickers wandering for miles through rough country.
I reminded him of the problems with previously cultivated chiltepín crops that we had learned about at the symposium. In those experiments, growers had planted the chiltepíns in rows under artificial shade and had irrigated them as if they were growing Jalapeños. The cultivated chiltepíns had the tendency to produce pods fifty percent larger than the wild variety, which did not seem authentic and thus were rejected by consumers. Several reasons for the occurrence of the larger pods had been advanced. There was the natural tendency of growers to select larger pods for their seed stock for the following year, which is how chiles developed from BB sized to the large pods we have today. Also, increased water and fertilizer could enlarge the pods.
The wild plants, when cultivated, were susceptible to chile wilt, the fungal disease aggravated by too much water. In one test planting near the Rio Montezuma, the chiltepín plants were wiped out by moth caterpillars, yet a wild population just two miles away was unaffected. One possible explanation had been offered: during times of drought, chiltepíns went dormant, as did their nurse plants. However, during the drought, chiles that were cultivated in rows and irrigated stuck out like sore thumbs and attracted pests.
But Antonio had a plan to eliminate those problems. He would mimic nature, he told me, and improve on it only slightly. He envisioned a “natural plantation,” one near Cumpas where he would plant thousands of chiltepín plants under mesquite nurse trees and provide drip irrigation to them. There were plenty of friends and relatives–especially kids–to scare off birds, to spread netting to defeat grasshoppers, and to pick the crop. Dogs would guard the crop from unauthorized harvesters, and Antonio’s solar dryers would provide a clean, perfect crop. It seemed eminently logical to me, and I wished him luck.
Back in the town of Cumpas, loud salsa music enlivened the streets as if a fiesta were in progress. Josefina and her assistant Evalia prepared a wonderful, chiltepín-spiced meal. We drank some bacanora, the magical Mexican moonshine, and dined on an elegant–and highly spiced–menu of Sonoran specialties.
I felt inspired. After submerging myself in the chiltepín culture of Sonora, I was very comfortable in saying, “Yo soy un chiltepínero,” I am a chiltepínero.
[Author’s Note: Antonio never achieved his chiltepín dreams–the project had way too many variables. We still are in contact with each other, and now he sells U.S heavy machinery to companies in Mexico. I checked on chiltepín prices online in 2008 and found eight ounces for $42.95, or $85.90 per pound, so the price goes down if you buy in “bulk.”]
(Chiltepín House Sauce)
This diabolically hot sauce (at least a 9 on the heat scale) is also called chiltepín pasta (paste). It is used in soups and stews and to fire up machaca, eggs, tacos, tostadas, and beans. This is the exact recipe prepared in the home of Josefina Duran in Cumpas, Sonora. After I returned to Albuquerque, I made this sauce and it sat in my refrigerator for years, and because it was so hot, I never came close to finishing the jar of it.
2 cups chiltepíns
8 to 10 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 cup water
1 cup cider vinegar
Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree on high speed for 3 to 4 minutes. Refrigerate for one day to blend the flavors. It keeps indefinitely in the refrigerator.
Yield: 2 cups
Heat Scale: Extremely hot
Chiltepínes en Escabeche
Photo: Mitch McClaran
In the states of Sonora and Sinaloa, fresh green and red chiltepíns are preserved in vinegar and salt. They are used as a condiment or are popped into the mouth when eating any food–except, perhaps, oatmeal. Since fresh chiltepíns are not available in the U.S., adventurous cooks and gardeners must grow their own. The tiny chiles are preserved in three layers in a 1 pint, sterilized jar.
Fresh red and/or green chiltepíns (as many as you want to pickle)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
Fill the jar one-third full of chiltepíns. Add 1 clove garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and one tablespoon cider vinegar. Repeat this process twice more and fill the jar to within 1/2 inch of the top with water.
Seal the jar and allow to sit for 15 to 30 days.
Yield: 1 pint
Heat Scale: Hot
Machaca Sierra Madre
The word “machaca” derives from the verb machacar, to pound or crush, and that description of this meat dish is apt. The shredded meat is often used as a filling for burritos or chimichangas and is sometimes dried. Serve the meat wrapped in a flour tortilla along with shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, grated cheese, and sour cream, which will reduce the heat level a bit.
3 pound arm roast
10 to 15 chiltepíns, crushed
1 and 1/2 cups chopped green New Mexican chile which has been roasted, peeled, and had stems removed
1 cup peeled and chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
Put the roast in a large pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until tender and until the meat starts to fall apart, about 3 or 4 hours. Check it periodically to make sure it doesn’t burn, adding more water if necessary.
Remove the roast from the pan and remove the fat. Remove the broth from the pan, chill, and remove the fat. Shred the roast with a fork.
Return the shredded meat and then the defatted broth to the pan, add the remaining ingredients, and simmer until the meat has absorbed all the broth.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Heat Scale: Hot
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