Sunday, October 18, 2015

Our Spicy Chili Chow Down at Mike's Maze

Chili Pepper Harvest Chilifest at Mikes Maze New England Fall Events
Gorgeous harvest of spicy peppers
by Deb Wojcicki / New England Fall Events

On a warm September afternoon, New England Fall Events had the pleasure of stopping in at Chilifest! at Mike's Maze in Sunderland, Massachusetts.
Mike's Maze's Chilifest this year will be held on Saturday and Sunday, September 16th & 17th, 2016. Click for event details.
Presented by The Kitchen Garden "The Valley's Hottest Vegetable Farm" and Mike's Maze at Warner Farm, this two-day festival is a tribute to the mighty capsicum in all of its fiery glory and a celebration of fall in Western Massachusetts. This family-friendly festival is rife with live music, cooking demonstrations, food, games and a corn maze!

Chili Challenge at Chilifest at Mike's Maze New England Fall Events
Beautiful giant vat of chili for tasting
We happened to be there on Chili Cookoff Saturday and started our quest at the tasting tent (of course). Eight mighty competitors served up some of their finest home-brewed concoctions, including Chillimatic, Hope & Olive, Mama's Best Vegan Chili, Dylan's Dynamite Chili, Ghost Dad, Magpie Chili, Heru & Eden's Rockin Chili and Chili 2.

Hungry festival goers indulged in a blind taste test and were encouraged to vote for their favorite medley via toothpick ballot. Seeing how we are, we tried each of the impressive offerings which ranged from beef to turkey to veggie and enjoyed them all.  The winner received a cast iron chili pot filled with The Kitchen Garden's home grown Sriracha sauce. Sunday was the Hot Sauce Competition, which we are certain was equally titillating. Competition is open to the public - will you take home the prize in 2016?

Chili Challenge at Chilifest at Mike's Maze New England Fall Events

Next up was a cooking demonstration by Dan Whalen, author of Stuffed, The Ultimate Comfort Food Cookbook. In the shade of the spacious chili-tasting tent, Dan regaled us with amusing anecdotes and created something that heretofore had not occurred to us - grilled jalapenos stuffed with hot dogs and cheese. Brilliant! 

Chili Challenge Samples at Chilifest at Mike's Maze New England Fall Events
Samples of chili for tasting and judging
Afterwards, we wandered the festival and tried Chocolate Sriracha Swirl ice cream at Bart's Homemade, which was a surprisingly tasty combination. There were also chili peppers, local beer and spicy foods to enjoy. That said, if you're not into the whole "when in Rome" thing, there were tamer, but no less delicious, food choices available as well.

And in the unlikely event that we weren't inspired by any of the dishes served at the festival, The Kitchen Garden set up a gorgeous farm stand loaded with colorful peppers (hot and sweet), tomatillos, garlic, onions, tomatoes and their own Sriracha sauce. They'd even fire-roast your peppers for you.

Potato Blasters at Chilifest at Mike's Maze New England Fall Events
Rocketing potatoes is great fall fun!
For the little ones, Chilifest weekend was full of fun, with an oversized chess board, hula hoops, a mini-maze (made out of hay bales - too cute), Dave's Derby - a pedal-powered speedway, a giant sand box with tractor tires to climb through, chili & veggie tattoos and even decorate-your-own Chilifest tee-shirts. For older kids, and for those of us who refuse to grow up, there was also a potato cannon. Yes, because there's nothing that says fun like projectile tubers. We may have loitered at the cannon a bit longer than we originally intended, but no one seemed to mind.

The piece-de-resistance, the jewel in the crown, the masterpiece of the season is of course Mike's Maze. This eight-acre corn maze is legendary in the Pioneer Valley and rightfully so. This year the maze is open weekends and holidays September 12th through November 8th, 2015. 

Alice in Wonderland Corn Maze at Chilifest at Mike's Maze New England Fall Events
Alice in Sunderland is the maze theme
The 2015 design was called "Alice in Sunderland," a whimsical maze shaped like a keyhole that depicts Alice, Cheshire Cat, White Rabbit and other characters from the Lewis Carroll adventure story. Team trivia and little surprises await those who are curious enough to take on the maze. You can also visit the maze at night, where you have nothing but a flashlight to guide you. Past maze designs include Mona Lisa, King Tut and Satchmo! Louis Armstrong, among others.  As Halloween is fast approaching, they also have Haunted Maze events and Zombie Night Patrol - a little something for everyone.

Next year, be sure to get your own spice on at Chilifest! 2016. In the meantime, check out Mike's Maze at Warner Farm - you still have a few weekends left to enjoy the fun!

Tips for Your Visit to Chilifest at Mike's Maze
Chili Challenge Tacos at Chilifest at Mike's Maze New England Fall Events
Ample free parking is in a field right next to the festival so expect no more than a leisurely one- to two-minute walk; no shuttles no worries. 

Tickets are available in advance or at the door. Advance tickets are sold at a discount and can be bought online. The ticket line at the door was pretty long when we got to the festival, but it moved quickly.

Alice in Wonderland Corn Maze at Chilifest at Mike's Maze New England Fall EventsWear comfortable shoes - you will be parking in a mowed field and the festival is set up in an adjacent field. The ground is relatively level, but it's still a field.

Comfort stations are provided in the form of porta-potties which were located peripherally to the festival. We didn't see any lines, so there appear to have an adequate number of them.

Cover is provided under the large food tent where the demonstrations and chili tasting are held. There are lots of chairs so you can sit and enjoy your chili and listen to the chefs. There are also picnic tables at the Warner Farm snack shed next to the maze.

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