A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from December 01, 2006

Chile ristras (strings of chile pepper pods) are a familiar sight in New Mexico and perhaps parts of West Texas. The original purpose was to group the pods together for later consumption, but the ristras are often sold as decorations.

(Dictionary of American Regional English)
ristra n [Span “"a string (of chilis, garlic, onions, etc)"] esp NM
A string of dried chili peppers.

Wikipedia: Ristra
Ristras are arrangements of drying chile pepper pods. Although their main purpose is to preserve chile for later consumption they are commonly used decoratively in chile-producing areas. 

Albuquerque, Chili Ristras
The Chili Ristras is Albuquerque’s most common and persistent decorative element. The custom of hanging the bright red chili ristras started hundreds of years ago, for very practical reasons--preserving chili as a foodstuff. Drying the red chili into a ristra (the spanish word for “string") was the only way people could save it after the growing season. They would lay the chili pods on the roof to sun-dry, then string them together. As it was a staple of the New Mexican diet, this treatment would allow the chili to be preserved for about a year. Now, you can simply freeze chili to preserve it. However, the chili ristra lives on as a southwestern home decoration.

The world-famous New Mexico chili peppers all start out green; and much of the crop is harvested at this stage, which tastes distinctly different from the later red phase. Yet fresh green chili is a very perishable commodity, while the mature red pod is semi-permanent. So the early settlers let the pods ripen to a brilliant red, then thoroughly dried them, then linked them into strings. 

New Mexico Catalog
New Mexico Ristras
A traditional sign of welcome in the Land of Enchantment, our dried ristras can also be used in your favorite red chile recipes (which are included). Hand strung from chiles grown here in the Mesilla Valley. Made to order. Indicate your choice below: #1250 1 Foot Ristra, #194 2 Foot Ristra or #848 3 Foot Ristra.

Google Books
Chile Peppers: Hot Tips and Tasty Picks for Gardners and Gourmets
by Beth C. Hanson
Brooklyn: Brooklyn Botanic Gardens
Pg. 62:
Larger peppers with thicker walls take longer to dry. You can spread them on screens or baskets to dry, or make them into ristras—large strings of chiles tied by their stems with heavy string or twine and hung in the hot sun to dry. Ristras are common in the Southwest and Mexico, where these heavy, fat strings of deep red chiles are hung outside from rafters and doorways. Ristras are often used decoratively; if you plan to use them for cooking, once they are thoroughly dried, bring them inside and hang them away from direct sunlight.

by Pat Sparks
New York: St. Martin’s Press
Pg. 27:
“When strolling through the Southwest’s older cities, the sight of ristras of chiles drying in the sun is a familiar one.”
American Harvest

23 October 1931, Albuquerque (NM) Journal, pg. 5, col. 1:
Ristra of red, red chili, a profusion of autumn leaves, decoration of bittersweet, and a splendid fall day made the Ladies’ day at the Country club Wednesday most enjoyable.

10 September 1939, Albuquerque (NM) Journal, pg. 7, col. 3:
A thousand ristras of chili will be used in the decorative scheme for the Coronado State Fair Ball Sept. 28 at the Hilton Hotel.

22 February 1951, Santa Fe New Mexican, section B, pg. 8 ad:
Limited Quantity

23 October 1952, New Mexican (Santa Fe, NM), pg. A11 ad:
RISTRAS Chimayo...each $4.50

1 October 1976, New Mexican (Santa Fe, NM), pg. A12, col. 5:
Molasses ground at the old mill will be poured into bottles; fresh ground corn meal will go into handmade tamales, chile from the fields will be strung in ristras and rugs will be created on looms that have been protected for centuries.

27 September 1987, New York Times, pg. XX6:
At farmers’ markets in New Mexico, which generally run until the middle of October, you should ask to smell any powder you intend to buy. As Chimayo farmers are quick to warn, what is sold as Chimayo chile is not always from Chimayo. Trust your nose; the powder should smell rich and sweet. When examining ristras, strings of chile pods, check for tiny black spots, which indicate mold. Also, if you intend to use the pods for cooking, ask to make sure they haven’t been sprayed with an acrylic preservative.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Friday, December 01, 2006 • Permalink