Inoculation

popcornman
I warmly anticipate green chile season. I am counting the days. Most places, nobody knows from green chile. In New Mexico and some of Colorado, it’s a staple. When The Muse and I worked in New Mexico, we’d bring home on the plane a cooler filled with freshly roasted hatch chiles. That was before 911. Now, I suppose they’d be considered contraband. I’ve long wished to live in a land where the chile was indigenous. Now I do.

I’ve been scoping out the best chile roasters and am delighted to find that Heini’s, the produce stand I discovered on my first provisioning foray, rates as one of the very best. The permanent fireworks stands and Spanish language tax preparers’ parking lots along Federal Boulevard, especially down South nearer I-25, also feature prominently in the guides. These are neighborhoods normally shunned by proper Denverians, but not during Hatch chile season.

You buy ‘em by the bushel and they thrown ‘em into a hamster cage contraption that turns above propane burners.
The fire blackens the skins which gently separate from the pods in the rough cage interior. The ground surrounding the roasters covers in blackened cellophane skins, but the real magic lies downwind of the roasting. The capsicum-infused fumes blowing off the fire inoculates anyone fortunate enough to stand there. I could hang there for hours, hypnotized by the slowly spinning wheel and intoxicated by the cleansing smoke.

Inoculated against what, exactly? Life, I suppose. The summer season seems to be drawing to a close. It snowed this week on top of Pike’s Peak. The mornings already carry that certain chill. We know what comes next. Chile smoke fumigates and rejuvenates. It blows the stink off, or perhaps blows a better, replacement stink on. I suspect that it’s a misdemeanor to hover around the backside of a chile roaster too awfully long, but I don’t care if they drag me off for interrogation, for I will have been properly inoculated for the experience. An hour or so of acrid chile smoke and I feel as if I could survive anything. I leave with a fresh, sparkly ‘bring it on’ attitude, essentially invulnerable.

Like Christmas tree and pumpkin purveyors, chile roasters engage in a seasonal profession. They labor a scant few weeks each year, but make no mistake, these people are every bit as specialized and skilled as any surgeon or airline pilot, and they take great pride in the traditions they carry forward. The rigs themselves vary easily as much as professional barbecue set-ups, and each seems to have been handmade with a Rube Goldberg understanding of process engineering, by which I mean they seem ingenious. Somebody with a welding torch and some time on their hands backed into the design. There is no National Chile Roasting Company, LLC, turning out these babies, and maybe that’s why I revere them so. Frederick Winslow Taylor’s mad notions of efficiencies have no place here. This is craft work, not to be improved by oversight or control.

These places run on something akin to moral obligation, I suppose. The folks who operate the roasters, like the ones who grow the chiles, could probably make more money asking strangers if they want fries with that, but they don’t. Maybe that’s their day job off season, but in season, they dedicate themselves to hot, dirty days. I suspect they do this for something not at all unlike love. They bring at least as much joy to this world as the old popcorn man used to bring.

THE POPCORN MAN by Fredrika Shumway Smith

I like to meet the popcorn man,
His house just rolls along,
And always after school is out
We gather in a throng.
There is a stove inside his house
That puffs steam through the top,
And then a snowy shower comes
And corn begins to pop.

We like to hear the popcorn man
Come whistling down the street;
For popcorn balls, with butter sauce,
Are very good to eat.

Few things seem as uplifting as popcorn, but fresh fired Hatch green chile belongs in that company.

Every veg has its season, and you know I believe in consuming to excess whatever’s in season, but the lowly Hatch’s season seems special, for nobody can sit and eat their weight in green chile. The very purpose might just be to eat it sparingly. The peons and primitives who originally cultivated these buggers used them to extend what often proved to be an inadequate diet. Not enough to go around. They knew that after a bowl of unadorned beans, they might leave the table hungry for a more that did not and would not exist. More beans wasn’t an option. After a bowl of beans improved with a small portion of chile, they left satisfied.

So the Hatch qualifies as a magical veg. It transforms less into more. It reeks of adequacy. What greater gift could us poor starving souls receive? I freeze mine for easy inclusion through the coming winter, where I’d eat more than what is good for me without the regulating force of my chile cache. Sunday mornings, The Muse pulls out the cast iron and commences to concoct her green chile sauce. The exact recipe doesn’t much matter to me. I sometimes help peel the chile, hands warmed beneath cold running tap water by the capsicum burn. My joints loosen, my nose overflows. I sneeze myself awake, eyes watering. I find myself in a most unlikely heaven while the bacon browns and The Muse tinkers around behind me. Later, she’ll pull out the burrito shells and we’ll assemble our breakfast, smothering on ladles-full of her marvelous sauce.

Oh, I love to meet the chile man,
His rig just spins around,
And always when the summer wanes,
I seek him to get found.
I stand inside his healing smoke
while the skins fall to the ground,
the chiles pop ‘till I’ve forgot
whatever wore me down.

©2015 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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