Pungency in Pennsylvania

Fiery Foods Manager U.S.A. Leave a Comment

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Story and Photos by Dave DeWitt 

I left New Mexico’s summery weather and landed in autumn when the small jet touched down airport in Allentown. But despite the slight chill in the air, there was definitely a lot of hot stuff in Pennsylvania. I was there to attend the Bikers for Babies Ride and Fiery Foods Festival, but my host Les Houck of Fire Hill Foods was determined that I should get an in-depth look at the hot and spicy developments taking place in the area.

Our first stop was for pizza. I’m not kidding, because Les is the creator of the Fire Pie, a spicy pizza that is made for him by Ron Matey of Matey’s American Pie Company of Bethlehem. So Les took me by the factory to taste his pie while telling me the story of how he developed it.

Frozen Fire Pie

 A Frozen Fire Pie with Blocks of Smoked Cheese

 Millers Hot Bologna 


Millers Hot Bologna

There are hot and spicy topping for pizzas everywhere, he explained, mostly crushed red pepper that’s loaded with seeds. He knew of the love of jalapeños in Texas and green chile in New Mexico as toppings, but he wanted to create a pie that had a hot and spicy sauce, thus eliminating the need for hot toppings. For months he experimented with spice blends, then contacted Ron Matey and together they came up with the right flavor and heat level. They decided to use smoked mozzarella and provolone cheese to give the spicy pie a unique taste and finally the development work was done. They are now distributing the pie to bars and restaurants that only have to heat the pie for 15 minutes and then serve it to their customers.

Despite the fact that I am not a pizza fan, I tried it and liked it very much. So much, in fact, I asked Les to send a couple of extra pies to feed my staff managing the Scovie Awards judging. The judges, of course, tasted the pizza as part of the snack competition, but my staff feasted on it during the lunch break when the judges were not present. They loved it and I think that Les and Ron have a hit on their hands with the Fire Pie.

The next stop was a beer distributor to pick up a jar of Millers Hot Bologna, a popular, Pennsylvania snack with lots of red chile flakes in it. Apparently it is designed to be served with beer, and I was going to taste it–but first I read the ingredients. Beef and pork cheeks, mechanically separated chicken. I am not making this up. Beef hearts, pork hearts, and pork tongues. Yummy. And of course, monosodium glutamate and sodium nitrite. I told Les that I’d stick to his pizza, which was all natural.

To prove that Pennsylvania was a hot bed of peppers, Les drove me, Chip Hearn of Peppers of Rehobeth Beach, and Carin Froelich of Ingleby Farms to meet pepper grower James Weaver at his Meadow View Farm in Kutztown. What a chile-growing operation he had!

James Weaver and Carin Froelich

 James Weaver Talks with Carin Froelich

 Row After Row of Chiles at Meadow View Farm 


Chiles at Meadow View Farm

The energetic James grows more that 200 varieties of chiles in addition to 100 varieties of tomatoes and 25 different kinds of eggplants. The condition of the plants was excellent, with some chile varieties growing to four feet tall. The chinense species, of which he grows about 30 varieties, were very prolific and the large pods were beautiful.

Chinense Varieties

 A Box of Chinense Varieties

A Great Selection of Pods For Sale 


Pods For Sale

James told me that he sells the produce to distributors who take them to markets and restaurants, and he is also open to the general public, who have a choice: they can buy the picked pods or pick their own for a cheaper price. During his annual harvest festival, thousands of chile lovers descend on his farm.

Meadow View Farm Products

 Meadow View Farm Products


James told me that he is beginning to use his bumper crop of chiles to manufacture his own line of products, and soon will have a hot sauce line in addition to his pickled chiles and the jams and jellies that his wife Alma makes from the fruits and berries they also grow. Now I’ve been to chile-growing operations all over the world, and Meadow View Farm has one of the finest small pepper farms that I’ve ever seen–especially considering the number of varieties being cultivated

Pepper Festival Park

 A Shady Park was the Venue for the Festival

A Typical Vendor’s Booth 


Typical Vendor’s Booth

The following day, September 17, the Bikers for Babies Ride and Festival was held in a park in Emmaus as a benefit for the March of Dimes. I would estimate that a couple of thousand people attended the free event, buying food tickets to taste the hot sauces, salsas, soups, ribs, shrimp, and jerk pork that the vendors were offering.


Music Provided by Steel Canyon   


Steel Canyon

I was kept busy selling and signing my books, doing a cooking demonstration, and listening to the country and rock sounds of Steel Canyon, a surprisingly good band that received an excellent response from the crowd. Interestingly, no alcohol was served at this event, and that was probably why everyone was so well-behaved. I’ve seen these kind of fiery food festivals get a little rowdy, but that was not the case in Emmaus.


 Mike “Grumpy” Grimm (left) and Les Houck


The attire was at the outer limit, though, as the volunteers got into the spirit of things. All in all, it was a successful festival and I came away from my short stay in Pennsylvania convinced that the fiery foods movement is progressing nicely in the East as we slowly but surely infiltrate mainstream America. Thanks to Les and the March of Dimes for a great, informative, fun trip.


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