The war of the Ortega diced green chiles: 2023 update

The war of the Ortega diced green chiles: 2023 update

A version of this story originally written for friends was published in the Contra Costa Times in 2009

By Cindi Christie

This time of year, people watch their mailboxes or front porches with great anticipation of holiday gifts arriving. For me, December brings a real sense of dread. 

The story begins innocently enough. The man who would become my husband was attending college in Minnesota, far from his favorite foods and a mother who wanted to be sure he wasn’t a starving student. 

Thus, the care package. As regular as clockwork, a box would arrive with Ghirardelli Flicks candy, Rice-a-Roni, homemade treats and some canned goods — tuna, pineapple, peas and carrots, soups and always lots of of Ortega diced green chiles. 

So there we were, friends Darryl and Nancy and me, watching him open yet another box and wondering what to make of the stack of 4-ounce cans. Being that the three of us were Minnesota natives, and our idea of adventurous dining was having freshly ground pepper land on our iceberg lettuce and grated carrot salads, we decided that the best thing we could make was fun. 

Rick would be teased each time the mystery ingredient arrived. Did he actually eat these chiles? Did he sell them on the Black Market to subsidize his GI Bill income? 

And here would come another box with more chiles. He would try to pawn them off, but had no takers. All we would do is tease. Constantly, relentlessly. The jokes took on a life of their own. 

A few years passed and Rick and I got married and moved to California. We’re now Idaho residents. The next year, Darryl and Nancy were wed and stayed in Minnesota except for a few years in Pittsburgh. 

We were delighted to get the news of the birth of their baby boy. We thought an appropriate gift was a stuffed animal — a little lamb that played a lullaby. Sewed into the lamb was a can of Ortega green chiles.

Their reply? Sending a box of Minnesota Twins Wheaties, with a canned special prize inside, after the team won the World Series in 1987. 

The War of the Chiles was on. 

Each year at Christmastime, a can of Ortega diced green chiles has traveled in disguise from our house to theirs, or their house to ours. Here are a few of the disguises, many of which take on a political theme or pay homage to a major news story of the year: 

• A can is hidden beneath coins hot-glued into a tin cup. A sticker glued to the outside sports Obama’s face and the words: Change. (us to them)
• An ornament once Paris Hilton perfume now holds a can of chiles. (them to us)
• A nutcracker wearing a paper skirt hides the goods. (them to us)
• A can is embedded in a small concrete boat anchor to commemorate hours of waiting outside of the Scott Peterson trial. The anchor serves as a patio paperweight and keeps the Star Tribune from blowing all over their neighborhood. (us to them)
• A doll’s belly bulges to become Pregnant Chad following the 2000 presidential election. (us to them)
• Millennium baby (them to us)
• Wrapping removed from one of the cans in a gift pack of Smokehouse Almonds. Two cans stacked made it appear like a regular can of almonds. The label was reapplied to hide the tampering. The chiles were discovered when Nancy opened the almonds to serve at a holiday party. (us to them)
• A can is tucked into a large box of wadded up job applications as the country’s unemployment rate rose. (them to us)
• Feathers adorn one can along with a photo of King Louie (Hugh Griffith) of “Start the Revolution Without Me,” a favorite film of ours from which we still quote random lines — just like we did during college newspaper paste-up nights. We also sent a DVD of the movie. In 2023, King Louie made his return hidden in a large can that once held whole chiles.

I wish we had kept a full list. Next year the mailbox angst is on them. Ideas are stewing. Stew. That might be a good use for the chiles.


I am a photojournalist and photo editor in eastern Idaho.

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