It seems like you or someone who cares about you took a trip to New Mexico and you ended up with a Hatch red chile ristra. Congratulations, you have acquired the most delicious decoration in the world. Now, where would you like to hang it?
Getting your chile ristra home
First things first, you need to get your ristra to the place you want to hang it. Regardless of if you want it at your house, your business, or somewhere else, do not bend your chile ristra when taking it there. Some ristras are quite long, and might need to be curved slightly. As long as you do it gently, it should be ok to not be 100% straight. That being said, do not try to fold them or bend them more than about 20 degrees. This will weaken the chile’s connection with the ristra, and lead to increased breakage in the short and long term. No one likes broken chile on a ristra, even though it does give you an excuse to make some delicious red chile huevos rancheros.
Keep it hanging
If you are able to hang it up safely in your car, that is ideal. If you don’t trust the hooks, it is also ok to lay the ristra down for a short amount of time. If you are on a road trip and must lay your ristra down for a few days, make sure to gently turn then ristra several times every day. If you don’t turn it, the ristra may develop an unbalanced shape.
How to display a New Mexico Chile ristra
There are several fields of thought in this regard. Some people prefer displaying their ristra in a very prominent location, such as the front porch, the side of the garage, or a second story balcony. All of these are great options, but need to be evaluated on three main points, which are wind, sun, and rain.
Wind is the most obviously destructive thing for a chile ristra. Wind causes ristras to crash against hard surfaces, which breaks chiles quickly. Because of that, it is quite easy to see the damage which is caused by wind. Keeping a ristra away from strong wind, and away from surfaces that wind may smash it against is the best thing you can do to keep your ristra looking good.
In most of New Mexico, we rarely have this problem outside of mountain towns, but if your ristra gets wet and doesn’t dry, it will get moldy. Mold can cause the ristra to look dusty, and also is probably not something you want to eat. Some molds can be good, like mushrooms and penicillin, but unless you have a very good microscope and a lot of knowledge, it is not something you want to risk eating. If a ristra gets moldy, you shouldn’t eat it, which takes away my favorite aspect of chile ristras. They are delicious.
The sun is something that affects ristras a lot slower than wind and rain. If your ristras stay dry and don’t get beaten up by the wind, a ristra should still look good after a year. It might look dry and older, but isn’t that the point? They are hung like that in order to dry and age gracefully. That being said, if you want a ristra to look good for more than a year, keep it out of the sun.
So, where should I hang the ristra?
This is a personal question that you should ask yourself armed with the knowledge you have gained from reading the above. If you want it to be quite visible, hang it outside for the world to see, just keep it out of the wind and rain. If you want a ristra that will last a long time, keep it in your kitchen, where it won’t get bumped into. A ristra kept in ideal circumstances will probably still look pretty good in 2 years. A ristra in a bad environment might look bad in 6 months. If you want, you can spray acrylic or some other sealant on a ristra to keep it looking good. This will preserve them for longer, but also makes them inedible.
At Farmers Chile Market, we do not spray anything on our chile ristras, because we sell food that doubles as a decoration, not decorations that double as food. In New Mexico, this distinction is quite important. If a place sells treated ristras, they probably don’t think about the flavor of the chile as much. In my experience, the only places who do that are souvenir stores targeting tourists. Chile ristras are food. We don’t sell trinkets, we sell good food at a good price, and it has been that way since 1963.
Check out our chile ristra FAQ for more information about New Mexico’s favorite decoration.