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In New Mexico, A Brittle Treat That Smolders

Jul 29, 2012
Originally published on July 30, 2012 11:20 am

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.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All this summer, we've been sampling local candy, and today we go to New Mexico for a taste of chilly brittle. Here's Monica Ortiz Uribe from member station KJZZ.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE, BYLINE: New Mexicans can get a little carried away with their chili. There's chili beer, chili pizza, chili ice cream - it's everywhere. To beat the summer heat, Luis Flores, the owner of Las Cruces Candy Company, gets up at 3 A.M. to prepare his specialties.

LUIS FLORES: What we're making here is green chile pecan brittle.

URIBE: Flores hunches over a large copper kettle, stirring a gooey mixture of sugar and water. He'll stir the goop until it reaches a steamy 280 degrees. Then, he'll add the most important ingredient: green chili powder from New Mexico's famous pepper fields. It drops into the kettle in a cloud of dust.

(SOUNDBITE OF COUGHING)

URIBE: And that's the mild form, no?

FLORES: Mild.

URIBE: Following the green chili are pecans, another staple crop in southern New Mexico. When the mixture is complete, Flores pours it onto an eight-foot stainless steel table and stretches it thin. When it cools and hardens, the brittle resembles a giant continent, which Flores then breaks up like tectonic plates.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRACKING)

FLORES: You know, nowadays, you can make peanut brittle in a microwave. This is the old-fashioned method of making the product.

URIBE: Just like his parents used to make.

FLORES: My father had started as a young boy working with a candy maker in Mexico when he was 8 or 9 years old.

URIBE: Flores sells his candy to gift shops across the Southwest and is a regular at the farmer's market in his hometown of Las Cruces.

FLORES: Would you like to sample some of this habanero pecan brittle?

URIBE: On a sunny Saturday, tourist Mike Gardner of Los Angeles stopped by for a taste. It's sweet at first but seconds later, the chili sneaks up and delivers a sharp tongue punch.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRUNCHING)

MIKE GARDNER: Oh yeah, it's a good kick. Yeah, it's the after-burn.

URIBE: New Mexico's long green chili pepper is so beloved that a new state law now protects its authenticity. That means any chili product advertised as New Mexican better be the real deal. And if all this chili talk has got your mouth watering, you're in luck. The first chili harvests of the year are just getting started. For NPR News, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe in Las Cruces.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.