Chile: not simply the name of a South American country
Morning sounds are familiar out in the country all over the U.S.: roosters crowing, dogs barking, sometimes wind whipping through trees or brush.
However, one sound was unique to the state I lived in for the better part of 15 years, in total, prior to coming to Arizona: the sounds of a chile roaster being brought out, set up and fired up.
Of course, the smell of chiles being roasted is, for many New Mexicans, the more powerful memory associated with the fruit, along with the taste of it in food.
It’s the sight of seeing the term “chile” misunderstood or misspelled that really makes New Mexicans sad.
While Arizona doesn’t really have many dishes or fruits or fruits uniquely and solely produced in-state, the advantage of its influx of transplanted people is a knowledge base of food from many places. Being only one state away, naturally, I’ve met many people who appreciate high-quality green and red chile as much as I do.
When I left the land of chile and sopapillas behind, I knew I was leaving behind a New Mexico food culture as unique and multicultural as its people. I didn’t expect another state to have the freshest, hottest, most spicy and flavorful chile that New Mexico hangs it hat on — to the point where Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham waged a recent social media battle with the Colorado governor, as that state tries to take away the one organic brand its southern neighbor has long called its own.
The spelling, however, is almost as important.
Chili is a dish that typically has meat, tomatoes, beans, fruits and some type of red-pepper powder for flavor. There are many additions and subtractions and derivatives, especially among those attempting to win contests, but most of us can picture what this word means — especially if we’ve ever eaten anywhere in Texas.
Chile, in addition to the name of a South American country, is a fruit grown in New Mexico, primarily in the southern part of the state. It’s no coincidence Hatch green chile is a product grown in the dry, early-warming soil of one of New Mexico’s southern river valleys
Can someone type or write “chili” and still be referring to the fruit grown in New Mexico? Yes. But a New Mexican, especially a farmer, would likely ask for clarification.
Chiles are more than a food that bring geographic pride; it’s a source of cultural identity. Even those who don’t know the history of the colonization of the state or about its 19 pueblo cultures can appreciate that Hatch, Lemitar or other green chiles are things of unique beauty — combinations of spice and flavor that don’t taste anything like habañeros or jalapeños.
Spelling always matters, be it in the pages of this newspaper or in casual texting or Internet comment sections. It pains our staff to post to social media or our website from a remote device, without the support, at that moment, to use spelling and grammar checks, for a variety of reasons, and we aim to use the best English — and to spell everyone’s name correctly.
One name we want to spell correctly is the name of that New Mexico fruit: chile.
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