I didn’t get off to the best of starts having stayed up to 3:30am and waking up at 5:30am to get prepped for my drive from VA to PA. I should have made my salsa the day before, but I had my plate full and just thought it would be better if I did it in the morning. I just didn’t think I would be up to 3:30am working on other things. I didn’t feel weary the whole day as I was on my feet. Having made my salsa fresh, it might have been the reason why I got 2nd place out of 23 salsa entries at the show. I wouldn’t have done it any different. That moment which I will discuss below was a huge highlight for me.
The event has grown and grown over the last 3 years that I have attended. More vendors and the attendance is shocking despite the remote location. Folks it is in the middle of nowhere, and with the lack of visible advertising outside of Bowers, I just do not know how they do it. Maybe it is simply word of mouth. Perhaps people just smell the peppers in the air. Maybe the Mennonites have a huge following on Twitter. Whatever it is, the chileheads come. Unlike many other events where people sample and walk away (aka grazing), at Bowers money is spent. People come to spend their hard earned dollars on the spiciest and tastiest of treats. There is free parking and only a $2 donation to enter, which you could ignore since it is just a donation. I doubt that ever happens. Either way, the people in charge of the event get it. If you want patrons to spend money you charge them little to nothing at the gate.
Not only does the event make it easy for the attendees to spend money, the vendors too get a huge break. They are charged a nominal fee of $150/booth, ($100 for early registration), plus 10% of gross. There is a trust system in place in hopes that people will be honest about what they earned at the show. If a vendor pulls in $2000, then they give the show another $200. The success of the show feeds the show. That is a great system, as long as the vendors are honest of course. Imagine the Fiery Food Show doing that with their attendance? The Sandia isn’t big enough now to hold that huge crowd. Let us say the Fiery Food Show charges the vendors $300-$500/booth which is a sharp decrease in what they all ready charge now. That affordability will allow more vendors to partake in coming to the event. Now you add in a 10% tax on the vendors for what they rake in, and you are talking about a nice profit for the show. The people at the gate are charged $5 instead of $15, so now they have more money to spend. Sure more baby carriages are holding up traffic between the aisles, but that is a small price to pay for happy vendors who are now selling more products because of it. Just preaching here, but I love what Bowers has constructed here on how to run a successful show for all involved.
They have a steady music entertainment ongoing throughout the show only to be interrupted briefly by a salsa contest on Friday and a jalapeno eating contest on Saturday. People pull up chairs in front of the stage and enjoy the various kinds of music, much of it folksy and country, but there was a lot more than that throughout the 2 days. A lot of young entertainers are showcased too which is nice to see. I loved hearing the fiddle music. I am a big lover of John Mellencamp’s style of Americana grass roots music, and this show has that in spades.
Other attractions to this show is the horse and buggy ride that the Mennonites give you free of charge to their pepper field which is 3/4 of a mile away from the fairgrounds. You can pick your own chile peppers in their vast field. They have a map and heat level for all the peppers so you can find out where the chiles are and how much soap you will need after you are done pickin’. A small walk from the pepper field is the Mennonites barn which is full of their homemade vittles – pies, preserves, cookies, whoopie pies, spicy ice cream, jars and jars of pickled goodies, hot and BBQ sauces, and homemade root beer. A barn over they have some ripened tomatoes and peppers of all varieties. Including their new creation – the ghost scorpion. I got me a small container of them thinking if they were out in the field, there would be picked clean by now.
The festival itself is a mix of carnival food and vendors of spicy products. One food I would not leave without was Carl’s Kickin’ Chili. Speaking with Karl, I found out he does not do this for a living because he is happy with the well paying job he has now. He might have missed his calling though because his chili is awesome. It is plenty spicy too, and even if it has beans, I would rank it up there with the best spicy chili I have ever had. Another vendor who I told you last year had a fried PB & J sammich, replaced that idea with another creation, the Jalapeno Funnel Cake! I sampled a little from CaJohn, and it was surprisingly jalapeno-ey. Not bad. I stuck with the Carl’s Chili and 6 cups of frozen lemonade. I think it was laced with cocaine because I could not stop drinking it. Other food that could be bought were competing jambalaya and Thai food vendors, who woulda thunk it in the middle of Mennonite land. They also had gyro’s, spicy burgers, Tex-Mex, Stuffed Chile Peppers, dogs, chicken, other Asian cuisine, philly cheesesteaks of course and I am sure a lot more I chose to not notice. My attention was swayed towards the spicy products and my friends behind them.
I am not going to list a who went thread because I know I would leave someone out. Lets just say I got most of them on photos, but did lose the Seabury one because my fat fingers delete it by accident. Sorry guys. If you were left out, it wasn’t on purpose it was because I was too busy talking to anything that chose to engage me instead of remembering to take pics. You can see the photos below. To see more, check out Brian & Marilyn Meagher on www.HotSauceDaily.com for what I missed. That took much more pics than me. Including my trophy cheesy grin pic, which brings me to the salsa contest.
Last year I made what I call my April Fool’s Day Salsa which is a watermelon salsa. Instead of using tomato, I use watermelon. By all appearances and taste the watermelon appears to be tomatoes, especially the way I dice them up to simulate that appearance. Anyone who tries it is completely fooled by it. They know it is sweet, but not so much that they think anything is wrong. So last year I fooled the judges and got 4th place. I was told by the guy running the event that I should have let the judges know about the watermelon instead of hiding it with the April Fools Day name. So with that in mind I was going to just call it, “Watermelon, no tomato salsa”. Unfortunately they changed it, and no name was required. So I was left to the same fate as last year. I did make one change though. I changed the hot sauce I added to the base from Smack My Ass and Call Me Sally Jalapeno Hot Sauce, the Second Coming to Big Dawg’s Jalapeno Hot Sauce which is my favorite jalapeno hot sauce. The change must have put me over the top because I tied for 2nd place, but won the run off, and just 2 points behind 1st place. Bill Conroy took the title again, his 3rd in 4 years, and for 2.5th place went to Brian Klingaman. Congrats to the both of them. I hope they are as thrilled as I was in winning a trophy.
After the contest I walked around letting some of my vendor friends try my successful watermelon salsa and I even let a few touch my esteemed trophy. I will tell you that I totally get why people make their own products from a hobby to a business. Sharing what you love with others that appreciate your efforts is extremely gratifying. I by no means will turn to a life of salsa making. I rather have others do that, and I can share my recipe at various parties.
Between passing around my salsa and inquiring who would participate in the after show dinner I had setup, I didn’t try too much new stuff leaving that for Day 2, Saturday. For dinner we all met at the Florence Grille, an Italian restaurant right next to the Hilton Gardens hotel we were staying at. The convenience paid off for the many weary vendors who were drained by the long, humid, hot weather of the day. We all needed showers very badly to cool off before we could settle down for dinner. These guys worked very hard. We had a nice turnout of about 25 people, and some of us hung-out to 3 am. I walked away at 1:30am to CaJohn’s jabs that I could not hang. It was a long day for me too. Before we all turned in there was some bonding first with some of the guys.
I had picked some of the new super hot chile the Ghost Scorpions, and brought back one from the car along with a bottle of pickled bologna. Yes, you heard me right. The description that was given to the floating meat chunks was not meant to be repeated, but for those who were there, H.C. is mention enough. Before I tell you what we did with the pickled bologna 6 of us decided to man up and take a slice of the ghost scorpion. The 6 guys were Jeremy Walsh of Bigfats, Steve Seabury from High River Sauces, Ed Bucholz from Born to Hula, Vid Lynch of Torchbearer Sauces, Mike from Wicked Cactus and yours truly. We can all look back now at the stupidity of the moment and smile at the accomplishment, but none of us were happy at the moment the heat kicked into overdrive. Sure the flavor was quite good, but the heat was way up there, and did not let up for quite a while. Very similar to the burn of the Trinidad Scorpion. I hope someone took a picture of this pepper because I did not. It looked like an alien embryo.
After the heat was gone, I looked for volunteers to take on a thick slice of the bologna. Vid and Steve wanted no part of this challenge, but Ed, Jeremy, Mike from Wicked Cactus, and Doehne from Deano’s Jalapenos took a piece more out of curiosity than anything else. They strangely reacted positively, so I took a whole piece out and chomped on it eagerly. Boy was I disappointed. It was more like the mini smoked sausage you would find at a 7-11 or Sheetz next to Slim Jims and individual jerky slices. I gave the bottle away to Ed, but he some how lost it to Jeremy who took it without anyone noticing him.
An hour or two later with much alcohol consumed, I threw out the next challenge. Drinking the bologna pickling juice floating in the bottle. I prepare 5 shots and after some peer pressure, Vid, Ed, Doehne, Jeremy, and myself took a bar shot full of this salty fluid. It wasn’t as bad as I thought, but I felt like I just licked the sweaty back of a wildebeest. As the restaurant bar closed we walked back to the hotel and hung out for a while longer. Fun was had by all.
The next day there was a huge threat of rainstorms in the forecast by mid to late afternoon. I had to make some quick purchases and get them to my car and out of town before my 3 hour drive home was compromised. With the rolling clouds coming in fast and the wind picking up, I was gone by 3pm. With 15 minutes of my departure the rain hit hard. Before all the happened I made a few rounds around the show making some purchases and getting my Carl’s Kickin’ Chili for lunch. I also bought some frozen for dinner when I got home. There was some great new sauces that I bought- Bigfats’ new verde sauce called the Big Mamu, Rocky’s Original Hot Sauce and Jordan Brenner’s Hot-Cha WAA-Cha Sauce & Spice Co.’s Strawberry Habanero. All 3 have such unique flavors. 2 more sauces were just in the testing stage, one also by Bigfats is to debut as his 708 hot sauce involved the pleasant taste of cinnamon. The other was by High River Sauces which involves the blood orange. Very smooth. It was bloody delicious. I restocked on some of my favorites and forgot one in particular which really irks me because I only see them at this show. I do want to mention one more product and that is the new Spice Cream from Bonfatto’s Wing Sauce & Marinade. He gave me a complimentary pint of his Jumping Jack Apple Splash Spice Cream which combines sweet cinnamon apples, Blackstrap molasses and a splash of Jack Daniels Whiskey with premium vanilla ice cream and pecans. The creation starts with his Apple Pepper Jack wing sauce. While I did not notice any heat coming from my spice cream, I was in love with the entire combination. Remember now, I have a high heat tolerance and after heavy doses of heat all weekend, I might not notice the heat from the spice scream. It was really really good. If there is a way you can get your hands on some, I would say make sure you do. Bonfatto’s also carries Sweet Peachy Heat Wave – All natural french vanilla ice cream infused with Bonfatto’s Peaches N’ Scream® Sauce
& Granola, and Rolling Berry Blastoff – all natural french vanilla ice cream infused with Bonfatto’s Razz Hab® Sauce & Peanut Butter Cups. I know Marilyn Meagher had that one and she seemed to enjoy it quite a lot. Check them out at www.spicecream.com
That is my recap of one of the great hot sauce shows in the country. I hope everyone got away unharmed from the storm that hit the show. It was a truly awesome 2 days hanging with everyone including my buddy Steve who came all the way from work in NY to join us. I loved every moment of it, and look forward to next week when I take to the air to the Houston Hot Sauce Festival. I will keep you abreast of the ongoing excitement from that show, including the winner of our huge Salsa Contest. Until then, stay away from the pickled bologna.