A town in southern New Mexico, population 1,136, possibly more or less on rainy days. Hatch lies about 40 miles north of Las Cruces on NM State Highway 26 in the Rio Grande valley. Hatch is most famous for (possibly only famous for) the high quality of its chiles and its annual chile festival.

Hatch began as a mere railroad stop between Rincon and Deming, and was not a town so much as a central point between three towns--Santa Barbara, Santa Teresa, and Colorado. Hatch took its name from a commander of Fort Thorne in the early 1800s. The communities relied on irrigation from the somewhat temperamental Rio Grande, and they were periodically flooded. One flood in 1886 destroyed the town of Santa Barbara, which caused the settlers to move and created the town of Hatch. Hatch itself was virtually destroyed by a flood in 1921. However, after the Elephant Butte and Caballo dams were built, the town was saved from further flooding.

Throughout its history, Hatch has been legendary for the high quality of its vegetables, and some speculation surrounds the question of why. I have heard, at various times, the quality passed off to "something in the water" and different levels of different chemicals in the soil. Whatever it is, the best damn green chiles in the world come from Hatch, and if you have ever tasted them, you will know, ipso facto that this is the case.

As such, Hatch holds a chile festival every year on the Labor Day weekend. This is approximately the time of the chile harvest, and it is best to buy your chiles on or before this weekend. At the end of this weekend, Hatch green chiles can be hard to come by. The chiles are typically sold, roasted and whole, by the 40-pound sack. You can buy them unroasted, but there is just no sense in that. Unroasted chiles are a pain to peel, and--contrary to what I just read on some chile lover`s web site--the roasting imparts a smoky rich flavor and a soft texture that complements the spice quite well. Ristras, or clusters of dried red chiles, are also found in abundance at the festival, along with all manner of chile-laden food. And, sure, there are carnival rides for the kids and a good old barn dance and other festival-esque things.

There are two major types of chile grown in the area. One is usually just called "chile", though the more official name is New Mexico 6/4. It is a fairly large chile with a wide range of heat levels, very high in vitamin A and vitamin C. If you want green chile, you pick them while they are green. If you want red chile, you pick them after they ripen. Either way they are useful and delicious. If you have ever bought a can of green chiles, you probably were eating this type. It is also sometimes known as an Anaheim chile.

The other major type of chile grown here are called Big Jim. They also will turn red if allowed to ripen, but they usually are not. This is because Big Jim chiles are only very mildly spicy. They are grown for their size which can be up to 12" or 14". The largest chile ever grown, according to Guinness, was a Big Jim. They are grown mainly for making chile rellenos.

The residents of Hatch get a little high-strung if you spell the name of their biggest cash crop chili. As any New Mexico native knows, this marks you as a Texan, and Texans and their Tex Mex cooking just aren`t welcome around here. Supposedly the New Mexico legislature passed a sort of joke law in 1988 saying anyone who spelled it chili would be deported back to Texas. I think this goes to prove two things: New Mexico really isn`t a state, and the New Mexico state legislature does not have enough to do.

Sources: Things I learned going to the chile festival every year of my life, mainly. But I checked some facts on http://www.southernnewmexico.com/snm/hatch.html and http://www.ebicom.net/~howle/page/peppers.htm.

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