2 foot Hatch red chile ristras in front of old Farmers Market sign at Farmers Chile Market in Albuquerque

Chile Ristras in New Mexico

Chile ristras are a beautiful decoration, certainly, but they are above all else a means of safely drying chile. Birds love seeds, as evidence by the word “birdseed.” More than just that, they are immune to capsaicin, the chemical which gives chile its spice. Because of this, the need to hang chile in order to preserve it emerged, and with it the chile ristra. For those looking to buy online, jump down to buy a ristra!

Ristras come in all shapes and sizes. Generally, they are made with fresh New Mexico red chile primarily grown in the Hatch Valley. At Farmers Chile Market, the ristras we sell come exclusively out of Hatch, as their level of chile production is much higher than other areas of New Mexico. The traditional straight ristras are the most common, but you can find ristras in the shape of wreaths, hearts, crosses, and even squares and triangles. There are many different types of chile used other than Hatch chile, such as pequin.

Beautiful muticolored hatch chile ristras
Ristras are the traditional way to dry chile in New Mexico

What is a ristra?

In Spanish, the word “Ristra” means string. You can find many different ristra varieties, such as using chile, garlic, or other things. Ristras are a way to dry and preserve chile, and have been made for a very long time. In New Mexico, because chile ristras are so prevalent, many people simply just use the word ristra to mean chile ristra. In short, a ristra is dried or drying red chile peppers on a string. As it it essentially just tying or sewing chile onto a string, they are quite easy to make. Jump down to our guide to make a ristra if you want to learn how!

For some people, they consider chile ristras to be a great welcoming decoration next to their front door. For others, a ristra belongs best in the kitchen, where they can conveniently cook with the dried chile. It’s a personal choice for anyone, and the drive or flight home from New Mexico is a great chance to ponder what place works best for you!

Ristras are great decorations

A ristra is a great way to spice up a room, both figuratively and literally. They are super common to see all over New Mexico, and other nearby states such as Arizona, Colorado, or Texas as well! The dull red color of a dry chile ristra goes wonderfully with the adobe buildings common in New Mexico! A ristra on the front porch brings a friendly New Mexican feeling of hospitality.

A group of 2 foot red chile ristras in front of Farmers Chile Market "chile" graffiti
These ristras are the perfect southwestern accent items, and the chile tastes great too!

Ristras are great gifts

Ristras make an ideal southwestern gift for any occasion. Whether you have a loved one’s birthday, a wedding, or some other occasion, a ristra is a great idea to give a splash of Southwestern style to someone. A ristra is a great way to wish someone good luck and good health, wherever they may be!

Ristras are delicious

Dried red chile pods have a very complex flavor. This is because the natural drying process causes the chile to age naturally, with a fermentation process which turns sugars in the red chile into more complex flavor compounds. Ask anyone who has tried, and they will tell you that fresh red chile is very sweet. This is because red chile is the ripened form of green chile. It doesn’t change color much once it’s picked, so that means a lot of ripening on the plant concentrates sugars in it. Green chile does have some sweetness, but fresh red is much sweeter. Different natural microorganisms break down that sweetness and leave a much more complex flavor. The same reason that makes sun dried tomatoes so delicious also makes sun dried red chile from a ristra delicious. The kiss of the sun is like a chef’s kiss for your red chile sauce!

We never coat our ristras, because we believe this natural aging process which red chile goes through should be appreciated. We encourage anyone who gets a ristra from us to use them for cooking as well as decoration. Chile ristras are delicious food as much as they are beautiful. Chile de ristra is often either hot large Sandia chile or small chile de arbol, which is much hotter.

How to use chile ristras

The primary use of a ristra in New Mexico is decorative. Most people hang a chile ristra to give a southwestern accent to their entryway, patio, or kitchen. We have a guide for where to hang a ristra to get an idea of the best spot to hang a ristra for you.

Although ristras are captivatingly beautiful, just looking at them would be a terrible shame. The “Red or Green” question we often asks is directly related to which flavor of chile you enjoy. If you like red, a great source for it is that ristra hanging on your porch.

Cooking with a ristra

Once the ristra chile dries, it is ready to be cooked into a delicious red chile sauce. If you have ever come to the Balloon Fiesta in October, you have probably warmed up on a cold morning with a delicious bowl of posole that uses red chile to make it. If you have been to Frontier or Golden Pride, you have no doubt tried their carne adovada burritos as well. Both of these dishes use Hatch red chile pods, which are what most ristras are tied with.

A red chile stacked enchilada in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Essentially a New Mexican lasagna, these red chile stacked enchiladas are made with chile from a ristra

A New Mexican red chile sauce is essentially the mother sauce of New Mexican cuisine, comparable to the béchamel sauce in French food. To make it, just pull some chile off the bottom of the ristra, take out the seeds, and blend it with water and spices. After that, boil it for a short time to reduce it to the consistency you desire in a sauce. Check out our guide to red chile sauce here for more detailed information. We also have plenty of different ideas to cook with both red and green chile in our recipes section!

When are Ristras Available?

Fresh chile ristras typically are available around Labor Day, which coincides with the Hatch Chile Festival. Red chile used in tying ristras is just the fully mature version of green chile in New Mexico. It takes about an extra month of growing for red chile to be ready to tie into ristras.

A New Mexico green chile plant with lots of flowers
These chile plants need more time to let red chile ripen up

How to Make A Chile Ristra

The two main methods of making a ristra are tying the stems of chile to twine, or sewing a thread through the stems.

a chile ristra being tied by Jhett with two strings of twine at a chile farm store in New Mexico
This is how a ristra should look when you are beginning to tie it.

Tying a ristra

If you are used to tying knots, the tying method is probably best for you, as it tends to be more durable than sewing. Make a loop that is slightly shorter than you want your chile ristra to be. You want to wrap each chile individually, then also tie a group of 3 or 4 chiles together with a final knot that is very tight. Then you keep looping and stacking chile on top, until you get to about 6 inches from your top loop. Try to pick chile that will make a good ristra shape. You will intuitively see how to do this after you get a ristra to about 6 inches long. From there, I recommend putting shredded corn husks on the top, then hanging it where you want.

A finished chile ristra, tied by Jhett in front of the Snake Ranch farm stores logo in New Mexico
This is the finished product. It took me about 15 minutes to tie this one.

Sewing a ristra

If you sew, you will be putting a hole in the middle of the chile, which can make it more fragile once it dries. That being said, both methods will make a beautiful ristra that lasts a while, provided you hang your ristra properly. When you sew, just run the needle through each chile stem as close to the middle as you can. Using a small needle is a good idea, so the hole in the stem is as small as possible. From there, you just add chile after chile, but try to keep the shape even, it is much better to adjust as you go than try to adjust it after you are done.

This part is easy, you will be familiar with how to do it after you have a few layers. Just the same as trying a ristra, you want to have a loop at the top to hang it. Topping the ristra with shredded corn husks is the typical fashion for finishing a ristra in New Mexico.

Keeping your ristra nice

Be sure to check out our guide on where to hang a chile ristra, which contains a lot of information about an ideal place to hang a ristra. It is important to balance aesthetics with damage potential of a hanging location, as ristras are pretty fragile decorations.

How to treat a chile ristra

At Farmers Chile Market, we are a simple food store, and do not treat ristras in house. There are many guides to treat ristras, and it can be done with laquer, shellac, acrylic spraypaint, or even melted beeswax! Just be sure the ristra is completely dry before treating it, as residual wetness inside of the chile will mold and cause the ristra to decay if it is not fully dry before treatment. Whatever method you choose, be sure to do it in a well ventilated area. Gently lift the individual chile peppers in the ristras up to expose the backside to coat the whole chile, and be sure to use gloves to keep your hands clean.

Varieties of ristras

At Farmers Chile Market, we try to carry many different varieties of ristras. Every chile ristra we well is made with red chile grown in the sunny Hatch Valley, the Chile Capital of the World! Most of them are made with hot Sandia chile, but we also carry multi-color ristras, pequin ristras, special shapes, and also many different sizes. In general, our ristras are bigger than we say they are. We want you to get a good value. Ristras are quite fragile. If any chile falls off, there will still be plenty of others still hanging. Take the chile that falls off and cook something with it, they are delicious!

We strive to be the best place to get chile ristras in Albuquerque. As of the 2024 chile season, we have been selling them for more than 50 years. If you are from Albuquerque, you can bet that your grandparents got a ristra at some point from Farmers Market on Eubank and Snowheights, or one of our many other locations through the years. Our name is slightly different now, and our business is seasonal, but you can be assured that we have plenty of beautiful and tasty chile ristras to buy. Buying a ristra from us supports local New Mexican small businesses and farmers

Traditional Large Sandia Chile Ristras

Sandia chile is the typical hot chile variety in New Mexico. If you get a red chile sauce in New Mexico, odds are it was made with this type of chile. It dries very well, while not being too small or fragile. The heat it carries is just right for most New Mexicans. We carry these in many sizes from 1-ft to 5-ft, and also carry wreaths which have 3 and 4 feet worth of chile inside them.

4 and 5 foot Hatch red chile ristras hanging up in front of Farmers Chile Market banner in Albuquerque, New Mexico
We have many large ristras

Pequin Chile Ristras

In New Mexico, we typically call this chile variety chile pequin, but it is also called chile de arbol in Mexico. This chile is much smaller and quite a bit spicier than Sandia chile, measuring in around 30,000 Scoville, or over five times hotter than Sandia chile. This chile has a strong, long and thin stem, which makes it ideal for making into special shapes. By mid September, we carry many types of pequin chile ristras for sale, including 3 inch, 6 inch, 12 inch, and 2 ft. We also often carry many special shapes, such as wreaths, crosses, and hearts. Pequin wreaths are particularly popular around Christmas!

Pequin chile wreath next to multicolored Hatch chile ristras at Farmers Chile Market in Albuquerque
and different shapes and colors too
These ristra crosses made with chile pequin are a great Christmas gift!

Red Chile Wreaths

We also carry a large variety of different chili ristra wreaths. The large chile wreaths are made with sandia chile, and are a hot variety of chile. The small chile wreaths are made with chile de arbol, also known as chile pequin in New Mexico. These small chile peppers have a very high amount of heat. In September, we typically have multiple sizes of both large Sandia chile wreaths and smaller pequin chile wreaths. Keep in mind that the amount of chile used in wreaths is a lot more than a typical ristra, and the cost is also higher. That being said, few things look better decorating a doorway than a dried red chile wreath!

two Hatch red chile wreaths in front of Farmers Chile Market in Albuquerque, NM
These red chile wreaths look great on a doorway for a fall and winter decoration
A chile ristra made into the shape of a heart with chile pequin at Farmers Chile Market in Albuquerque
This heart shaped ristra is a great present for a loved one

More information about chile ristras

The National Parks Service wrote a great article, so check it out if you want to read more about ristras. I am hoping to teach classes about tying ristras at my chile stand at some point, maybe chile season 2024. I’m one of the busiest chile roasters in New Mexico, so it is hard to pull myself away from other operations to teach a class as of now.

In our blog, we have plenty of information and recipes available to show you how to use chile from a ristra, including a guide on where to hang it. I keep it updated with new content throughout the year, but slow down a lot during chile season in order to properly manage my chile roaster at 2010 Eubank Blvd NE in Albuquerque. One thing you can be sure of, is that I will keep researching and staying up to date on anything chile related in New Mexico. Check out my post to learn about me, and how I learned about chile, food, fermentation, ristra tying, and much more. I hope you can check back for new information about cooking, ristras, or local New Mexican produce.

Check out our ristra FAQ if you have any questions about ristras.

Many different ristras in front of Farmers Chile Market in Albuquerque
This picture is old, so prices have risen, but the chile is as good as ever!

Where to Buy a ristra in Albuquerque

Farmers Chile Market of course. We have many different types of beautiful edible ristras at great prices. You can find us at 2010 Eubank Blvd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87112 from early chile season in August to the end of December. We have been proud to serve the Northeast Heights and all of Albuquerque. We are just north of I-40 on Eubank, and are quite convenient for people living up on Tramway, or even up in the mountains. If you’re in Albuquerque, we are your solution to the question “where to get chile ristras near me?” If you are in the greater Albuquerque area, including Corrales and Rio Rancho, be sure to give us a visit por las ristras para la familia!

We keep it local, and buy over 95% of what we sell from local farmers and producers in New Mexico. We get ristras and dried red chile products pretty much exclusively out of the Hatch Valley. Our other produce is often grown even closer, in the Socorro Valley, nearby Lemitar.

During the chile season, we always have plenty of ristras for sale. Generally the best time to get a ristra from us is Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, when we have the most availability. We get ristras in throughout the week, but always load up to prepare for the weekend on Fridays throughout September and October. In November, we have less customers once the green chile season ends. Due to this, we restock less often, but always maintain a large variety through Christmas.

New Mexico pumpkins and red chile ristras at Farmers Chile Market in Albuquerque
October is a beautiful time here, with ristras and pumpkins both being great fall decorations

How to buy Chile Ristras Online

On our webshop! We start getting chile ristras in early September every year, and begin shipping them out by mid September, after they have had enough chance to sundry. This way they don’t mold in the box, and also save money on shipping cost due to reduced weight! Even if you can’t visit New Mexico this year, you can get a great southwestern decoration shipped to your door!

Buy a Ristra Online

Check out a few your options to buy a chile ristra or wreath below. We will ship ristras in Mid-September, 2024. Our webshop also includes many other delicious New Mexican delicacies such as green chile, red chile pods, posole, and much more!

3 and 4 foot Hatch red chile ristras
Large
Hatch Pequin ristras in Albuquerque, New Mexico
or small
1 and 2 foot chile ristas coming off a truck from Hatch, New Mexico at Farmers Chile Market in ABQ
we have it all!