Sunday, August 3, 2014

More Yiayias in Chimayo & Los Chavez, NM + Chiles for Athens, Greece!

There always seems to be yet another yiayia (grandmother) in the picture...Like Tina Martinez, a cultivator of chilies among other things in Chimayo on the High Road to Taos (30 miles north of Santa Fe on State Road 76). And Nellie Herrera, the matriarch of Damasio's Chili* Shack run by her son Richard in Los Chavez (or Belen, 32 miles south of Albuquerque on State Road 314). I was lucky to meet both in my recent New Mexico travels. 

Teresita & Tina Martinez
I met Tina and her daughter Teresita while they cheerfully sold their powdered red chile peppers and a few other things at the Santa Fe Market. The bright purple shirts they wore accentuated an unmistakable mother-daughter connection. Tina's family has been cultivating chiles since the 1800's in Chimayo, a town known both for a legendary Sanctuario with holy healing dirt and Heirloom chiles with special powers of their own. Tina challenged me to buy her chile to compare w/that of another seller I had just bought from; Tina's did look more orange, a sign of being sun-dried rather than oven-roasted. She also sold me some chicos (dried corn, smaller than pozole), which I had never noticed before stangely enough...The Martinezes lamented that I would not be around for the upcoming ristra-making season. So did I!

Nellie Herrera
A few days later, I finally located Damacio's -- also a U-Haul Store -- after a circuitous drive down the original El Camino Real. There I was greeted by Nellie Herrera with the bad news that the Hatch green chile harvest was late and there was no crushed green pepper for me -- not in the bin, the backroom or even the kitchen. For now some crushed and whole dried hot Sandia chiles would have to suffice, along with one pound of pozole. She said that their best seller was Estancia Pinto Beans, and they looked mighty fine. Husband Frank gave me the low-down on where to find Judy Chicago's studio near the Harvey House train museum...Then I noticed a slim cookbook on the counter that had been put together by a local home economist. Recipes and Recuerdos includes "Grandma Nina's Recipe" for Natillas (custard) that Nellie had submitted to preserve a generations-old family recipe. That revelation made my day!

NOTE: The Herreras also revealed that every 3-4 months they send 50 lbs. of dried chiles to someone for a restaurant in Athens. They just don't know the name of the restaurant...Stay tuned!

*In NM, the spelling is chile and chiles. Damacio's seems to have gone with the AP Stylebook chili and chilies version.

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