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How Coyote Brought The Chiles

From the 1989 cookbook Coyote Cafe by Mark Miller.

Unlike Beaver or Squirrel, Coyote has never been known for his industriousness. Instead, he revels in being clever, and you can bet that if ever there was a schemer, it’s Coyote. The good thing is that oftentimes Coyote’s self-serving plans backfire, and sometimes the result is wonderful. This is just such a story.

It all happened back before the world was really up on its feet and all that existed were a few animals and the seasons. One winter, as he lay on a rock cursing the cold wind that continually rifled through his fur, Coyote came to the conclusion that winter just wasn’t working out. Spring, summer, and fall were fine, but winter, he thought, was just a bad idea that should be done away with. He decided that the thing to do was to convince the Goddess of the Seasons, who had carelessly created this thing called winter, to rid everyone, but mainly Coyote, of this heartless time of year.

So from where he sat on his rock among the last bit of remaining brush, he pointed his nose up to the sky and howled to the Goddess of the Seasons. When he’d gotten her attention, he said, “You must have realized by now that you made a big mistake with winter. Look at Deer searching for grass through the frost on the ground, and Bear—Bear got so hungry he just went to sleep. Doesn’t it just break your heart?” he whimpered, faking a tear. “It’s not fair that once a year our very world is stripped away from us. At least Bear has hibernation and Squirrel has his way of collecting all those acorns. But what about me? I have nothing to do to make the winter any easier.”

Now work was not something that Coyote wanted to become familiar with, but in his zealousness to convince the Goddess of the Seasons, he had let the words slip out that he wanted something to do. Quickly he asked if she couldn’t just do away with winter altogether. The Goddess of the Seasons answered that she could definitely see his side of the situation and that she did know of a way to make the sun shine throughout the winter if Coyote was willing to work a little. Coyote didn’t want to do anything but play—that was clear—but he also could not bear the thought of knowing that the harshness of winter was here to stay, so he agreed to do whatever it took. The Goddess of the Seasons pointed over her shoulder to several rows of plants that Coyote had never noticed before. She told him to wait until the pods on each plant became deep red in color and then to pick them and hang them to dry.

So Coyote waited (not an easy thing for him). Then when the plants were a beautiful dark red, he worked well into the night picking every last one of them. Next, just as the Goddess of the Seasons had instructed him, he threaded these pods onto strings so that they hung in bunches like red bananas. With care, Coyote hung the bunches so that the sun shone down on them all day. From his rock where he was enjoying the sun himself, Coyote watched over his treasure though the fall, but to his distress he noticed that, just as they had the year before, the days were getting shorter and shorter. Soon the sun shone less and less, and Coyote was afraid that he had done something very wrong.

As Coyote watched Bear head to his den for his annual three-month nap and Squirrel scurry off with the last few acorns she could find, he could stand it no longer. “Goddess of the Seasons,” he howled. “You promised me. What’s gone wrong? Where are you? Come down here,” he continued to bellow.

Suddenly she appeared before him as he had never seen her before. She had taken the form of a beautiful woman and was dressed in blue and gold with a crown of brilliant red and yellow feathers. ”Coyote, stop howling this instant,” she cried. “I did not promise you that winter would not come. I promised that the sun would shine on you this winter and all winters from now on. Calm down and listen to me. Go to the hanging red bundles that you made. You’ll see that the pods have grown very dry and brittle. Break off one of them and crush it between two stones. This will make a fine red powder.”

As she spoke, Coyote followed her instructions. “Now touch your tongue to the powder.” Coyote did this, and suddenly all was clear to him. His mouth was filled with a sweet warmth. The wind was blowing just as it had been a minute before, but he was no longer cold. He could actually taste and feel the summer sun even though it was long gone. That winter, Coyote stayed warm, and every fall in the years that followed, he would dry the red pods in preparation for the bitter winter to come. As people came to the earth, they learned to do the same. Coyote’s pods we now call chiles which we still hang in bunches or “ristras.” After they are hung, the chiles dry and are preserved for the winter months. And sure enough, the sun’s warmth is captured in all its glory in each chile pod. At Coyote’s hangout, Coyote Cafe, we feel you can never have too much of a good thing, which is why our motto is simply, “More Chiles.”

Coyote Cafe Restaurant, Santa Fe, NM
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