Harvey Morrow and I were driving through the fields of Hatch, New Mexico. I didn't know it at the time but the Morrow family owns hundreds of acres in the southern New Mexico Valley, enough to have become a top grower of chiles, onions and a variety of other staples. Of course, I was interested in the green chile and to test my resolve, I'd driven 1000 miles to discuss my dreams of starting in the gourmet food business. Morrow Farms was just the place for me. "So, y'all want to get into the chile business".
He commented. I did. My wife had created a green chile sauce in our California kitchen and it was worth bottling.
Like the guy who built the baseball diamond, knowing the fans would arrive, I was certain we could corner some of the gourmet sauce market. Harvey Morrow was a soft spoken man, one of few words who wore a straw cowboy hat and denim shirts. Today he chewed on something that liked like hay, but it could have been a toothpick. I wondered why he took the time to drive me through the fields and why he even considered my request to purchase green chile from his family. Did he get a lot of city slickers like me who yearned for a bumpy and dusty drive through rows of alfalfa and chile? I told him about the green sauce we'd created and about my passion for the green stuff. Chile, I explained, was in my blood.
heck, it was in my bones. What was it about New Mexico Chile that was so good? So different? I learned from him that the Hatch Valley once had a volcano erruption and the hot lave might be what made the chile taste so good. One thing was for certain, the best chile is planted and harvested in southern New Mexico. The white Ford truck finally stopped at the edge of countless rows of chile plants.
harvy placed both hands on the steering wheel and looked out over the thousands of rows before us. Perhaps this was a farmers meditation, or maybe he was just admiring the crop. Rows straight, vibrant green atop fertile mounds of rich soil. I reached for the door, but waited as he surveyed the surroundings. Farmers, I've learned are quiet by nature. Introspective much of the time and for the most part they can be philosophical, but many are too quiet to share the wisdom they've learned from the land.
"Do you want hot chile or mild"? He finally asked. I'd never been in a fraternity in college and only had one brother, so I never had to prove much in my lifetime. No initiation rights, crazy acts of bravado.
Not even tested in war or proven to be a man. Sure, I've had some success in business, but sitting in that truck with a man like Harvey just brought all those male hormones to the front burner. Hot or mild. Just what kind of chile man was I to become? "Well, I want the hot stuff".
I said. He tipped his hat a bit, raising it off is forehead and when he did I noticed steel eyes. Eagle eyes that I imagined could spot a leaf hopper miles away. He screwed up his mouth, flicked the straw out the window and opening the door, said, Well, let's go. Thinking back, he could have added the moniker, son, after that sentence.
Let's go, son. As in your lessons are just starting. Y'all want to come down here to my farm, to the epicenter of green chile-Hatch Valley. Y'all are bringing your city attitude in a foreign rental car on to my farm and y'all want some hot chile? Ok, let's go son. Of course, Harvey Morrow never said that. He's far too much of a gentleman and much too kind to say such words and in fact he said very little.
Once we approached the plant row he was searching for, he opened a pocketknife and bending low, sliced a brilliant green pod from the plant. He smelled it, eyed the little monster for a second then turned to me and said, "See if this is what you're looking for." I'd finally made it, I thought.
A step closer to bottling our green chile sauce, a cooking sauce resplendent with flavor and I could envision a bottle on every table in America. I just needed the right chile. As I started to bite into the green pod, I noticed Harvey kick some dirt, waiting as I relived my dreams. It was hot in Hatch, but nothing prepared me for the heat I was about to consume.
Even the sun, shining bright behind Harvey, seemed mild compared to what was happening in my mouth. Of course, I couldn't spit it out. How could I? To do so would be a disgrace, but more important was my pride and my arrival in the Chile Capital of The World. Instead I chewed as Harvey looked on. Never once did his expression change and in fact it wasn't until my eyes started to roll back inside my head, that he cracked a grin. That impassive manner finally gave way and he burst out laughing.
But did I stop? Not a chance. i was too dumb to know what to do. "Y'all can spit that out before I have to haul you over to the doctor". With his permission, I started spitting and prayed for the chile gods to rescue me. Instead it was Harvey who came to my aid.
"Look here". He said. "The first thing you need to learn is to never bite into a green chile. When we test in the field, we never do that. Look here".
As my eyeballs came back into focus, I watched him unfold the same pocket knife and as he bent to retrieve another chile from the plant, I prayed it wasn't for me. Realizing it wasn't I thanked the great capsicum god in the Hatch volcano and considered crying. Harvey sliced open the pod length wise and as he peeled the upper half off, he revealed to me a golden channel of veins. I'd seen them before, the white portion of green chile, only this chile possessed none of what I was used to. "If the veins are anything but white", he said, "it's hot and the deeper the color, the hotter the chile". We were back in the truck, bouncing along the dirt pathways when I could finally speak.
Granted it was a whisper at first and I don't remember what I said, but I remember how grateful I felt for my first lesson. Harvey was the perfect teacher. And he was kind, much more so that I'd been in my lifetime. After a while, we rode in silence and all of a sudden he slowed and again stared out the window of the truck.
I remembered the zen moment earlier, but this time he said, "We got hotter chile if you want to taste some of that. This time we both laughed and again my eyes started to water".
Coyote Trail Cooking Sauces, have won many awards most notably for the BEST RED CHILE in the state of New Mexico. Today, they can be purchased at retail stores throughout the Southwest or on line through their web site where unique recipes can also be found