Wednesday, February 18, 2015

It's not the fire, it's the flavor

My dinner companions were world-class experts in their field. I was privileged to be sitting at a table with some eloquent and knowledgeable souls, and the conversation was getting pretty hot and spicy.
“I find Scorpion arrogant ... all about itself,” said Sue Hard.
Her husband agreed, but had kinder words to offer on another personality.
“Jolokia, on the other hand, plays well with others,” John Hard said.
They weren’t talking about people, but peppers.
Though the Hards’ CaJohn’s factory, store and other enterprises are based in Ohio, they are frequent visitors to Las Cruces and are on an intimate, first-name basis with many of New Mexico’s most famous chile peppers. They’ve created more than 150 savory specialty food products that have won more than 200 regional, national and international awards. And that includes some goodies that have helped raise big bucks for a nearly-there Chile Pepper Institute campaign to endow a $1 million chile pepper research chair.
Their newest offerings include “Jolokia ‘10’ Wing Sauce.”
The teaspoons were drawn as the new sauce made the rounds at the CPI Development Leadership Council dinner during February’s annual New Mexico Chile Conference here.
It put me in mind of many evenings with wine aficionados, meticulously evaluating the qualities of wine.
And it was clear that pepper appreciation has come of age.
At past conferences, we’d heard about some big developments in the field. Two years ago, Paul Bosland, NMSU Regents professor and director of the CPI, announced the results of a cooperative chile genome mapping project with Seoul National University in South Korea.
“The chile pepper has approximately 3.5 billion base pairs, which are the building blocks that make up the DNA double helix, compared to tomatoes, which have about 950 million (homo sapiens have about 3 billion). The Human Genome Project determined we have about 20,000 genes. Chile peppers have about 37,000 genes. Whether that means chiles are more evolved than we are, I don’t know,” Bosland quipped after the 2013 announcement.
That year, the table talk focused on cosmic chile questions: Could it be, for instance, that our fave peppers are more sophisticated and complex than the humans who eat them?
In other years, there were announcements that Trinidad Moruga Scorpion’s mean heat measurement of more than 1.2 million Scoville Heat Units made it the planet’s hottest chile pepper, dethroning Bhut Jolokia, a previous world record holder identified by the CPI and certified by Guinness World Records in 2007.
Other contenders seem to come and go, but the connoisseurs at my table made it clear that hotness is no longer so hot in the chile biz.
“It’s not the fire, it’s the flavor,” John Hard said. “It’s not the macho thing of who can endure the biggest burn.”
There was discussion about the return and culinary evolution of some of our favorite heritage peppers.
“NuMex Heritage 6-4 was originally released by NMSU as a green chile pepper developed to have five times the flavor and aroma compounds of similar chile peppers grown today. We found that when you dried it as a red chile pepper, it makes for a mild, very flavorful taste. With some red chile powders, you end up with a bitter taste.
“With this, it’s a quick way to get a very flavorful red sauce,” Bosland said.
Ah, so many peppers, so little time. We mere humans may not yet have the means to fully appreciate our sophisticated chile amigos, but we can have fun trying (and instead of a hangover, we can look forward to an endorphin rush reward).
If you’d like to have your own chile-tasting party, check out a fun CPI “Flavor Wheel” with information on heat and flavor profiles and uses of 14 popular peppers, along with packaged sauces, powders, brownie mixes and other goodies, at the CPI store in NMSU’s Gerald Thomas Hall, room 265, or visit online at

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter and Tout, or call 575-541-5450.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Recently, as I peered over the rock wall in my backyard, I spotted a roadrunner darting through a ravine.
It was a rare sighting. Even though my adobe abode backs up on the last little patch of desert wilderness in my neighborhood, traffic and housing developments are encroaching more than our dashing little paisanos seem to like.
For a week or so, I found myself spotting other roadrunners on my rounds.
I was about to go searching for Jessica Palmer’s book, “Animal Wisdom: Definitive Guide to Myth, Folklore and Medicine Power of Animals,” when, as fate and ubiquitous New Mexican synchronicity would have it, I got an email from the former Las Crucen.
“There’s another edition (the seventh) of ‘Animal Wisdom’ coming out. This time it’s a U.S. edition,” said Jessica, a longtime resident of the U.K. who now lives in Alamogordo. The new edition is from McFarland & Co. Inc., the same publisher who released her two recent historical volumes: “The Dakota Peoples” and the “Apache Peoples: A History of All Bands and Tribes Through the 1880s.”
“Sorry to say, roadrunner is not in ‘Animal Wisdom;’ but here’s what legends have to say,” Jessica wrote.
“In Southwestern myths, roadrunners are notable for their speed (despite their small size, roadrunners can run faster than humans), bravery (roadrunners kill and eat rattlesnakes), and endurance,” Jessica told me in an email.
“The Hopi and other Pueblo tribes believed that roadrunners were medicine birds and could protect against evil spirits,” she wrote.
“Items with their footprints were supposed to provide protection and confuse the enemy since their X-shape tracks in the dirt disguises the direction that they are going,” she wrote. “Roadrunner feathers were traditionally used to decorate Pueblo cradleboards to protect their babies. In some tribes, it was considered good luck to see a roadrunner. The bird was considered sacred and never killed. The Apache and the Maya both have myths about electing roadrunner as leader.”
Ever since, I’ve been thinking of Errol, and wondering if his descendents are still roaming the territory.
In my first years here, I had a pet paisano, who lived in the porch overhang when I was a tenant in the Picacho Hills home of Verlaine Davies.
I named him Errol, because something in his dashing demeanor reminded me of the handsome, swashbuckling movie star Errol Flynn.
Errol the roadrunner would hover like a puppy whenever I made albondigas (his fave) and leave rattles of snakes he’d killed on our front door stoop.
In those days, I was an earlier bird than our resident roadrunner, who would often grumble at me when I woke him, as I was leaving for the office before 5 a.m. Roadrunners make a unique range of sounds, and Errol’s crabby morning protests reminded me of the raspy vocals of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.
Most of the time, he was a pretty chipper fellow, darting and dancing around me during mountain walks and one year, showing off the wife and kids. My first story for the Sun-News was about roadrunners, and I knew male birds take a very active role in rearing their offspring. Errol seemed to be a good daddy, and the baby runners grew and flourished and went off to stake out their own territory.
So did I. I left Picacho Peak and eventually moved to a considerably more populated neighborhood in Las Cruces, where roadrunners seldom visit.
When grandson Alexander the Great was a small boy, we were strolling through my new neighborhood and having one of our philosophic chats. I was talking to him about the power of prayer before we played for a while in our local park and decided it was time to head on home.
“I pray to see a roadrunner,” Alex said, and when we got home, there was a handsome young roadrunner, perched and waiting patiently in my new driveway.

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450.