On the last day of summer, Pittsboro was ready to bring on the heat. At the intersection of downtown Pittsboro’s Hillsboro and Salisbury Streets, dozens of vendors gathered for North Carolina’s annual PepperFest. Their stock matched the balmy 90°F temperature outside and packed a spicy punch that elicited, for many, an anxious search for the water station. Set against the backdrop of groovy music, the event made for quite an enjoyable afternoon of sampling exciting food, meeting compelling people and interacting with the vibrant small town of Pittsboro.
A vast assortment of peppers could be found along the street. Armed with a single plastic spork, adventurous attendees could test their limits with a Carolina Reaper, a local hybrid pepper often regarded as the spiciest in the world. The sweet bell pepper was another favorite for the less spice-inclined attendees, and a stand even sold whole potted pepper plants. Piled in small towers along the festival’s tables were the vibrant greens, yellows and reds of shiny peppers, brought in fresh for sale by local farmers. Several stands opted instead to stack mason jar upon mason jar of canned goods, often prominently displaying their prized pepper jellies.
Many vendors at PepperFest found creative ways to incorporate pepper products into dishes. Angelina’s Kitchen’s inventive green pepper quesadilla, prepared and cooked on a large grill right on the street, brought spice to a normally cheesy treat. A few restaurant stands went instead with their classics: City Barbeque leaned on its classic pulled pork, while the Blue Dot Cafe served up its piping-hot coffee samplers. Other festival food options were certainly not limited, ranging from spicy pepper nachos to some thoroughly-coated chicken wings. Rarely did a dish disappoint, although a few certainly rose above the crowd. Standouts included Everything Bagel’s, well, everything bagels, with a touch of pepper jelly and cream cheese, as well as Pickle Jar Café’s mole, advertised by an enthusiastic woman donning a pickle costume.
Although the festival may have been themed on peppers, eating was hardly the only thing to do. Performances by North Carolina bands served up an entertaining selection of songs for a side course to the music. The Up and Up opened with some funk, while 8-Track Minds closed the afternoon out with a soundtrack of ‘70s covers. A troupe of children from The Pittsboro Youth Theater trotted out in sea-themed costumes to present a brief but cute production of “The Little Mermaid,” and local dance studio, The Joy of Movement, performed several impressive routines while decked out in long, flowing gowns. Finally, Imagine Circus performed a variety of incredible acts, including hanging from ribbons and hoops as high up as the town’s streetlights.
The festival, while certainty aimed toward entertaining residents, also has a goal of educating residents about the pepper’s nutritional value. Furthermore, the festival helps to bring energy to the small town. First-year PepperFest volunteer Sally Bond said her favorite part of organizing Pepperfest is the opportunity to “vitalize downtown Pittsboro,” though she is careful to maintain that this is no revitalization effort, claiming that the town has always been lively.
The event verifiably succeeds in maintaining this image, packing the city center so full of people it was hard to move around at time. Although overwhelmingly local, PepperFest brings in quite the crowd as North Carolina’s largest local food festival. Attendees hailed from Pittsboro itself to as far away as Pennsylvania and Texas. The event is so exceedingly successful in spite of being so local perhaps in part because of its homegrown atmosphere. By bringing together such a wide display of food, culture and people, the Pittsboro PepperFest is a display of Chatham County at its best.
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