Farmers across southeastern Colorado don’t know in April what their Mirasol peppers — more commonly known around here as Pueblo chiles — will taste like when it’s time to harvest them in late summer. There’s too much outside of the farmers’ control, namely, the weather, but they irrigate the crops, cross their fingers and hope that come September — prime pepper-picking season — that what they pluck from the field are plentiful, meaty and, of course, spicy.
“We’re not sure what happened this year, but these are the biggest, meatiest peppers we’ve ever raised,” said Dominic DiSanti, a fifth-generation farmer at Pueblo’s 132-year-old DiSanti Farms. “They must have liked the weather. They’re the best I’ve ever seen; just a beautiful crop.”
DiSanti and other longtime Pueblo farmers grow more than just Mirasols. They also plant different varieties and spice levels of Anaheims, jalapeños and Big Jims. But the Mirasols have become the region’s pepper of note. “Especially in southern Colorado, when they say Pueblo chile, they’re thinking of that Mirasol pepper. It’s our signature pepper, and by far what we sell the most of,” DiSanti said.
This weekend (Sept. 23-25), bushel after bushel will be roasted at the Pueblo Chile and Frijoles Festival, the 28th annual iteration of the event, which was created to boost local agriculture.
What to expect from this year’s crop
They’re spicier than usual. It was a hot, dry summer in Pueblo, and peppers tend to mimic the season. Climate stress, like intense heat and a lack of moisture, makes for a hotter pepper. “It was excruciating in terms of heat and lack of rainfall,” DiSanti said. “They are on the hotter side this year for sure.” (For the non-pepper heads, DiSanti said that the mild varieties are still very mild.)
This is a beefy year. “They’re so meaty and big,” DiSanti said. “They like the climate, they like hot and dry, and that’s what they got this year.” So maybe those environmental stressors, while not so great for humanity, make for a banner pepper season.
The downside: There may not be as many. No, supply chain issues haven’t gotten to our Pueblo chiles, but that lack of moisture meant some farmers couldn’t water as many acres, resulting in smaller harvests. “There was a significant water shortage; we had 60 percent of the water we have on an average year,” DiSanti said. But while other farms’ crops may have suffered as a result of the dry summer, DiSanti said they prioritized the peppers over the other commodity crops that they grow and made sure their chiles never had a bad day. “Chiles are our babies, so they never suffered for water,” he said. “We actually have more than normal. This is a bumper crop for us.”
Securing your Pueblo chiles
The Pueblo Chile and Frijoles Festival takes place in historic downtown Pueblo on Union Avenue Sept. 23-25. Numerous local farms will be roasting the suckers on site, and you can buy them by the bushel or the baggie. Pre-sale tickets are $5; $6 at the gate. Hours: Friday, 3 p.m.-midnight; Saturday, 10 a.m.-midnight; Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
If you want to skip the festival crowds, go straight to the source. DiSanti Farms, Milberger Farms, Musso Farms and DiTomaso Farms sell them on-site.
Around Denver, you can find the chiles at roadside roasting stands, primarily in west Denver along Federal Boulevard, Alameda Avenue and other streets. There are also roasters at farmer’s markets and occasionally at some grocery stores.
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