BREWER, Maine — There are those who like it hot and those who prefer it mild. Some must have corn kernels, and some even opt for olives.
But in the end, on Saturday, it all came down to the blueberries.
The winner of the Chili Challenge at the Brewer Auditorium was the Rev. Tracey Reeves of the North Brewer-Eddington Methodist Church.
Her spicy secret?
“I use blueberries,” she confided in a conversation before the big announcement. She also tosses some dried cranberries and a bit of brown sugar into her beany brew, adding tangy sweetness to an otherwise traditional recipe.
Reeves’ chili was one of eight delectable versions sampled by a panel of local “celebrity judges” at the Saturday night fundraiser, which also featured a public chili supper complete with cornbread, brownies and fruit punch. The event, dedicated to raising money for fuel assistance through The Salvation Army in Bangor, was the culmination of months of chili sampling and planning by nine area churches.
Each participating church recently hosted its own internal chili contest, pitting parishioners against one another for the best recipe in their respective congregations.
The exception was the tiny Amherst-Aurora Congregational Church in Clifton. The Rev. Lisa Jones, who attended the event but did not accompany an entry, said her church on any given Sunday has only a half-dozen or so worshippers and many in the congregation are elderly, so a chili competition would not have drawn much support.
The Rev. Carl Schreiber of the East Orrington Congregational Church said that through The Salvation Army, participating churches can target the money raised through the chili competition for fuel assistance in specific communities. Many people seek assistance each year to pay for heating fuel and electricity.
“At East Orrington alone, we typically spend between $6,000 and $9,000 a year” helping members of the congregation and others in the community who are struggling financially, Schreiber said — and the need is growing.
“We’re a pretty big church,” he said of his approximately 300-member congregation. “The smaller churches get calls and have nowhere to turn.”
Chili judges included a number of local print and broadcast media personalities, including veteran weatherman Steve McKay of WLBZ–TV in Bangor, who is also known as Steve Smith, pastor of the United Methodist Church in Orono. Emceeing the event was local raconteur the Rev. Bob Carlson, who wore an outsized som-brero and carried a microphone, keeping up a steady banter with chili-eaters of all ages.
Schreiber on Sunday said there were about 320 people filling up on chili Saturday night. Many also participated in a silent auction of donated items. The total raised for donating to The Salvation Army fuel fund was about $1,800, he said. He hopes the chili competition and supper will become an annual event and draw more participating churches.
First-place winner Reeves, who formerly preached at the Orland United Methodist Church, readily credited her berry-studded recipe to Alvion Kimball, owner of the Orland House Bed and Breakfast.