Portales couple carries on family tradition of grinding own red chile powder

By Christina Calloway

PNT senior writer



For the last 37 years, Corrine Gonzales goes through a day-long process of cutting, toasting and grinding red chiles. The year supply produces about eight to 10 large jars of chile powder, about the amount her family can consume in a year.

It’s a tradition she inherited from her parents, Alfonso and Mela Villanueva, indicative of her northern New Mexico heritage.

Every now and then she considers dumping the tedious process and going to the store to buy chile powder, but the retired Portales schools employee knows the quality won’t be the same.

“This is the fun part; it’s the hard work that makes it worth it,” said Gonzales, 54, Tuesday as she sat on her living room floor, seeding dried red chiles. “It reminds me of my parents.”

She could sit for hours, cutting and seeding the chiles without getting the slightest tickle in her throat despite the spicy fumes that fill the air causing her guests to cough.

After the dried crimson chiles are seeded, she and her husband Pat toast the chile pods until they are the color of burnt sienna before putting them in an old meat grinder to make the powder.

The couple says it’s rare for people to treat the chiles the way they do today because people can easily buy it at stores.

“This is the way our grandparents and great-grandparents made it,” said Pat Gonzales, who’s roots are in Mora. “All the grandmas and daughters got together and spent the whole day doing this.”

The chile feeds their family and neighbors as the key ingredient in dishes, including Corrine Gonzales’ favorite stacked red enchiladas.

Every year they invite people in their home to watch the process and try fresh chile. Although people in the southern side of the state tend to favor green chile more than red, Corrine Gonzales said the only difference between the two is time.

She said when farmers pluck green chiles, typically known as Hatch green chile, in September, the chiles are ready to be roasted and eaten. But if the chiles were to stay on the vine, eventually they would turn red.

She said her family enjoys the flavors of both chiles and can’t have a meal without the spicy taste.

The chiles she worked on Wednesday had been dry for a year. She said she was taught by her parents to always keep and store chiles in advance for fear of a bad season.

“We eat red or green chile with each meal,” said Corrine Gonzales. “I don’t want to have a year without no chile. I would die.”

The couple also had fresh red chiles that will dry over the next few weeks for next year. The couple estimates it had spent about $90 on chiles for the process.

“Every year we do our own chile, we’re just keeping tradition,” said Pat Gonzales. “It just tastes way better.”

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