String ‘em up
Or What To Do With A Bushel of Peppers
This weekend, my friend Ann and I set out to make the traditional symbol of spicy food, good luck and autumn in the Southwest, the useful and decorative ristra.
The ristra is a string of chili peppers hung to dry for use in the kitchen over the year. You can spot them hanging outside homes and roadside stands all over New Mexico in the autumn. They are useful in making red chili sauce, pepper flakes and a myriad of other cuinary delights I am excited to discover.
Okagawas has a whole room dedicated to bushels and bushels of green and red peppers ready for cooking, roasting or stringing. We chose the New Mexico chili, but they told us the Anaheim is also a good choice for drying.
It's easy to make your own. Start with a double string of heavy duty fishing line with a washer tied at the bottom so the peppers will stay on. Use tapestry needles to string the line through the base of each pepper, tightly fitting them together and spiraling them as you load them onto the string.
When the ristra is long enough, tie a washer to the top of the string and tie on a raffia bow.
If you hang yours in a well ventilated area where it's protected from sun and weather, they should last over a year. One bushel of peppers ($22 at Okagawas) can make up to four ristras. One for yourself and three to share with friends.
"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."