Stover smokes to win jalapeño contest

Fifty people gathered at a tent Saturday and watched three men eat.

With shaved ice for sale a few feet away and a brewery across the street, the first Hood River Saturday Market Jalapeno Eating Contest was on.

It was hotly contested. Three contestants studied the green, spicy numbers with an increasingly wary eye as they tried to eat the most peppers in five minutes.

Jerry Stover of Hood River won the event by downing 14 peppers.

Market manager Lisa Conway held the stopwatch, and inspected each stem to make sure each pepper was completely consumed. The other rule was that contestants could not drink during the contest.

With friends and strangers calling out encouragement, Stover, Dustin Hamilton of Hood River (13 peppers) and Elijah Wood of Mt. Hood (eight) rocked back and forth in front of the low table covered with jalapenos. They would bend over the peppers, examining each as if to find one lacking heat.

Stover, Hamilton and Wood alternately turned away as if looking for a way out, or looked at each other in a kind of mutual disbelief.

“He’s going for another one!” someone shouted as Stover reached for his second pepper in a 30-second stretch near the end of the 300-second ordeal.

Near the end of the five minutes, Hamilton looked like he really wanted to eat another, but his stomach and throat outranked his mind, and Stover steamed to a late finish to win.

Hamilton remarked, “I probably could have eaten another but it felt like the last one was about to come back up.”

Stover was understandably brief in his victory comments.

“Well, I like hot sauce but this is the first time I’ve been in a contest like this,” Stover said, looking like it might be the last.

When Conway handed him his prize, a sweatshirt and other gear from sponsor Full Sail Brewery, Stover replied, “can I trade it in for a cold beer?”

Wood, in last place, had the last word:

“I thought we were just getting started,” he said.

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