New Mexicans can get a little carried away with their chile peppers. There's chile beer, chile pizza, chile ice cream — you can find the smoldering flavors of chile peppers in just about anything.
And then there's chile brittle. Luis Flores, owner of chili brittle purveyor Las Cruces Candy Company, beats the summer heat by getting up at 3 a.m. to prepare his specialties.
His company makes a dozen different types of brittle, studded with pecans, peanuts, pistachios and the less familiar pinon nut. Today, Flores is making his Green Chile Pecan Brittle.
He hunches over a large copper kettle, stirring a gooey mixture of sugar and water until the goop reaches a steamy 280 degrees. Then, Flores adds the most important ingredient: green chile powder from New Mexico's famous pepper fields.
It drops into the kettle in a cloud of dust. Even the "mild" powder can leave you coughing if you're not prepared.
Another New Mexico staple crop, pecans, follow the green chile into the pot. When the mixture is complete, Flores pours it onto an 8-foot stainless steel table and stretches it thin.
When it cools and hardens, the brittle resembles a giant continent. Flores breaks it up into little tectonic plates.
"Nowadays, you can make peanut brittle in a microwave," Flores says. "This is the old-fashioned method of making the product."
Just like his parents used to make, Flores adds.
"My father had started as a young boy working with a candy maker in Mexico when he was 8 or 9 years old," he says.
Today, Flores sells his candy to gift shops across the Southwest. He's also a regular at the farmer's market in his hometown of Las Cruces.
On a sunny Saturday, tourist Mike Gardener of Los Angeles stopped by Flores' table for a taste. It's sweet at first ... but seconds later, the chile sneaks up and delivers a sharp punch to the tongue.
"Oh yeah, it's a good kick," Gardener says. "Yeah — it's the after-burn."
New Mexico's long green chile pepper is so beloved that a new state law now protects its authenticity. That means any chile product advertised as New Mexican better be the real deal.
And if all this chile talk has got your mouth watering, you're in luck — if you can get to New Mexico. The first chile harvests of the year are just getting started.