The 15th annual International Pickle Festival takes place this year on Sunday, November 18 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Community Center on Route 32 in Rosendale, where four tents and a pavilion will be set up alongside to accommodate as many as 7,000 expected visitors. “It gets pretty packed,” says organizer Bill Brooks, who along with his wife Cathy has been putting on the event since 1998.
It all started when their friend Eri Yamaguchi said that she wanted to have a “pickle party.” Cathy used to make pickled green tomatoes from her grandmother’s recipe, says Bill, so just for fun, the couple organized the first Pickle Festival in Rosendale. They’d hoped to draw several hundred people, but more than 1000 enthusiasts of all things pickled showed up.
With the Rosendale Chamber of Commerce on board as sponsors, the International Pickle Festival has grown exponentially every year since. These days, Cathy doesn’t have much time to pickle her own tomatoes, says Bill, as she fields over 3,000 phone calls at their home each year to answer questions about the popular Festival and to coordinate all the activities. “We still have plenty of pickles, though,” he says.
So will visitors to the Festival, where 100 vendors — the maximum for which there’s room — will offer pickled goods and associated wares. The New Paltz Karate Academy will do demonstrations, and a Japanese Tea Ceremony will be performed all throughout the day, just as it was at the first Pickle Festival and has been ever since. It’s a unique opportunity to see this Japanese custom, says Bill, as it’s something that many people in this country haven’t had the opportunity to experience. There’ll be a kimono fashion show at the Festival on Sunday, too.
In addition to the influence of Japanese culture on the Festival, the German traditions are represented as well, and Bill says that they’ll have vendors who come from as far away as the Canadian border and Washington, DC to participate.
The Rosendale Marching Band will perform, as will Hali Hammer, who plays guitar and sings folk music, and the Pickle Festival All-Star Band will play “good ol’ fun tunes,” says Bill. At around 3:30 p.m., the Amadou West Senegal Drummers will drum in lively force, and then the contests begin.
The pickle-eating contest rewards the person who can eat a jar of pickle spears the fastest. Then there’s the pickle-juice-drinking contest, the winner being the first person to finish off a large jar of the stuff – which is said to have health benefits, actually, helping to soothe an upset stomach and replacing more electrolytes to an athlete than Gatorade.
The pickle-toss contest involves a team of three: one person tossing a pickle chip, another catching it in his or her mouth and a third keeping count by saving the captured pickles in a jar. The Mount Olive Pickle Company from North Carolina, where they have their own Picklefest, donates prizes for the contests.
Ribbons are awarded to pickle-makers in different categories that depend, says Bill, on what people submit for judging. “We’re getting goods from all over,” he says, “mailed in from places like California, Colorado and Texas.” Last year prizes were awarded for chutneys (made with apples, cranberries and peaches), pickled fruits (including raisins, pineapples and blueberries) and a number of miscellaneous sweet and spicy pickles like pickled okra, peppers and jalapeños, mixed pickles, bread-and-butters, sweets and of course dills.
Ample parking is available at the International Pickle Festival. The admission fee is $3, or $5 for a family. “One hundred percent of the money raised goes back into the community,” says Bill, “with all the money this year going into fixing the swimming pool [at the Rosendale Community Center] that was closed down for repairs this year.” Other beneficiaries of the Pickle Festival have included the Rosendale Youth Center, Little League, the Rosendale Library and even individuals who didn’t have insurance and lost their home. “The money is there when the need comes,” says Bill.
International Pickle Festival, Sunday, November 18, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., $3 or $5 for family, Community Center, Route 32, Rosendale; (845) 658-9649, picklefest.com.