Texas has oil and cowboys; Arizona has Arizona Highways Magazine; California has everything else. But New Mexico prides itself on chile peppers.
Albuquerque, for instance, is home to Meltdown, an annual "Fiery Foods Show," and to the Red and Green Fresh Chile Appreciation Society. Four years ago, Albuquerque spawned a bimonthly magazine called Chile Pepper.
It may sound like a limited field, but Chile Pepper keeps finding new angles: A review of jalapeno- flavored tequilas. A history of chili con carne, which reveals that the Army first started serving chili on a regular basis in 1896, added garlic and beans by World War I and tomatoes by World War II--and that the chili recipes in successive editions of Fannie Farmer followed the same pattern.
The magazine started four years ago when two Albuquerque writers, Dave Dewitt and Nancy Gerlach, approached a fledgling publisher named Robert Spiegel with a lot of material on peppers that had been edited out of their last cookbook. "The idea was that it was going to be an annual publication," says Spiegel. "The cover of the first issue says Volume 1, 1987."
The magazine started with a one-man office and a circulation of a couple hundred and very little money. ("I applied for every credit card I could get," says Spiegel. "I'm still paying them off.") Today it has a staff of 12 and a national circulation of 55,000--most of it, understandably, in a belt extending from Mississippi to California, though there are important pockets of chile lovers in Chicago and New York.
In the last 10 years, American consumption of spices has gone from 453 million pounds to 762 million, mostly because of our increasing taste for hot food. Spiegel clearly believes he's hanging ten on the wave of the future here.
"Baby boomers want something more interesting than the food they were raised on," he says, "and as people pay more attention to lighter foods and simultaneously move away from salt, they start to flavor food with more spice.
"And there's also the fact that once you develop a taste for peppers, it's a taste for life. What I call the addictive angle."
Spiegel's an addict himself, eating at least one fiery chile tepin a day. The hottest thing he's ever had, he says, is a home-grown pepper mailed in by a reader (the magazine has a tradition of tasting every pepper sent in). It looked like a cross between a tomatillo and a habanero; he suspects it was a South American pepper known as rocotillo.
The problem with addiction, of course, is that you have to keep upping the dose. "I can't find a restaurant that really tastes hot to me anymore," he laments.
Chile Pepper, the Magazine of Spicy Food, P.O. Box 4278, Albuquerque, N.M. 87196; $15.95 a year, sample copy $2.95.