In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
December, 2012
Regional Report

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Combine chiles with other garden gleanings to create unique holiday decorations.

Make Chile Ristras as Southwestern Holiday Decorations

Nothing greets visitors with a cheery Southwestern "Bienvenidos" quite like a fire-engine red chile ristra hanging on the front door. Ristras -- long strings of chile peppers -- traditionally serve a practical purpose to dry and store the fall harvest, allowing the cook to remove chiles as needed. Although functional, ristras also perform attractive double-duty as festive holiday decor.

Consider some of the following ideas to create chile pepper decorations with Southwestern flavor. (That wasn't meant as a pun, really!) For months after the holidays, you can use the chiles to concoct spicy specialties to warm your innards on a winter's eve. (Hot chocolate with a pinch of chile, anyone?)

  • In lieu of traditional pine boughs, drape ristra swags on fireplace mantles and staircases, or frame them around doorways. Try intertwining pine bough swags with ristras. Red and green, what could be more traditional!

  • Mix and match red chiles with other materials from your garden or landscape to form a one-of-a-kind decoration that becomes part of your family tradition. Consider the long flat velvet brown seedpods of honey locust trees, mesquite's tawny seedpods, pine cones, pomegranates, dried ears of colored corn, small gourds, whole heads of garlic, and willow or other stems. To add color and scent, incorporate dried flowers, lavender, or sage.

  • Use a round wire form to make a chile wreath. Top it with a raffia bow and hang on the front door or garden gate.

  • Make fist-sized "ornaments," topped with a simple bow, to hang on the tree. If you expect a visit from Martha Stewart, color-coordinate the bow with other decorations.

Chile peppers can provoke different dermatological reactions. When constructing or handling chile ristras, wear plastic gloves and don't touch your eyes, nose, or any open cuts. Keep out of reach of pets or small children who stuff everything in their mouths!

Don't spray chiles with preservatives, which ruins the natural bright red shininess, turning peppers to a rather dreary color. Also, sprayed peppers are not edible.

Alternative to DIY
Finally, no guilt required if "buy a peck of peppers to string ristras" doesn't fit onto your holiday to-do list. Ristras may be found at local farmers' markets or ordered online.

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