PepperFest: The Amazing Pepper Festival

Do you love peppers? I mean, really love them? Then put PepperFest on your 2015 calendar—you won’t want to miss this event. Early fall brings the end of the pepper harvest, and to celebrate this event, Abundance NC, the Briar Chapel community, and countless local chefs and food purveyors come together for PepperFest. This event has grown over the last seven years to become a destination for foodies, those who support sustainable living, and anyone who loves a creative dish made with peppers. PepperFest is located inside the Briar Chapel community of Chapel Hill. This community is a sanctuary for people who want sustainable, green living. Newland Communities has created a neighborhood that offers its residents amenities like nature trails, open spaces, community gardens, and a lifestyle that supports green living. Abundance NC, an organization with a mission to support “a North Carolina where people increasingly meet their needs locally and sustainably,” is the perfect partner for PepperFest.

Peppers for this event are harvested by local growers and supplied to chefs, breweries, coffee roasters, and more. These talented individuals create a recipe with their peppers, and festival-goers walk through sampling these delicious treats. Spicy peppers and sweet peppers made their way in to everything from beer and hot chocolate to soups and desserts.   PepperFest showcases chefs and restaurants that support farm-to-fork cuisine from around North Carolina.

Sustainability and green living were the themes woven throughout the festival. From Larry’s Beans Veggie bus (a mobile coffee shop run on used vegetable oil) to the compostable cups and plates, it was evident that PepperFest planners wanted to stay true to their mission. We were given one wooden spork at check-in and asked to use it more than once. I proudly surrendered mine to one of the many recycling bins at the end of the day. I like the thought of reducing waste through this small gesture, and I love that everyone participated.

PepperFest was a delicious way to celebrate the end of summer harvest. I will be back for more next year. I hope to see you there!

Spicy peppers were in abundance at PepperFest.

Spicy peppers were in abundance at PepperFest.

Chef Colin Bedford from Fearrington House Restaurant, looking cool in his shades, was serving up a delicious creation of Italian sausage, peppers, with a cornbread crouton.

Chef Colin Bedford from Fearrington House Restaurant, looking cool in his shades, was serving up a delicious creation of Italian sausage, peppers, with a cornbread crouton.

Always great to see Art (a.k.a. @RUWandering)!

Always great to see Art (a.k.a. @RUWandering)!

Craig from Crude Bitters and Sodas sharing his Evil Zerbert in addition to his amazing bitters and shrubs.

Craig from Crude Bitters and Sodas sharing his Evil Zerbert in addition to his amazing bitters and shrubs.

Vimala from Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe was all smiles.  Her pepper pickle was SPICY!

Vimala from Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe was all smiles. Her pepper pickle was SPICY!

Chef Regan Stachler from Little Hen in Holly Springs and his staff.

Chef Regan Stachler from Little Hen in Holly Springs and his staff.

This is what is it all about! #EatLocal

The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association was there.  This is what is it all about! #EatLocal

Chef Jay Piere from Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen sampled out an amazing soup with smoked pumpkin.  Spicy goodness!

Chef Jay Pierce from Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen sampled out an amazing soup with smoked pumpkin. Spicy goodness!

Last Call Before Fall

Fresh tomatoes simply do not happen in my house during the winter.  I just cannot bring myself to purchase those tasteless, mealy tomatoes they offer in the grocery stores in the off season.  Blech!  Often, I am tempted.  In the past, when I have caved, the disappointment is painful.  I turn to canned tomatoes once the fresh ones disappear from the farmers market tables.  This year, I had high hopes of canning my own tomatoes.  Then, work, life, and a million other things got in the way.  Here we are–at the end of the season–and I have not canned a single tomato. So, to the Internet I went.  Search terms: freezing fresh tomatoes.  There is an enormous amount of information about freezing tomatoes on the web.  After reading 10 different articles that provided 10 different opinions, I decided to just do it.  Worst case scenario: tasteless red liquid.  I figured it could still have some culinary use.  With field tomatoes at about $.99 per pound, it was worth a try.

The differing opinions in the articles I read mostly focused on peeling or not peeling, whole or pureed, and fresh versus cooked.   I opted for pureed, with the skins on, and to simmer the puree slowly to reduce it a bit before freezing.  I have a Vitamix, so leaving the skins on was not an issue. This machine will completely obliterate the skins, which have a lot of the nutrients.  One necessary item: my skimmer.  I love this culinary tool (purchased at Whisk, of course).  I used it to remove the tomatoey foam that is produced when the tomatoes are processed in the Vitamix.  Five pounds of tomatoes later, I have several containers of frozen tomato puree that I will be using in soups and sauces this winter.

The mornings are foggy, damp, and cool.  The nights give us a little shiver.   It’s the last call for tomatoes.  Fall is upon us–bring on the pumpkins!

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