New Mexicans far and wide will be celebrating tradition, all over the globe this holiday season. They will be making tamales, posole with red chile, as well as many other New Mexican favorites.
Another one of New Mexico’s age old traditions are making ristras or wreaths. Not only are they a well-celebrated decoration in New Mexico, they are also said to bring good luck and health. Another great thing about them is, you can also eat them.
Today you’re going to learn how to make your own New Mexico Ristra. You will need one bushel of fresh picked matured green chiles that have turned red. This will yield a ristra about 36 inches long (twice as long as the ones in the image).
After picking, set the matured fresh chiles aside for three to four days. This is so that the stems become hard and more durable. If you begin tying your ristra while the stems are still fleshy, they tend to break.
- 3/4 to 1 bushel New Mexico red chile
- Cotton String
- Bailing wire or twine
Begin by tying clusters of three chiles on the lightweight string. To tie the clusters, hold three chiles by their stems, wrap the string around the stems twice (figure 1), bring the string upward between two of the chiles and pull tight (figure 2). Make a half hitch with the string and place it over the three stems; pull tight (figure 3). Pick up three more chile pods and in the same manner, tie another cluster about three inches from the first. Continue until you have several clusters of three chiles, or until the weight makes it difficult to handle. Break the string and begin again; continue tying until all the chile has been used.
Suspend either baling wire or baling twine from a nail in a rafter or from a door knob. Make a loop in the loose end of the wire to prevent chile from slipping off (figure 4a). Some people use a wooden peg or dowel at the end of the wire or twine, to keep the chiles in place (figure 4b). Starting with the first three pods tied to the package string, braid the chiles around the wire. The process is very similar to braiding a girl’s hair the wire serves as one strand and two chiles in the cluster represent the other two strands (figure 5). As the chile is braided, push down in the center to insure a tight wrap. Position the chiles to protrude in various directions; if this is not done empty spaces may develop along one side of the ristra. Continue braiding until all the chile has been used.
Figure 1 – Wrap the string around the stems of three chiles
Figure 2 – Pull the string up tightly between two of the chiles
Figure 3 – Make a half hitch over the three stems
Figure 4 – Make a loop at the end of the wire (A) or fasten it to a peg or dowel (B)
Figure 5 – Braid the clusters of chile around the wire
How To Make a New Mexico Red Chile Wreath
- 3/a bushel native type Chile
- Cotton String
- Stiff wire or sturdy coat hanger
To make a wreath use a native Chile variety, which is smaller than most of the newer varieties. Tie chiles with cotton string the same as for a ristra. Either three or four small chiles may be tied to a cluster.
Straighten the coat hanger and braid the Chile the same as for a ristra. After the Chile is strung, bend the wire to form a ring.
Decorations, such as novelty gourds and ribbon, can be added after the Chile is dry.
Resist the temptation to take a new ristra or wreath indoors immediately. Hang the ristra in full sun, on a clothesline or from outdoor rafters where there is good air ventilation. Without proper drying, Chile may turn moldy and rot, causing discoloration, detracting from its beauty and, naturally, precluding its use as a food.
Do not spray Chile with lacquer or a similar spray that will give it a shiny, unnatural sheen, making it look artificial and making it inedible. Dry Chile has a natural luster without any form of spray.