Posted October 31, 2004 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News


Chile Fix is Quick ‘n Easy

Rita Garrison Dobie and husband Skip, now deceased, were on vacation zooming west along I-10 through New Mexico in 1990 when they stopped in Las Cruces. “It was love at first sight,” said Rita, spirited owner of Tia Rita’s dehydrated chile products. Within a year the couple moved from native Oklahoma to Las Cruces. Skip, an ambitious photographer, and Rita, a caterer and cookbook author began to sell her recipe tomes at the Las Cruces Farmers Market. Then in 1991, the couple, each a self-proclaimed gourmand, decided to utilize Rita’s food dehydration savvy to package salsa mixes. “We figured that, with salsa’s rising popularity, this is exactly what the world needed,” she said. And the Dobies were right.

On the first Saturday of May in 1991, the entrepreneurs showed up at the Farmers Market armed with 30 polyurethane packages of mild, medium and hot salsa, all of which sold within 30 minutes. The following Saturday they peddled 60 packages in record time. Convinced they had a hot idea, that fall they introduced green chile salt, also a hit. By mid-1992, a half dozen additional products were being sold at the market including chile mixes, a variety of seasonings and extra hot salsa (to please local palates). “The Farmers Market,” Rita claims, “is the best place in the world to test a product.” Regular customers often help out by completing a written review.

The dehydration process, explained Rita, is the original method of food preservation, which blocks moisture spoilage such as mold or fermentation. Not only are dried foods convenient to store but they’re also easier to transport because of their greatly reduced volume and mass. “It’s man’s oldest way and most perfect way to preserve food,” she said. “When dehydrated properly, ninety percent of a food’s nutrients can be retained.” Rita compares the process to that of freezing or canning foods. “Only 25 percent of the nutrients are retained by freezing and 75 percent by canning,” she said. Last year, Rita used 1,300 pounds of dried chile or “approximately 20,000 pounds from the vine” for her mixes that contain “absolutely no artificial flavors. Not only are they convenient to use, but they’re good for you and they taste good.” She said that her chile salts contain only “thirty percent salt” and the refried bean mix is fat free. Most of Rita’s “dump and go” entrees can be prepared within 30 minutes.

Today, floor-to-ceiling shelves at Tia Rita’s Picacho Ave. factory and warehouse are crowded with colorful chile products – salt free seasoning mixes, dehydrated soup and stew mixes and sauces, Spanish rice, cornbread, picadillo (burrito filling), and pasilla meat seasoning. Rita also packages dehydrated chile peppers, ground or crushed. She is currently “inventing” a tortilla soup mix. With the untimely death of her husband four years ago, Rita recently decided to move the corporate headquarters to Oklahoma to be nearer relatives. Jim Jernigan, a Tia Rita employee since 1993, has been named executive vice president and will remain in Las Cruces to oversee the local operation. “The demand for the product continues. It’s very popular. It’s become a gourmet product and more and more gift shops are selling it,” said Jim. A New Orleans radio talk show host recently mentioned Tia-Rita’s on the air. “We received about 20 phone calls requesting our catalog,” he said. “I’m not sure how he found out about us. I e-mailed him but he hasn’t gotten back to me.”

Rita’s award winning products are sold at the Farmers Market and stocked at various stores in New Mexico and El Paso. Locally, they can be purchased at IGA, the Food Co-op and in Mesilla shops. She also has customers worldwide including Turkey, Holland and Saudia Arabia.

“Nothing beats home cooking but nothing comes closer to it than our product,” says Rita proudly.

For more information, call 1-800-367-5454 or (505) 524-4700


A chile postage stamp? It’s a great idea says Fiery Foods Magazine subscriber Bill Krumbein who is leading the campaign. “There are now books, posters, coffee mugs, rugs, clothing, dishware and numerous other things emblazoned with chile peppers, so why not stamps?,” said a March 11 Fiery Foods Magazine on-line press release. Chileheads can send a postcard of support to the United States Postal Service, Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee, 475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC 20260-6352

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog