a sack of chile pintado, mixed red and green chile roasting during peak Hatch chile season

The Hatch Chile Season: A New Mexico Tradition

Every year, as summer wanes and the days begin to shorten, a vibrant energy pulses through New Mexico. The culprit? The Hatch chile season, a cherished time when the state comes alive with the smoky aroma of roasting chiles. From bustling farmers markets to roadside stands overflowing with vibrant red and green pods, the Hatch chile reigns supreme, its fiery spirit and unique flavor captivating locals and visitors alike.

When is the Hatch Chile Season

Traditionally, the season kicks off in early August. However, in recent years, some enterprising producers have begun picking select varieties of green chile in July. It’s important to note that these early arrivals are typically “transplant chile,” grown from hot house seedlings rather than directly sown seeds. This early harvest offers a tantalizing preview of the season to come, but the true magic unfolds a few weeks later. We don’t sell until August, as we feel that chile which is harvested in July doesn’t have time to fully mature. Because of this, it is too tender, and often gets destroyed in our chile roasters. Roasting chile at scale with barrel roasters is a delicate balance, and having subprime chile will result in less than optimal roasting results.

A Season of Transformation:

In early August, Typically Medium and Hot varieties are available first, as most farmers start and end with planting their best sellers. Along with this, dried chile products like red chile pods and powders and chile pasado are available from the previous season. These vibrant green chiles add a smoky and vegetal heat to salsas, stews, and countless other dishes. As the month progresses, the scene transforms once again. In late August and early September, all varieties of green chile and the first fresh red chile become available. From mild to “xxx hot Lumbre chile,” the full spectrum of green chile heat levels graces shelves and kitchens ready to be transformed into rich enchiladas sauces or enjoyed on their own with cheese, garlic salt, and a tortilla.

A bunch of xxx-hot Lumbre Hatch chiles at Farmers Chile Market in Albuqueruque
This Lumbre will light you up

Peak Season Delights:

September marks the pinnacle of Hatch chile season. Every heat and ripeness level from green to ruby red, and all flavors are readily available. This is also the time to find red chile ristras, long strings of dried red chiles that add a decorative touch to kitchens and a smoky depth to soups and stews. In addition to the large Sandia chile ristras, we also have small ristras made with chile pequin, or chile de arbol as it is commonly called in Mexico. We also carry special shapes like red chile wreaths, hearts, and crosses!

Crowds flock to the Hatch Chile Festival on Labor Day weekend, a vibrant celebration of all things chile, with cook-offs, salsa competitions, and vendors offering an overwhelming array of chile-infused delights. The air thrums with the sounds of mariachi music and laughter, a testament to the deep cultural significance of this beloved tradition.

the Hatch water-tower taken during the Hatch Chile Festival during peak chile season
Hatch, NM is a great place to visit on Labor Day Weekend

A Winding Down and a Look Ahead:

October signifies the gradual winding down of the season. Farmers markets become a canvas of diminishing red and green, replaced by the hues of autumn vegetables. In Albuquerque, we at Farmers Chile Market at 2010 Eubank Blvd NE experiences a final surge in demand during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Tourists and locals alike flock to stock up on the last of the season’s bounty before it disappears until next year. The Balloon Fiesta is just one of many things to do in Albuquerque.

Although we still have chile beyond that, the demand slows down a lot, and supply also closely follows it. Chile season ends when the fields get their first freeze. Because the majority of chile in New Mexico is grown in the southern half of the state, this can sometimes be a couple weeks after Albuquerque and Santa Fe cool down. If the weather stays warm longer, often the less popular varieties like mild and xxx-hot run out sooner, as farmers don’t plant as many fields of them. Typically entire chile fields turn mostly red around the same time, as the plants mature and have been picked multiple times. The way farmers plan for this is by planting different fields at different times so they can have a supply of green chile even late into the season.

Challenges and Enduring Passion:

While the exact timing and varieties available can fluctuate from year to year, the essence of Hatch chile season remains constant. It’s a time for New Mexicans to reconnect with their heritage, share traditions with loved ones, and savor the unique flavors that have become synonymous with our state. However, the future of this beloved tradition faces challenges. Decreasing acreage dedicated to chile farming and water scarcity are forcing adjustments to the planting schedule and overall availability. Last year’s dried red chile pod shortage serves as a stark reminder of these vulnerabilities.

Despite the uncertainties, the enduring passion for Hatch chiles persists. New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute is actively researching drought-resistant chile varieties and exploring alternative growing methods like hydroponics. Local small businesses like ours are also working together to support chile growers and ensure the long-term sustainability of the crop. Hatch and the New Mexico chile season will likely continue to evolve, adapting to changing circumstances. But one thing remains certain: the captivating aroma of roasting chile filling the air each summer will continue to ignite a sense of joy and community throughout New Mexico.

So, this 2024 Hatch chile season, be sure to experience the magic firsthand – you won’t be disappointed! Visiting a chile roaster is without a doubt the best thing you can do if you visit New Mexico during the chile season. Regardless of where you are in New Mexico, you should be able to find one blasting away and creating our state’s aroma, one sack at a time. Immerse yourself in the vibrant markets, savor the smoky flavors in traditional dishes, and witness the enduring spirit of this cherished New Mexican tradition.