On the Chocolate Trail with C.G. Higgins

Chocolate being one of my favorite things in the world, it makes me happy that Santa Fe is home to some of the nation’s best chocolatiers and confectioners. The well-known Santa Fe Chocolate Trail holds two locations where you can find authentic hand-made confections by chocolate artisan C. G. Higgins – known to most as Chuck. Recently, Chuck was able to take a little time out of his busy schedule to meet with me, and I took the opportunity to get to know a little more about the man and the candy.

Chuck Higgins

Chuck had his first experience with a life-changing, home-made confection at the ripe ole’ age of twelve. “It was the Sixties. I was at an amusement park at Lake Okoboji, in Iowa,” he says, “There was a family-owned candy shop that sold amazing, truly home-made nut rolls. It was like an epiphany for me. I haven’t been the same since,” he laughs.

Though his initial career was in sales at a major corporation, it was merely a temporary diversion from his true passion. He remained close to the candy makers he’d met at the Amusement Park and learned a lot from them about making confections.

In 1981, he kicked off his candy-making career with his own hand-made peanut rolls at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.

peanut roll

C.G Higgins’ Handmade Peanut Rolls

The Minnesota Renaissance Festival is the largest of its kind in the United States, averaging an annual attendance of 300,000. Chuck worked with stone-masons to build the two-story stone tower of a shop that he called the Hand Maid Sweet Shoppe. He called his confections The King’s Nuts, and quickly became the top-selling independent vendor.  The biggest problem we had was keeping up with production. We had to make them on site. We had no off-site kitchen,” recalls Chuck

The next year, his work with the major corporation ended due to downsizing, which gave him the opportunity to focus on his passion full-time. Chuck moved into vending at state fairs and other special events around the country, taking him from Miami to Canada and everywhere in between.

He added Caramel Apples in a Dish to his menu, which soon became his biggest seller at fairs; eight slices of juicy apple smothered in homemade caramel sauce. His freshly-made caramel apples were a hit and continue to be a popular item during the fall season here in Santa Fe. Many folks like to serve them at their Halloween parties.


It was 1993 when a friend asked Chuck why he hadn’t sold at the New Mexico State Fair yet. “Quite frankly,” Chuck says, “I had never thought about it.” There happened to be a last-minute opening for a stand, and Chuck took it. “The response was overwhelming! People stood in line for forty-five minutes to buy the caramel apples. The folks went ballistic over them. We eventually became the third, overall, top seller at the Fair, and had to have three cash registers to cover the demand.”

At the time, Chuck’s headquarters were in New Orleans. For the seventeen-day-long New Mexico State Fair, he had to transport nearly three tons of caramel to Albuquerque by air-freight. He laughs, “It was only logical to move here.”

Chuck eventually moved to Santa Fe in 2001 to be with his partner Donald. They bought, remodeled and opened the first C.G. Higgins store on Ninita Street, at the corner of St. Francis Drive. He continued to sell at the New Mexico State Fair each year.


Chuck and Don celebrating the opening of the 130 Lincoln Avenue shop.

In 2011, he won the First-Place Scovie Award in two categories at the International Fiery Foods competition: The Unique Snack with his Chile-Pecan Brittle, and the Snack-Popcorn category with his New Mexico Chile Caramel Corn. Chuck uses red and green chile in each. They were noted for their concentrated chile flavor without too much of the kicking heat. It was the Chile Pecan Brittle that put Chuck on the Food Channel Network show, Road Tasted with the Neely’s.

As the success of his confection sensations continue, so do Chuck’s ideas for expanding his line. He now offers an extensive variety of rich and exotic truffles, nut brittles, fudge, and sipping chocolates made by hand from real chocolate, (not cocoa powder) vanilla beans and roasted almonds.



2013 sees Chuck’s 20th anniversary at the N.M State Fair, and he has decided to make it his final appearance there as a vendor. But never fear, his enthusiasm is still in its prime. “It’s been my passion for almost thirty-five years,” he says, “Now, I’ve decided to put my energies into my new shop location on Lincoln Avenue, and stay planted in Santa Fe.”


Chocolate Display Cases at Lincoln Ave

The Lincoln Avenue shop sits like an enticingly wrapped confection itself, smack in the middle of the downtown historic district, literally steps from the Plaza.

Shop front

130 Lincoln Avenue location

It opened its doors in July 2013, to a warm welcome by the community. It is a popular stop for those who work at neighboring businesses – and for strolling locals and travelers who are happy to take a moment’s respite and revive with a shot of chocolate love from sipping chocolates, truffles or desserts.


Higgins’ at 130 Lincoln Avenue.

The Lincoln Avenue location also serves Taos Cow Ice Cream, a selection of cakes and pastries, and such morning starters as scrumptious, freshly-baked cinnamon rolls to go with your coffee.

The Ninita Street location houses the kitchen and the first cafe.


At the Corner of St. Francis and Ninita Street. 2 blocks north of Cerrillos Road.

It will remain the hive of industry for Chuck, where all his confections are hand-made – and guests are always welcome.

ninita int

Ninita Street C.G. Higgins.

If you’re planning ahead, or live out of town and are thinking of giving special Santa Fe confections as gifts for the upcoming Holiday season, you can contact Chuck, or access his website by going to:  http://santafeselection.com/chocolate/c-g-higgins-confections

Feed Your Fetish at KESHI-The Zuni Connection

The origins of the noun fetish stem from the17th-century Portuguese word feitiço meaning “charm or sorcery,” and the Latin word facticius meaning “made by art.” In Native American culture, it represents a found rock or pebble that resembles an animal, which may be carved to enhance the image, and imbued with a spiritual power or “medicine.”  Native Americans have carried these talismans for more than a thousand years. Fetishes have served as empowering reminders of the human connection to nature and to those qualities the animal reflects, such as agility, perseverance, independence, and survival.
Buffalo Fetishes - Salvador Romero

Buffalo Fetishes – Salvador Romero

Mountain lion medicine reminds us to establish healthy boundaries and be a good example to others.
mountain lion keshi
 A bear (the most sacred fetish for the Zuni) represents healing, protection, strength, and mothering.
Lapis Bear - Lynn Quam

Lapis Bear – Lynn Quam

There is no limit to the talisman forms that will offer its bearer that extra “magic,”  or sense of whimsy that brings a smile. The fetish keeps up with the world’s changes and you can find many modern influences in the art form.
Skateboarding Turtle - Brennette Epaloose

Skateboarding Turtle – Brennette Epaloose

Of all the Native American tribes, the Zuñi are the most widely known today for their outstanding quality of fetish art and craftsmanship.

The Zuñi Tribe is distinct in many ways.  Zuñi Pueblo is the largest in New Mexico, comprising about 450,000 acres overall, which includes land holdings in Arizona.

Their native language is unique and bears no relationship to any other language in the world. Throughout the challenges of wars, invasions, and outside religious influences, the Zuñi have remained steadfastly devoted to their cultural and religious traditions. There are an estimated 12,000 Zuñi people, and nearly half of the Pueblo population lives below the poverty line.


The Zuñi Pueblo is located 150 miles west of Albuquerque and 35 miles south of Gallup in a valley of rolling hills and glorious mesas.

Creating a bridge between the Zuñi artists and the rest of the world is a small Santa Fe shop called Keshi: The Zuñi Connection.  (Keshi, pronounced kay-SHE is the traditional greeting of the Zuñi, meaning “Welcome.”) The stewards of the Keshi shop are Robin Dunlap and her daughter Bronwyn Fox-Bern.

In 1979, Robin was living in Santa Fe and working as a substitute teacher. She went to the local Education Department in search of a more fulfilling situation and asked whether they had a pool of qualified teachers that could be called upon by a community in need. The response was, “No.” Robin suggested they start one and left them her name and number. She returned home that day to a ringing phone. The Zuñi Public Schools were in need of a sixth grade teacher. Two weeks later, Robin packed up her nine-year-old daughter Bronwyn and moved to Zuñi.

Bronwyn and Robin

Bronwyn and Robin

For two and a half years Robin and Bronwyn lived on the reservation. Robin recalls, “It was the best teaching experience I ever had.”

Bronwyn was the only “melika” child in her class and she was made to feel very welcome by the Zuni Children.  She remembers, “The word for ‘white’ in Zuni is ‘melika.’  It’s easy to remember because it sounds like ‘milk’.”

She was also welcomed into sacred Pueblo ceremonies and events. “It wasn’t unusual for there to be a knock at the door at 10 o’clock at night by a group of friends inviting me to a special ceremony. I’m so glad I was old enough to be able to process what a privilege it was to be included.”

In 1981, Robin and a small group of Zuñi artists and school teachers started an artists’ co-op to be located in the state’s capital, so that Zuñi artists would have their own representation outside the reservation. Items were to be stocked on a consignment basis, and the artists would be paid their full asking price for each piece. A shop manager was hired and Robin stayed on the reservation. She taught by day, and at night she would visit artists’ houses on the Pueblo and help them consign their art. Eventually, a healthy inventory was developed.

Unfortunately, after a couple of years in operation, the shop manager’s lack of ethics left the artists unpaid for their work and the books a mess.  The co-op group asked Robin to take over the shop, and so she and Bronwyn moved back to Santa Fe. Robin spent a few years clearing up the books, mending relationships, and ensuring all the artists were paid their asking price for their work.

For over 32 years, Keshi: The Zuñi Connection has been under the careful stewardship of Robin and Bronwyn.  Bronwyn would work in the shop during summer breaks. After a number of years moving around the globe, and earning her degree in American Cultural Studies, she eventually settled in as manager in 1999. Today, Keshi represents the work of over 1000 Native American artists, 95% of whom are Zuñi.


The 800-square-foot store is one of my favorites in Santa Fe. It stands alone amid the moat of a city parking lot on Don Gaspar Street, in the heart of historic Santa Fe, just two blocks from the plaza.


The space is filled to the brim, housing one of the world’s largest Zuñi fetish collections. They also carry a variety of art, pottery and jewelry. The Zuñi are also renowned for their exquisite “petit point” jewelry.  Robin told me that authentic petit point is fast becoming a rarity, and that buyers need to beware of the many forgeries that exist.

Petit-point Zuni Jewelry

Petit-point Zuni Jewelry

Vintage Cuff Bracelets - Ellen Quandalacey

Inlaid Vintage Cuff Bracelets- Ellen Quandalacey – Zuni

The extensive displays, coupled with the knowledgeable, friendly staff, make Keshi a place that offers you a sense of authentic connection and closeness to a deeply rooted spiritual culture and artistic heritage.


No, I don’t mean go out and buy a closet full of shoes. When you buy a fetish from Keshi, you’ll be reminded that Native cultures consider an important way to honor its power is to feed it.

Picasso Marble Bear Fetish - Eldred Quam - Zuni

Picasso Marble Bear Fetish – Eldred Quam – Zuni

Corn is a vital staple in Native American culture, and so each fetish comes complete with its own little bag of blue corn meal. Sprinkle the meal on and around your fetish to ensure it is well fed, and it will care for you in return.

For decades, the fetish has been a popular icon around the world. Attempts to pass off items made in China, Taiwan and elsewhere as the authentic article are rampant today. Robin and Bronwyn are happy to enlighten their customers on what constitutes authentic work. Rest assured, everything in Keshi is authentically Native American-made.

Prices for genuine fetishes can be as low as $10 and range up to many thousands. Fakes are no less expensive than the genuine article, which only serves to deprive the Native people of their just reward for their work, and the unsuspecting consumer of authentic Native art.

I love giving fetishes as gifts to friends and family. They represent that old adage, “good things come in small packages.” Though some of them may be as small as a dime, they are beautifully crafted from a multitude of rocks and gems, and many are intricately inlaid with beautiful designs. Whether large or small, each carries with it a special meaning, which makes them the ideal gift for anyone.

Frog Fetish in jet with inlay detail - Emery Boone

Frog Fetish in jet with inlay detail – Emery Boone

Bear with Fish and Fish with Bear - Salvador Romero

Bear with Fish and Fish with Bear – Salvador Romero

Native American comedian and comic strip artist Ricardo Lee Caté is also featuring his works at Keshi. Caté is of the Kewa tribe and is well known in New Mexico for his cartoon comic strips in the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper called “Without Reservations”.


It is well worth a visit to Keshi any time. They are open 7 days a week, Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday 11a.m. – 5p.m. For more information on Keshi: The Zuni Connection go to: http://santafeselection.com/unique-shops/keshi-the-zuni-connection or call (505) 989 8728.

Day Trip to Salman Raspberry Ranch

From mid-to-late August and through October (until the first crippling frost) is prime pickin’ season at Salman Raspberry Ranch! And it makes for a perfect, easy day trip, only an hour and twenty minute drive from downtown Santa Fe, north through Las Vegas to La Cueva. They are also within easy reach of Taos, and the Enchanted Circle Scenic Route.

Salman Ranch map

There’s nothing better than a drive along empty, gently undulating roads under crystal-clear New Mexico skies to scrub away the mental sludge from the work week.


En route along I 25 north to Las Vegas

Add some beautiful, unusual landscapes and an hour or so of raspberry pickin’, and you’ll feel you’ve escaped all responsibilities and time-traveled to childhood.


Every fall season from about late August to around the end of October, the Salman Raspberry Ranch fields are burgeoning with ripe, juicy berries.


For many New Mexicans, it is a family tradition to load up the car with the kids and the dog and head to La Cueva to harvest berries to last them through the winter – if they don’t eat them all during the picking.


In the Salman Ranch Store there’s a wide range of delicious culinary products from jams to vinegars, fudges, chocolates and sauces made from the year’s harvest of raspberries, blackberries, and honey. Some also include New Mexico chiles for a scrumptious union to delight the taste buds. In the store (and online) they also offer a selection of gift baskets full of goodies; a great idea to take home, or give as gifts. It’s very convenient for travelers and out of state residents that they ship the baskets for free anywhere in the U.S.

Across the quiet street sits the cafe.  Menu items include tamales, hot dogs, frito pies, barbecue pulled pork sandwiches, and don’t forget the amazing soft ice cream sundaes!


I opted to sit in the shade alongside the babbling acequia with a delicious, freshly-brewed raspberry iced tea.

Opposite the cafe are the Salman Ranch Gardens. An adobe wall encircles the gardens, where you can also sit and enjoy a picnic amid lush green grass, blooming wildflowers and majestic trees.


In 1851, Vicente Romero, a sheep farmer, bought the ranch land, 32,000 acres in all, which was originally apportioned to several grantees of the Mora Land Grant by Governor Albino Perez in 1835. Local legend says Romero slept in caves while tending his sheep and so named the area La Cueva. By the 1870s, many of the buildings that exist today were completed: The Mission Church of San Rafael, built by priests of Bishop Lamy’s order, the ranch house and mercantile store, and the mill, which served Fort Union and surrounding areas with flour and electricity, up until 1949.


Salman Ranch Old Mill

Romero’s son Rafael managed the ranch after his father’s death. The ranch was owed a lot of money by its debtors, including the government, and eventually, Rafael had to sell off portions of the ranch in order to stay afloat.

bighouseSalman history

The Romero Ranch House 1860s. Image courtesy of Salman Raspberry Ranch

At the end of WWII, Colonel William Salman, who was then director of the Port of Le Havre, (the major landing site after D-Day) was in search of a safe sanctuary for his young family.


William Salman and daughter Lynn

During the war, many of his immediate family had been killed in the death camps of the Third Reich. Salman and his wife Frances found the ideal refuge in La Cueva. They moved to the ranch in 1945, and by 1950 Salman had restored the 32,000 acres to its original Romero parcel.

Almost seventy years later, the Salman family still own and run the ranch, managed by daughter Frances.

The original 8,000-square-foot Romero-Salman ranch house still stands proudly overlooking the raspberry fields.


The entire area is picturesque. I wondered around for a long time snapping photos. It’s an ideal place for artists and photographers to gather inspiration.adobehut

Lawrence Espinoza has worked on the ranch for 32 years, and talking to him, you can tell he loves it. He’ll likely be at the stall to hand out pots for you to fill up with berries. When the fields are closed he works at helping maintain and cultivate the ranch. He told me about the many varieties of berries they grow, with names that stir the imagination, like Autumn Britain, Red Wing, Blue Wing, Polena, Carolina, Heritage and Polka.


They are all slightly different in shade and flavor and he tells me, “Be sure to pick them right. You don’t pick the stem, only the berry. It’ll slip off the stem like a little hat. If you want to make jam, pick the darker more ripe ones, and if you want to eat the fruit fresh, they’re all good!”

buckets of berries

Picking hours are Tuesday through Sunday 10am to 4pm until an autumn hard frost nips that activity in the bud. Lawrence said that he had heard there may not be a hard enough frost to interfere with the crop this year until late October. But this is New Mexico, so you never know. It’s best to jump on it while you can.

Sampling the crop.

Sampling the crop.

A friend of mine went last weekend and picked six pounds of berries!  She’s lived in Santa Fe for years and hadn’t known about Salman Ranch until I told her, and now she can’t get enough. This is testament to how much there is to discover in this state. There’s always something new to explore, no matter how long you’ve lived here. She says she’s heading back this weekend too. At only $6 a pound, why not? It is addictive when the fruit is so good and the place is so beautiful that the whole family loves it there.

Shade picnic

Picnicking by the fields

It is a good idea to allocate the entire day to a visit to Salman Ranch. The drive is easy and fun as it takes you through the town of Las Vegas and along County Road 518 toward Mora. You can stop off in Las Vegas and check out the historic plaza area too, before heading home.

Hours of operation for Salman Ranch store, cafe, fields and nursery vary throughout the year. So be sure to check their website for updated information on hours and products, and the latest on the goings-on around the ranch. Or call 1 866-281-1515