The Chile 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.
Some spray the chile ristras with lacquer to preserve them longer as a decoration. However, untreated, a chile ristras can last up to two years and remain perfectly edible. It is very easy to find both decorative and edible ristras in Albuquerque. And this essential element of Albuquerque style is the perfect adornment for the adobe style home!