Mary Ferguson's hot salsa earned her the prize in its category.
Mary Ferguson's hot salsa earned her the prize in its category.
Mary Ferguson's got the winning hot stuff in a jar.

That's right, she does the salsa.

Her success, however, began in the dirt.

"I grew the veggies - tomatoes, peppers, onions, leeks, jalapenos, hot and green peppers - then added cumin and cooked it a long time. I've been making salsa for the last 10 to 12 years, and I've also made mild," said Ferguson, whose salsa was the winning entry in the "hot" category of the 2013 Chatfield Chill Fest Salsa Contest, held at Pioneer Presbyterian Church this past Saturday, Jan. 26.

Ferguson's salsa was among six entries in the contest, and entrants ranged from elementary school students to senior citizens.

Contest organizer Pam Bluhm has been in charge of the contest for the past four years, and she enjoys accepting the brews made by "grandmas and grandkids and people of all different ages...they're all local gardeners."

Bluhm used to include a Chill Fest chili contest in the competition, but since salsa seems to be the contest item of choice, she has eliminated the chili contest in favor of letting people "just do the salsa."

Salsa contest judges for the 2013 contest included Paula and Percy Bessingpas, Marilyn Hanson and Samantha Bluhm. Their job was to divine which salsas were the most pleasing, the most potent and the most likely to be talked about for quite some time after the contest, while granting credit to all entrants for their veggie efforts.

Some entries had subtle flavors, some had sugar to sweeten the finish, cilantro to add tang, and others came up from behind and left a four-alarm fireball on the tasters' tongues. In the end, the score was decided.

Earning first place in the "mild" category was Cheryl Jankiewicz and winning in the "medium" division was Mary Davidson. Ferguson, of course, took home the prize for her first-place hot stuff.

The contest allows local gardeners to show off their hot, medium or mild stuff, as well as their canning skills, and Bluhm hopes that next year, just as many or more participants will venture a veggie or two and "do the salsa"...with friends, of course.