Wednesday, October 17, 2007

But Everyone Knows About...

When we lived in Alaska I did a favor for a client and represented his dealership at the state fair*. Nearly every person who stopped by (after asking if we had any trucks - that was the first thing everyone said) would eventually get around to asking if I had gone to see the cabbages yet. It wasn't are you going to see the cabbages, no it was just assumed that there was really only one good reason to come to the fair and that was to see the cabbages.

I can't describe the shock and bemusement when I told them I had never heard anything special about cabbages. Never? Never heard of the cabbages? Never ever? But... but! They are Alaskan! Cabbages! I eventually wandered over to the fruit and veg building and figured out what they were so excited about. I must admit, those were some pretty darn impressive cabbages.

It turns out there's a whole cabbage growing community - elite and utterly ruthless. They hoard secrets about seeds, planting mix and cabbage-primping techniques (having to do with hair dryers apparently) all for the mind-boggling glory of showing a winning cabbage at the fair. I heard dark stories of sabotage, accusations of shady practices and very rude comments about leaf shape and head construction. The judges were solemn and apparently impervious to the roiling emotions around them as they peered and hefted and weighed.

What was interesting though is that these cabbages, enormous and impressive as they are, were the one thing that Alaskans blithely assumed the rest of the world was aware of. Grizzly bears? Nope. Salmon runs? Nah. Hardy gold-hunters with bad teeth and questionable hygiene? All in the past. But the cabbages, now that's Alaska.

Where I live now people feel the same way about our chile. It's not just any chile, it's Hatch Green Chile - different varieties boasting more or less fire but all huge, gorgeous green pods with an inimitable flavor. My sister has grown chile for several years on her land in Indiana but although the plants get enormous and bear hundreds of beautiful chiles the taste just isn't the same. It must be something in the soil - like needing just the right land to grow a fine wine grape.

Green chile shows up everywhere. Cheese and chile bagels are common as is the green chile cheeseburger (even McD's has a version although I can't recommend it). There's chile jelly and chile candy; I've seen chile centered chocolates and spiked relishes. I know someone who adds it to pesto (!! I know.) and any number who throw it into pasta, salads, breads and soups with varying results. Anyone can tell you how good green chile is for colds or how best to avoid having your hands burn when you're skinning and seeding them (some swear by gloves, some prescribe a milk bath afterwards, the hardy announce they never feel the burn at all - personally I would simply suggest you make very sure never to rub your eyes!). You can tell whether a waiter has pegged you for an out-of-stater by how much water is brought to your plate before you even start on your chile rellenos.

Right now the chile roasters are out - big metal barrels turned over an open flame - and sections of the city are smokily fragrant. It's best to get them this way, nice and fresh and just roasted so they're still piping hot. You can slip the skin off and freeze them to use for the rest of the year.

A friend of mine emailed to see if this was a good time of year to visit the area. The aspen trees are almost finished in a lot of places, I said, and it's getting colder up north, but you're still in time for the chile. Chile? She wrote, bewildered, What do you mean chile?

But... everyone knows about Hatch Green Chile!

*NB I was not necessarily the best person to choose for this being as I knew absolutely nothing about cars at the time. I quickly learned the patter though, always saving the most important thing for last. "And," I would, opening the door and gesturing for the customer to climb inside, "it has heated seats!" To the Anchorageites it was definitely 'nuff said.

1 comment:

child 2 said...

ew...chile...gross...