This is about as Saugerties as it gets. Cantine Park is lined up and down with thousands of people on a deep Indian Summer day. It’s hot, but we’re all happy, because we’re celebrating the sweetest, smelliest event in town. The Garlic Festival has returned.
A woman named Beth gives me a little background – “(the Garlic Festival) Started 23 years ago by Pat Reppert who we call the goddess of garlic. She owned a farm by the name of shale hill up on Hommelville Road, and it started out as a garlic dinner. About a hundred people came to it the first year, but by the third year she had more requests for a seat at the table than she could accommodate. She knew she had something big.”
The goddess of Garlic approached the Kiwanis Club in search of aid for the garlic foray. The first year, the event drew five thousand people; not a bad turnout for a down home herbfest. In twenty plus years of operation, the Garlic Festival’s daily attendance maxed out at around 47,000. The Goddess’ visage is in heavy flow this year, actually. She’s on the backs of this year’s Garlic Festival t-shirts. The same image is on the event’s posters (a good piece of art, definitely good to pick up for moms who like that kind of thing).
Since the Kiwanis has taken over the festival, they have given about one million dollars to local charities out of the garlic festival revenue alone, including helping fund the Boys and Girls Club and supporting the ice rink. Who’d have thunk? Garlic is affecting a deeply positive change.
I have not eaten since five o’clock Saturday night. I’m fasting harder for this than anything I ever have before. After I get up-to-speed on the history of the festival and fulfill my journalistic obligations, I make a bee-line for a garlic and vegetable potato pancake vendor. I hammer back two pancakes and an old timey glass bottle of coke. They’re subtle and scrumptious; just crispy enough to make you appreciate the moisture of the potatoes, and just garlicky enough to fit the hootenanny’s theme. But I didn’t come here for potato pancakes, no matter how satisfying they are. I came here for garlic ice cream.
Garlic ice cream is one of the festival’s trademarks. The whole idea sounds so unappetizingly gimmicky that you’d think it was a joke. It’s not. “I use garlic out of California. It’s got a richer taste, and it’s an earthier garlic, a darker brown,” says Mark Guido of Guido’s Ice Cream, which operates out of Albany. The garlic is minced, and it sits in the cream before the batch is frozen so that the flavor of the garlic doesn’t just come from the garlic pieces, instead letting the flavor make its way around the batch.
I’m skeptical. Then I’m shocked. Garlic ice cream works really well.
I’ll be real here, the Garlic Festival smells like the inside of a dream. A dream that takes place in a pretty substantial ristorante. Adding to my suspicion that I’m dreaming is the fact that there is a six-foot tall garlic strutting his stuff around the festival like he owns the place. Actually, I think he may. He’s the king of garlic, waving majestically at his subjects.