COLUMBIA—Meghan Ferry stood under a clear, blue sky grilling green Anaheim chili peppers.
The smell wafted off the Weber charcoal grill as she used tongs to drop the peppers into a paper bag.
“Everybody seems to like them,” she said. “It gives them kind of a smoky flavor.”
Ferry, a lab technician at MU’s Bradford Research and Extension Center, was preparing hybrid peppers for the center's seventh annual Tomato Festival, held from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
The Anaheim chili peppers, which were peeled and topped with a dollop of cream cheese, were one of 64 types of peppers available for sampling. Sixty-four varieties of tomatoes were also available.
Tim Reinbott, the center’s superintendent, invented all the varieties of pepper and tomato hybrids during the winter. Growing started March 8 for the peppers and March 29 for the tomatoes.
“It’s one thing to dream and scheme these things,” he said. “Then you have to do them.”
His creations were displayed on Styrofoam plates atop tables covered in blue- and white-checked plastic cloths. Next to each plate was a ranking sheet where the more than 600 people in attendance could rate the vegetables: One for the best and five for the worst.
Elizabeth Knerr, 10, helped herself to a chunk of Goliath Hybrid tomato. After attempting to stab the piece with a toothpick, she opted to use her fingers to pop it into her mouth.
“I’d say three,” she said, writing down the number. “It tastes weird. It’s, like, sour.”
But earlier down the line was a tomato she really enjoyed — the Florida 91 VFF Hybrid.
“It just tasted good,” Knerr said.
Thursday’s overall winner was the Sun Sugar tomato, which is a cherry tomato. Other favorite tomatoes included Mortgage Lifter and Green Zebra. The sweet peppers in the lead were Jenny Nardello's and Lipstick, Reinbott said.
In addition to the tomatoes and peppers, restaurants set up tables with salsa, chips, pizza sauce, Stromboli and gazpacho.
Melissa Applegate, owner of Jack’s Gourmet Restaurant, was handing out a mixture of fresh tomato, basil, garlic and olive oil.
Carol Darnell was pleased with her sample.
“I like the simplicity and the freshness,” she said. “Since I grow basil and tomato, it sounds like a thing I could do.”
Some concoctions were less mild. Clint Eastin, sous chef at Pavilion at Dobbs at MU, had a salsa made of chili peppers, olive oil, lime juice and cilantro.
“It’s got some zip,” he said. “It won’t hurt you, but it’s got some zip.”
Other restaurants and vendors included Copper Kettle, El Maguey Mexican Restaurant, Carlito’s Cabo, Tequila Mexican Restaurant, El Jimador Mexican Restaurant, Red and Moe Pizzeria, Chili’s and Georgie Girl’s Food Products.
Whether salsa or peppers, for Denton Kurtz, the smorgasbord of produce was the perfect snack.
“I’m on a low-carb diet right now," he said, smiling, "so I can have everything but the chips.”