Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Hatch heats up for 50th chile festival

HATCH – Even on its golden anniversary, red and green are still the stars of the Hatch Chile Festival.

The village of Hatch in southern New Mexico has long celebrated the chile peppers that grow in the fields surrounding the town. Chile farming and production sustains much of the village’s economy. To honor that community, town leaders established the Hatch Chile Festival in 1972.

It was a little more than a picnic that first year, remembers June Lytle, one of the cofounders. Today, the Hatch Chile Festival has blossomed into a three-day event, attracting thousands to the village known as the “Chile Capital of the World.”

Lytle, 98, led the parade to kick off the 50th Hatch Chile Festival, which includes music, dancing, food eating competitions, a carnival and other fun activities over Labor Day Weekend.

June Lytle, co-founder of the Hatch Chile Festival and former Chile Queen, waves to the crowd during the parade at the Hatch Chile Festival on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Hatch.

For those not familiar with chile, the fruit grows green on a plant, but if left to ripen will turn red. The sweet heat of each are incorporated into New Mexico cuisine and is the basis for the state question, “Red or green?”

However, that was not the question on Edward Lechuga’s mind Saturday. The Anthony, Texas native was asking himself, “how many?” as he competed in a chile eating competition.

Lechuga, wearing a shirt stating, “I can handle the heat,” took a seat outside at a picnic table and went down 10 chiles to win his “heat” without breaking much of a sweat as late morning temperatures neared 90 degrees. Multiple chile eating competitions would be held throughout the weekend. The festival also featured competitions for eating watermelon and ice cream.

Edward Lechuga, in all black, competes in the green chile eating contest during the Hatch Chile Festival on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Hatch.  Lechuga later won the contest.

Though he travels to Hatch to purchase chile in bulk every year, Lechuga said this was his first year at the festival. Growing up in Anthony, Texas, he said chile was a staple of his family’s diet. He developed a taste for hot stuff and even keeps Carolina Reaper chile flakes in a vial attached to his keychain to use whenever the mood strikes.

“I put it in my salad. I put it in my coffee,” Lechuga said. “And the best? Get some pomegranates. Put them in the fridge. Get them cold. Take all the seeds out. Put them in a bowl. Get some lemon. Squeeze the lemon. Sprinkle (Carolina Reaper flakes) on it. And eat it watching TV, like ice cream.”

The festival attracts a wide variety, from chile heads such as Lechuga, to relative newcomers.

Chile princesses and peewee princess line up in from of the auction stage during the Hatch Chile Festival on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Hatch.

Tracey and Mike Watters recently moved from Colorado to Las Cruces, the closest city to Hatch, and visited the festival for the first time Saturday. Tracey said the sense of community was evident, and that was nice to see “after the last few years, you know?”

“Everybody’s happy,” she said. “I like being able to get outside. It’s really the entertainment of being out and about.”

The festival continues through Monday. Visit hatchchilefestival.org for maps and schedules.

Others are reading:

Meg Potter can be reached at [email protected] or @megpotterphoto on Twitter. Lucas Peerman can be reached at [email protected] or @LittleGuyInATie on Twitter.

Comments are closed.