My neighbor once excitedly reported that he and his daughters had planted three corn plants in pots, and they were eagerly watching them grow, already planning what to make with the sweet corn that would be forthcoming. I winced. He gave me a sideways look. A conversation ensued. I was, quite unfairly, categorized as a spoilsport, and the neighbor proclaimed the harvest would work out just fine, thank you very much. The summer passed and they grew some lovely corn plants, but alas, no fully-formed and ripened ears of corn appeared.
The information I had conveyed to my neighbor is that corn, like almost all grasses, is wind pollinated, and it needs a critical mass of plants for effective pollination and fruit set. Three, unfortunately, is not a critical mass. I could probably get decent pollination and an OK crop if I planted nothing but corn in my entire side-yard garden, but I want to plant other things, too, so I leave sweet corn to the growers with large plots of land and pick it up at farm stands or farmers’ markets. Such is the plight of the small-scale gardener.
Another crop best left to the professionals is the beautiful New Mexico chile from Hatch. They are a once-a-year delicacy for those of us who enjoy spicy food, and, if you are lucky, you live in an area where the trucks roll in full of green peppers and large, tumbling roasters that send the intoxicating fragrance of charring chiles across the landscape. This year a friend sent me a text asking if I wanted in on an order, and within a couple of hours we had a small group eagerly awaiting the arrival of a 25 pound crate full of medium-hot green chiles.
Two days later, the box appeared and the chiles were divvied up. I have a gas grill, but a friend has a fire pit, and he assured me the smoke from the wood would enhance the flavor of the roasted chiles. Besides, given the opportunity to lounge outside on a balmy, humid afternoon with a beverage, conversation, and stuff to burn, well, who would pass that up?
We chatted and charred, turning the peppers until they were fairly evenly blackened. Once removed from the grill, they were stacked in big metal bowls to steam. New Mexico chiles are not particularly difficult to peel, so I didn’t put a plate on top to keep the steam in. I actually set a silicone lid on top of mine and tucked everything in the fridge overnight so I could deal with them the next morning. If preserving large quantities of anything gives you the willies, just divide up the time at various moments when things can rest without damage, and it will seem that much less intimidating.
Everyone has a trick for getting the skins off the peppers, be it paper towels, a run under the water in the sink, or whatnot. I just glove up and get in there. You can pull out the veins if you don’t care for too much heat. Once the detritus is in the compost bucket, the flattened peppers get packed into containers for the freezer. The caramelized juices in the bottom of the bowl were divided between the three tubs. Don’t toss that out – it’s pure flavor.
Three containers will make three batches of sauce for enchiladas or three recipes of salsa with charred tomatillos and onions. Or three of anything that comes to mind and sounds warming on a cold, rainy day. Given the production involved, frankly, three recipes seems like not quite enough. In the future I’ll consider buying more than five pounds, and I’ll feel good about supporting smaller farms who specialize in beautiful, interesting produce.