tents in the field of the Kempton Pepper Jam

Editor’s Note: The event, now know as the Berks Pepper Jam, has moved to the Pat Garrett Amphitheater in Strausstown.

Kempton, PA is about as far removed from Reading as one can get in Berks County. Not only is it just a stone’s throw from the Lehigh County line, but it is one of the smallest communities in the county.

Yet the village of just 169 residents has become a destination. The Kempton Music Center, along with the surrounding Kempton Community Center, hosts many popular events including the Kempton Country Fair and the Pinnacle Jam.

On May 24 and 25, the Kempton Pepper Jam made its debut and became an instant success.

With food vendors from near and far descending on the hills of northern Berks County, I couldn’t miss a chance to feel the heat.

hand-painted sign with an anamorphic chile pepper and the words "Penelope Pepper Welcome to the Pepper Jam"

Penelope Pepper was one of the many hand-painted peppers that greeted the happy heat seekers. The Americana sounds of the Youngers echoed throughout the fairgrounds where dozens of vendors were set-up with a variety of pepper-infused foods and drinks.

The hot food options were a little limited, but everything was quality. Big Chippers BBQ had pit beef and pulled pork and there were stands serving Cajun fries, hot pepper sandwiches and hamburgers.

But with the event being promoted by the Penn Werner Hotel, I figured their stand was the logical place to start. Thankfully, they had one word on the menu that makes me happier than just about any other: sampler.

As a food blogger, there is nothing better than a sampler platter, and this one featured three excellent dishes: jambalaya, Thai chicken on a stick and noodles in peanut sauce.

plate with a chicken skewer, rice and noodles in Thai sauce.

Everything tastes better when it’s served on a stick, at least that’s my theory. The chicken was good, but was not nearly as spicy as I was expecting from a Thai sauce. Instead, my wife’s jerk chicken on a stick packed a lot more punch. The hottest thing on my plate was, ironically, the cold noodles in peanut sauce.

As an old Dutchy, I like my noodles served hot, but these were delicious. The peanut sauce had enough peanut to get the flavor, but not too much that it turned into peanut butter. There was definitely an aftershock from the heat. Thankfully, the jambalaya was there to cleanse the palate. The jambalaya was fairly mild, but still delicious, starting with a very flavorful mild sausage as the base.

sign above a tent that reads "Sloppy 2nds BBQ Sauce"

Following lunch, I headed out among the vendors in search of fire. I started my journey at the Sloppy 2nd BBQ Sauce stand. My favorite of the sauces from this Barto, PA company had to be the peach bourbon sauce, which had a mix of smokey and sweet with a little bit of heat for good measure. It was by far the best sauce that I tasted at the event.

Some of the other highlights at the festival included Saint Lucipher, whose hot spice rub was tossed on popcorn to give just a hint of the heat. Cactus Pete’s Jerky had a range of beef jerky flavors that went from sweet to hot, including the delicious, mouth-drying Jamaican Me Crazy blend.

Old mail cart holding various flower pots in front of a small diesel engine

The event was also family friendly, with kids craft and game stations, and train rides available on the neighboring Wanamaker, Kempton & Southern Railroad.

My only regret was missing out on the pepper eating contest…not that I am brave enough to enter myself, but there’s nothing wrong with watching others suffer.

It was great to see the event be such a success in its first year. Here’s hoping that the 2015 Kempton Pepper Jam is bigger and better than the first. Though I don’t know if it could get much hotter.


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