What cures asp bites and wasp stings? What item – in 15-pound assortments – was once worth one healthy male slave? What repels vampires and prevents plague, leprosy, the flu and general malaise? What – like cows for Indians – is so sacred to one historical group of people that they refused to eat it? What draws thousands to a small town on the Hudson River each fall?
Ancient Egypt was the place where garlic served as object of worship, poultice for snakebites and currency for slaves, but was never used in the kitchen. Although it may not increase libido, thirst and body odor as Sir John mentioned, there have been many who haven’t liked garlic for any reason. One Tobias Smollett, traveling in France in 1763, noted, “In this country I was almost poisoned with garlic, which they mix in their ragouts, and all their sauces, nay, the smell of it perfumes the very chambers, as well as every person you approach.”
Employees of Buckingham Palace are forbidden to consume any, even outside working hours, so that the aroma emanating from their pores won’t offend the royals. In spite of this fear of garlic, thousands throng to the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival in Saugerties every September.
The garlic fest has grown a lot since Garlic Goddess Pat Reppert founded it in 1989. Only about 100 came to that first party at her farm, but by 1992 she had to move it to Cantine Field to make room for all the revelers. “In the past, the attendance at the Festival is between 25,000 and 30,000 over the two-day event,” says publicity chair Beth Bechtold.
Food vendors will be offering pulled pork, garlic chili, battered fish, bratwurst, garlic caramels, fried garlic pickles, pierogies, pretzels, garlic soup, bruschetta, crabcakes, “fire wok’d” soba noodles, falafel and of course that old standby, garlic ice cream. Vendors also sell prepared goods like dips, salad dressings, pickles, jellies, chutneys, cheeses and much more.
In one of the most appealing elements of the festival, garlic farmers by the dozens will offer many varieties of fresh garlic for sale, with cloves cut into slivers or tiny chunks for tasting, to help you choose among many scrumptious varieties with different characters and pungency levels. Some fiery kinds explode with a bang; others start out mellow and evolve into a sharp little bite. There’s Music, Elmer’s Select, German Red and White, Prussian, Czech, Romanian and Italian Red. There’s a delicious kind from our Black Dirt region that doesn’t look as pretty as some, but has a fine flavor. After you taste a few kinds, you will reek for a while, maybe even the next day; but you’ll be in good company, and you may feel cleansed, purified and euphoric like I do. Maybe it’s all in my head, but I think that garlic is magical stuff.
Garlic is heady when raw in sauces from aïoli to chimichurri to salsa verde, or cooked to sweetness in one of those lovey-dovey braises so nice this time of year when the air is chilling – or just coated in oil, roasted until it melts and slathered over good crusty bread. Mmmm. It’s the backbone of everything, the quintessential, essential herb/vegetable for just about every dish.
Chefs Pat Crocker, Michael Rich and Ric Orlando will give culinary demonstrations. Lectures will be given by Noah Gress, David Stern and Bob Dunkle; also look for braiding demonstrations and Garlic Questions and Answers with a panel from the Garlic Seed Foundation. Musical performers on several stages include Annie and the Hedonists, Sundad, Captain Squeeze and the Zydeco Moshers, Mark Rust, the Homegrown String Band, Uncle Rock, the NY Country Band and the Barefoot Boys.
Performances by Morris dancers and the Arm-of-the-Sea Theater will entertain you in between garlic feasting. The Garlic Giant and the Garlic Fairy from One World Puppetry & Performance Art will be wandering the grounds. The Saugerties Art Lab will do activities in a kids’ craft tent, and the Bear Mountain Mining Company will offer some gemstone activities. There will be a climbing wall on-site as well. The many craft vendors have to sell at least one garlic-themed item in their booths. Artists compete with designs for next year’s poster, and the public can vote on the finalists. “Each year we change some of the vendors and music lineup to keep the Festival fresh,” says Bechtold.
The Hudson Valley Garlic Festival opens at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, September 29 and 30, and the gates close at 6 p.m. on Saturday and at 5 p.m. on Sunday. No pets are allowed, and tickets cost $10 for either day, with kids under 12 free. It’s not hard to find; once you enter the Village of Saugerties there are plenty of signs, as well as shuttle stops for off-site parking. For more information on the festival, go to www.hvgf.org. Read more about local cuisine and learn about new restaurants on Ulster Publishing’s www.dinehudsonvalley.com.