In Las Cruces, It's All About The Chile Pepper

In Las Cruces, it's all about the chile pepper Express-News Copyright 2013 Express-News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Updated 3:25 pm, Friday, May 31, 2013 In an office stuffed floor to ceiling with every imaginable chile-related item (fiery sauces, cookware, home décor, activewear, chile-shaped flash drives), I learn how to blister pods and how braver cooks work with varieties dubbed “superhots” — they don safety goggles, gloves and long-sleeved shirts. “Within a half-hour, the capsaicin penetrated my gloves, burning my hands!” To detect levels of capsaicinoids, the heat-creating compound, researchers use high-performance liquid chromatography, then convert the data to Scoville heat units. Turns out that the world's largest chile pepper is a specimen of the NuMex Big Jim developed at the university in 1976. Besides size, this variety boasts five times the flavor of your standard green chile. Voted America's Favorite Farmers Market in a 2011 American Farmland Trust survey, the year-round Wednesday and Saturday event boasts about 150 booths displaying pottery, gemstones, pecans (another Las Cruces heritage food), organic greens, artisan breads — and chile-centric wares. At Dripping Springs Natural Area, which hugs the mountains' west side, I spot Indian paintbrush, Mexican buckeye, alligator juniper, desert willow and ocotillo, a delicate waterfall and the remains of a century-old spa. (Yes, the adjacent White Sands Missile Range was the site of the world's first atomic-bomb explosion, but nowadays the park is closed during brief tests at the range.) The dunes, rippled wavelike by breezes, are imprinted with tracks from kit foxes and pocket mice. Once the site of a stagecoach stop, gunfights and “necktie parties” — public hangings — Mesilla Plaza now hosts tamer events such as craft markets and historical re-enactments. Festive sample bowls form a tasty circuit around Solamente de Mesilla's cactus jams, “frog” (fig-raspberry-orange-ginger) salsa, red-and-green chile powder and chile-shaped tchotchkes.

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