Hatch Green Chiles: It’s a Family Thing
By Monica Romig Green
Mid-August is a special time for people who love Southwestern food. Fresh Hatch green chiles have arrived in specialty grocery stores for their very limited one-month season. Ranging from mild to hot, these bright green chiles draw food lovers of all kinds with their unique flavor. Some consider them to have the perfect balance of sweetness and heat.
While I’m not generally big fan of chiles myself, I was excited this year to purchase some Hatch variety and roast them myself. I wasn’t just looking forward to experimenting in the kitchen with this respected and seasonally rare culinary product. You see, my connection to Hatch chiles is more than about food. It’s also about family.
Only green chiles grown in the Hatch Valley of New Mexico can legally have the label “Hatch.” Much like a fine vineyard, the soil and growing conditions along this part of the Rio Grande River creates a terroir which gives Hatch chiles their distinctive flavor. But while all of New Mexico is known for its chiles (the official state question being “red or green?”), Hatch chiles are the considered to be the best of the best. Every Labor Day weekend, the Hatch Valley Chile Festival celebrates their beloved crop with events, recipes and, of course, lots of opportunities to taste and eat.
I grew up hearing all about the village of Hatch, New Mexico, (current population around 1,700) and its famous chiles. My great grandfather, Benjamin Bernard Romig, settled a homestead there in 1908. He was a civil engineer from Kansas whose surveying work for the railroad took him into the territory of New Mexico. When he heard that land protected by a new dam along the Rio Grande was to be offered for homesteading, he brought his sweetheart out from Kansas to be his bride and they set about building a home together on their new land. This is where my grandfather and his siblings grew up. My father and his siblings were also raised within an hour or so from Hatch.
While those in my generation and following now live in a variety of places, we all know about Hatch, about the homestead, and about how BB Romig is now the name of a road there. We’ve heard many stories about this place in New Mexico and the people who lived there. And we especially enjoy when the rest of the Southwest culinary world annually celebrates this chile that comes from a place where we come from.
So, this year, for the first time, I myself purchased Hatch chiles, roasted and enjoyed them. And as I did, this California-born foodie felt pride and a deep connection to a place where I have only visited. This is the food of my family, past and present, and I’m honored to be one of them.