“Some may smile at the idea of ripe cucumbers, and say that the very thought of them, like the smell, is offensive…But whatever other uses are made of the cucumber, I entreat the reader not to use it in the form of pickles. These, of almost all the forms of vegetable substances, seem to me worst adapted to the human stomach; and I cannot but hope will be shunned by every reader.”
– The Young House-keeper by William Andrus Alcott (1846)
Fortunately, most of us disagree with Mr. Alcott. We love pickles, in their many forms and incarnations. It’s a worldwide thing, but in this country alone we each consume between eight-and-a-half and nine pounds of the things per person per year.
Festivals are scarce this time of year, when it’s mostly too cold to venture out and it’s not quite close enough to the holidays to feel festive. That’s why a celebration of all things pickle draws crowds in the thousands to Rosendale every year in late November. The 14th annual International Pickle Festival will take place this Sunday, November 20, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Rosendale Community Center on Route 32 South. Cathy Brooks, a founder along with husband Bill, says that the event overflows into unheated tents.
Not only will pickle-lovers get to eat pickles, but plenty of other festivities abound as well. Master picklers amateur and pro alike will enter their creations in competitions for ribbons. Others will vie to see who can eat the most pickles the fastest. Brave souls armed with straws will see who can get to the bottom of a 24-ounce jar of pickle juice. The messiest event is saved for last: the pickle toss.
“International” is part of the Festival’s name because we’re not alone in our love for all things pickle. You will find Japanese and German foods, cultural events, dancing and music…and pickles, to honor those countries’ reverence for the pickle. Previous years have nodded to India, Korea and other pickle-loving lands. “We’re trying to foster world understanding through the pickle,” says Billy Liggan, a Festival organizer since the beginning.
Music of the piccolo – the fest’s official instrument – will ring out under the Big Top, and listen for strains of bagpipe and accordion as well. Many other entertaining events range from step-dancing to pickle art.
While the classic pickle is the tangy dill-and-garlic-laden cucumber, many, many other kinds of pickles abound throughout the world. The classic dill can be made quickly as a refrigerator pickle, or can be “half sour” and still bright green. It can be kosher (with extra garlic). It can be sweet, from barely to very. It can be spicy. Pickles may be presented whole in all their glory, or sliced into spears or chips. You’ll see tiny gherkins or cornichons.
Peppers sweet and hot are a popular pickled item, and you’ll find other veggies dipping in the pickling brine as well: cauliflower (my favorite), carrots, green tomatoes, okra, asparagus, beets.
Pickles have been around a while, and were made by the Chinese, the Egyptians and the ancient Greeks and Romans. Purported pickle fans have included Cleopatra, Aristotle, Queen Elizabeth, George Washington and Elvis. The man for whom this country was named, Amerigo Vespucci (1453-1512), was a pickle peddler. In 1900, New York City’s very first electric sign was a 40-foot-tall pickle put up by H. J. Heinz.
Join generations of pickle-loving populace and enjoy a celebration of all things pickle in Rosendale on Sunday, November 20. Admission is $3, or $5 for a family. Check out www.picklefest.com for more information.