Almost everybody who lives in Southeastern Colorado has an emotional connection to the famous chilies that are grown on farms on Pueblo’s Saint Charles Mesa, just east of Pueblo. Eaten throughout the year by many with practically every meal, chile is one of Pueblo’s staples. It can be found everywhere – in our Mexican, Italian, Chinese or American restaurants, as well as in thousands of people’s freezers, to be used in anything that needs a little “kick.” Locals use the roasted chilies on eggs, on cold salami and capicola sandwiches, on hamburgers, on pasta, and of course, in salsa and green chile.
Pueblo chile is a staple of the cuisine in southern Colorado and farmers note that it is the one of the most nutritious things that they can grow in the high desert of the lower Arkansas River Valley. The Pueblo chile originates from the mirasol chile, a chile that grows with its tips pointing upwards, towards the sun. Mirasol means “looking at the sun” in Spanish.
Farmer Harry Mosco developed a type of mirasol chile on his farm on the Saint Charles Mesa of Pueblo County. In 1994, his nephew Dr. Mike Bartolo, of Colorado State University Arkansas Valley Research Center in Rocky Ford, used his uncle’s seed to develop a chile – dubbed the “Mosco” – that produced superior and meatier fruit. This beautiful multi-generational chile is the foundation of today’s popular Pueblo chile.
The growing conditions in Southeastern Colorado render some of the best chile available. Hot, dry, sunny summer days with cooler nights, combined with our rich soils and pure Colorado water yield the flavorful Pueblo chiles. Its pungency ranges between 5,000 and 20,000 Scoville Heat Units, the measurement method used to rank chile heat. Pueblo chile is comparable to moderate jalapeno peppers.
Although raw chile is often used in salsas, the best way to eat the little treasures is by roasting them and integrating them into, well, everything. For those unfamiliar with the Pueblo chile, roasting is simple. It can be a time-consuming project to do on your own, but for a little extra per bushel, you can have them roasted for you at the farmer’s market, produce stands or at Pueblo’s world-famous Chile and Frijole Festival every fall. During harvest season, thousands of people from across the region migrate to Pueblo to purchase bushels of roasted chile at DiTomaso Farms, DiSanti Farms, and other farm stands on the Mesa. Puebloans usually divide chilies into serving-size Ziploc bags (approximately 1 dozen chilies) and freeze them. Some opt to roast chilies themselves, grilling them over an open flame until the skins blister and turn black. After roasting, locals place chiles into a covered casserole or heavy-duty plastic bag to steam for at least 5-10 minutes to loosen their skins, then remove the skins, reserving the dark green edible flesh.
Snagging a bag of roasted Pueblo chilies from your freezer is like getting a grab bag from a church festival – you don’t know what each Ziploc holds. Some chilies are mild and can be eaten with reckless abandon. Each bag always includes at least one “little devil” that has the capsaicin capacity to make you reach for a drink. Such is the beauty of Pueblo chile.
Want to try Pueblo Chile, without committing to a bushel? Ask for Pueblo Chile by name at restaurants throughout Pueblo County, or look for it at fine grocers in the region. Experience the flavor of Pueblo!