September 19, 2013 Updated: September 20, 2013 at 8:49 am
Anaheim, Big Jim, jalapeno, pimento, bell, yellow wax, habanero, Fresno, dynamite.
Pepper farmers and their colorful harvest will stretch up and down Union Avenue in Pueblo on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the 19th Annual Loaf 'N Jug Chile & Frijoles Festival, smothering the city with the mouthwatering smell of roasting chili peppers.
"If somebody could figure a way to put that in a scented candle," says Carl Musso, owner of Musso Farms in Pueblo, "they would sure do well."
Musso is one of six chili farmers who will hang a shingle starting Friday and running through Sunday. He's been with the festival since it started in 1994.
Last year, 130,000 people showed up to consume, buy and worship chili peppers, says Rod Slyhoff, president of the Pueblo Chamber of Commerce and founder of the festival. Around 2,000 to 3,000 people showed up to the first gathering, he remembers.
"The festival is more than just coming to buy peppers," Slyhoff says. "It's a gathering point for families, entertainment and food vendors."
Thousands of bushels of chilies are trucked into the festival by farmers, Slyhoff says. It's hard to know exactly how many, but for festival weekend, Musso says he usually fills a semi-trailer twice. Farmers markets on the mesa outside of Pueblo are also open for business, and usually have their best sales during the event, Slyhoff says.
More than 40 music acts will fill four entertainment tents, playing rock, folk, R&B, blues, Tejano and pop, and about 50 food vendors will be on hand.
Slyhoff wants to ease any worries about the drought having a negative affect on chili crops.
"These farmers can take a little drop of water and make it work," he says. "I was out on the farms last weekend, and they're beautiful."
The festival started when Slyhoff and the Pueblo Chamber of Commerce worked to brand the Pueblo community. They came up with a phrase - "Experience the Flavor" - and a logo with two Pueblo chili peppers.
"We did the festival to celebrate the harvest," Slyhoff says, "and bring attention to the chilis and the brand."
The area is known for its Pueblo chili, which is a mirasol type of pepper. It means "looking at the sun" in Spanish, Musso says. They are one of the few peppers that grow straight up, as opposed to New Mexico chilies that grow hanging down.
"Pueblo chili is a meatier pepper, so it roasts better," Slyhoff says. "It holds its shape and consistency. On the same plant, you can have from medium to hot peppers. They're ideal for cooking."
Contact Jennifer Mulson at 636-0270.
FOR THE LOVE OF CHILIES
How people consume their chilies: In pork green chili, says Carl Musso, owner of Musso Farms.
Most popular chili: Pueblo chili, Musso says.
Easiest way to eat a chili: Sprinkle roasted chili with olive oil and garlic salt, and serve with a cracker or tortilla, says Rod Slyhoff, founder of the Chile and Frijoles Festival.
Chili snack: Chili wrap, says Slyhoff. Place a roasted Pueblo chili and cheddar cheese inside a tortilla. Grill it on a flat top grill.
Spiciest chili: Dynamite chili, says Musso.
Tamest chili: Italian pepper, Musso says, or a Cubanelle pepper.
Number of chili farmers in Pueblo?: About 30 to 40, says Musso.
CHILI PEPPER GROWTH
They grow them fat and juicy in Pueblo. The fluctuating weather temperatures are a huge boon to the chili pepper's growth, says Carl Musso. With daytime temperatures at around 85 degrees and nights about 50 degrees, the pepper is able to grow more slowly and get thicker. The thicker the pepper wall, the more flavorful the pepper. In locations where temperatures consistently stay around 100 degrees, peppers grow too fast, Musso says. Cooler nights are key.
JALAPENO EATING CONTEST
Festival founder Rod Slyhoff is amazed by the number of people willing to offer up their mouth and palate at the jalapeno eating contest. "We've had some returning winners," he says. "It's short-lived. We had a lady win three years in a row, but we haven't seen her since. I hope she's OK." The consumption rate? Some contestants can eat 60 to 75 peppers in 10 minutes, he says.
Prizes: $100 first place, $50 second, $25 third
When: 4 p.m. Sunday
Entry fee: $1 per person
19TH ANNUAL LOAF 'N JUG CHILE & FRIJOLES FESTIVAL
When: 3-11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Downtown Pueblo, along Union Avenue between First and B streets
Tickets: $2, free 11 and younger; 1-719-542-1704, pueblochilefestivalinfo.com
Something else: Chile Pepper Express Shuttle Service, runs every 15 minutes from 5-11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Catch it at Midtown Shopping Center, 1000 W. 6th St.; free.
One more thing: Roasted bushels of chilies run about $30; unroasted about $25.