​​​​​​Hand Harvested Chiltipen Chiles

                             Hand Harvesting Wild Chiles

Because wild chiles do not grow in flat, cultivated fields, as do domesticated chiles, where the plant is at your fingertips,  it requires a different skill set. You need some some stamina to ascend hillsides of uneven terrain.  You use a keen eye to search out the plants that grow sparsely, that are sometimes partially obscured, under nurse plants. And it is best to stay alert for venomous critters.  If you are a seasoned harvester, you will seek out the chile plants from years past, that offered a good yield, assuming that they survived freezes and drought. I have seen neighbors who use donkeys for days-at-a-time picking with family members. The donkeys carry provisions, as well as carry the bags of bright red chiles back down the mountain and hill sides. 

If I could take you picking, it would be late fall in the foothills of the Sierra Madres. The light has that slanted fall feel, and is more golden now. The mornings are cool, the days heat up into the 90’s sometimes, but we are not uncomfortable because the chiles grow under nurse plants. It is a sensual thing, this buisness of hand harvesting wild chiles. They feel good, smell better, and we fall into a rhythm of walking to a bush, meandering in under the nurse tree or thornbush or columnar cacti - and with one or both hands, we begin.

In September, the small immature fruits are often green, and and are picked to be pickled or cured in salt. If they are red, they are ripe, and come off early into your hand. The fruits are in all stages of color: green, orange, black, purplish, and red. Sometimes flowers and buds and fruits in various stages of maturity are all on the same plant. I love that as you can see the whole cycle of the fruit! Bird songs serenade us, and occasionally your fingers encounter a chapulin (grasshopper) or spider as they, too, seek the smooth round fruits. Small green leaves shake and shimmer in the warm breezes of fall. It is still hot enough you should watch and listen for snakes, but it is past chigger time. The chile harvest lasts through October, November, and sometimes into December depending on the weather and where you are picking.