By Nick Carson
Bowers, Pa., a little town 4.4 miles from KU, with a population of just 326, happens to have the biggest chile pepper festival of the east coast.
It is the perfect spot for a cheap, fun time for just about anyone, especially empty-pocketed college students looking to escape their residence halls for a day or two.
The annual Bowers Chile Pepper Festival began in 1996, and will be held on Sept. 5 and 6 this year.
The festival features multiple activities for guests of all ages, including live music by Acoustic Roadshow, a horse and carriage excursion of the chile pepper fields of Meadowview Farms, a jalapeño-eating contest and a salsa contest.
KU students and staff in particular may be interested in the festival’s salsa, which has connections to KU through Jim DeLong.
DeLong not only manages the local attraction Crystal Cave, but is the husband of KU English Professor, Dr. Anne DeLong.
DeLong has been attending and selling salsa at the festival since its inception 18 years ago.
“My partner Chris Grace and I make salsa as a hobby,” DeLong said. “We attended a meeting in Bowers 18 years ago regarding interest in starting a Chile pepper festival. We have been vending at the festival as “DeGra’s Salsa” since it began in 1996.”
When asked why he thinks the once tiny festival has become so popular, DeLong said it is the variety of the festival that is its biggest attraction
“[The festival offers] different varieties of food, featuring all kinds of hot peppers. There are also craft vendors,” DeLong said.
The festival not only hosts salsa vendors, but includes a salsa contest, which began accepting applicants on Aug. 15.
The contest accepts the first 30 applicants who can bring their salsa, which cannot be produced or packaged commercially in any way.
According to the festival’s website, pepperfestival.com, judges then ranks the salsa on a scale of one to 10 for appearance, heat as it relates to the balance of flavor and texture.
Applications can be sent by email to email@example.com.
The festival’s jalapeño-eating contest, one of its biggest attractions, will take place on Sept. 6th at 4 p.m.
Last year’s winner, James Herron, ate 163 grams of jalapeño to take home the trophy.
The horse and carriage field excursion takes place on both days of the festival and leads guests through fields of thousands of peppers. Guests will see a variety of peppers, ranging from the average bell pepper to the infamous ghost pepper. While on the trip, guests can also pick their own peppers.
Admission to the Bowers Chile Pepper Festival is by donation, making this nationally recognized festival a gem hidden in the emptiness that Berks County can sometimes prove to be.
Whether you are a daring hot pepper fanatic, or just like a bit of fresh bell pepper in your salad for lunch and some live music with the locals, this festival is the place to be.
To get there from KU, take Trexler Avenue with Keystone Field on your left and Keystone Arena on your right. Hang a right on Noble Street, drive for about two miles and it will turn into N. Main Street. Make a left onto Fleetwood Road, and then a right on State Route 1013. Drive for about a mile and you will be there.