Posted November 23, 2004 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Events

Hot Pepper Fest

Willing volunteers stepped on stage Saturday at the Hot Pepper Fest and waited for the torture of the Macho Pepper Eating Contest to begin.

One by one they were given paper plates, plastic “spit-up” bags, paper towels and an array of green-, yellow- and even orange-colored peppers.

There were nine total, beginning with the mild green bell pepper and ending with the dreaded habanero.

As it came down to the last several peppers, officials made the contestants suffer just a little more, letting the crowd decide when to allow them to chew and swallow.

“They are to put it in their mouth, one bite, and hold it,” Nancy Miller, a contest official, said to the crowd. “Do not chew it. Do not swallow it. Hold it in your mouth until I say to start chewing.

“Savor the flavor.”

Some bowed out within the first few mild peppers but several of the 17 contestants in the 1 p.m. contest hung in for the duration, persevering despite their red, watery eyes, upset stomachs and scorched mouths.

Diane Presley, 23, the only woman left at the end of the contest, said by the end that after eating so many hot peppers, the habanero was not all that bad.

“Your mouth is already on fire and your stomach is already like, ‘Oh my gosh,'” Ms. Presley said. “What’s one more if you’ve already eaten all of them anyway?”

But it wasn’t easy.

“About the third or fourth pepper I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t make it. I’m not going to be able to do it.'”

Despite her success, she said she won’t enter again.

But 19-year-old Palestine resident Jody Brown, also one of the last standing, said “it wasn’t bad.”

Another “macho” contestant who made it through, Zach Hopkins, 20, said “it wasn’t hot, just nasty.”

He said the hardest part was swallowing.

Several said they signed up to compete because it sounded like fun.

“Not too many people can eat those peppers, not like that, especially when the crowd says ‘don’t swallow,'” said 22-year-old Dennis Hilton, who was competing for the fourth year in the contest and made it to the end.

Everyone seemed to agree the Scotch bonnet pepper, the second to the last, was the worst.

Large crowds of people gathered for each of the three pepper eating contests that took place throughout the day.

“It’s a really big hit for the city,” said Ms. Miller, the manager of Kroger in Palestine, which sponsors the contest and provides the peppers.

Ms. Miller served as the emcee of the contest, encouraging the crowd to cheer for the contestants.

“It’s fun watching the crowd … and watching these poor people,” she said.

Heather Hrebec, Palestine events and tourism coordinator, said an estimated 6,000 to 7,500 people came out to the all-day festival, which featured more than 125 vendors, live music entertainment and contests.

“It’s been really impressive,” Ms. Hrebec said. “I have heard a lot of people say how much they really love Hot Pepper and look forward to it. It seems that the visitors really enjoy it … It is a very important festival to this community.”

Proceeds from the festival go to the Texas Theater restoration project.

Several blocks of arts and crafts and festival food, including turkey legs, funnel cake and candy apples, were available for festivalgoers.

A Wild West Show with gunfights and trick shooting, antique cars, a quilt show and a “Little Peppers Kids Zone” were also at the festival – as was Uncle Sam.

Striking quite a resemblance to the American icon, F.M. Boggs, of Cushing, decided to come out to the Hot Pepper Fest sporting a handmade red, white and blue hat and an Uncle Sam outfit.

The “home missionary” was out visiting with festivalgoers Saturday.

First-time Hot Pepper festivalgoers Linda and James “Butch” Rowe, of the Lake Tawakoni area, said there seemed to be so much more to do at this event than others they had been to.

“I like the atmosphere of the town,” Rowe said.

Mrs. Rowe said she enjoyed the shopping and all the antiques. They said they will likely come back next year.

Others at the festival said they enjoy seeing friends and neighbors during the annual event.

“I’m having a wonderful time,” Helen Whaley, 34, said while munching on a corn dog.

The Palestine resident said the event is good for the city, bringing residents and visitors downtown.

A former Houston resident who used to drive up just for the Hot Pepper Fest, she said she loves the people.

“You walk down the street, everybody knows you,” she said. “You don’t get that in big cities. That’s why we live here now.”

Megan Middleton covers Gregg and Anderson counties. She can be reached at 903.596.6287. e-mail: news@tylerpaper.com

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog