Every year, people flock from all over to Castroville, California for its big Artichoke Festival. Closer to home, Saugerties holds its annual garlic tribute, while Margaretville celebrates the cauliflower; in Orange County, the town of Monroe basks in the heady aroma of Liederkranz cheese. If you want to put your town on the foodie-tourism map nowadays, it seems, you have to adopt a particular foodstuff and make it your own.
Funky and feisty little Rosendale, which prides itself in the moniker of “the Festival Town,” got ahead of that curve 16 years ago, when it began hosting its annual International Pickle Festival. There was no particular history of a pickling industry in Rosendale, nor of vast fields of gourmet cucumbers under cultivation. But let’s face it: A Cement Festival wasn’t likely to entice throngs of visitors from all over the tri-state metropolitan area.
The happy accident that spawned the picklefest was a social gathering at the home of Bill and Cathy Brooks in 1998. For decades, the Brookses ran a garden supply center on Rosendale’s Main Street, where they also cut hair. It was a sort of downtown social nerve center; everybody in town knew the couple. But among their close friends was a Japanese woman named Eri Yamaguchi, who missed the delectably crunchy, sometimes-spicy pickled vegetables known in her homeland as oshinko. On a whim, the Brookses decided to humor their homesick friend with a pickle party. Dozens were invited, but hundreds turned up.
The rest, as they say, is history (making it utter poetic justice that Bill Brooks has just been appointed Rosendale’s new town historian, replacing the late cement-industry expert Ann LeFevre Gilchrist). The Brookses had clearly put their finger on an unmet community need, and ever since, the Rosendale International Pickle Festival has become a late-fall staple of the Festival Town’s seasonal cycle of celebrations.
Annual attendance is now estimated as upwards of 6,000 lovers of all things puckery; and this Sunday, November 24, once again they will converge on the Rosendale Recreation Center on Route 32. The 16th annual Pickle Festival will include more than 100 vendors with their pickles and other non-pickle wares, plus the much-anticipated pickle-eating, pickle-juice-drinking and pickle-tossing contests. If you’ve never tried a hot deep-fried pickle on a stick, this is definitely the place to get one.
But we’re not just talking about cukes here. Pickled foods in astounding variety feature in cuisines from around the world, from sweet-and-sour beets, dilly beans and hot peppers to whole eggs. Find your favorite sour side dish here while you’re listening to live performances of world music, including a peck of (possibly pickled) Celtic pipers, Senegalese drummers and of course, traditional German music on the accordion. True to the Festival’s origins, there are always activities highlighting aspects of Japanese culture, including a Tea Ceremony and a kimono fashion show. This year’s schedule includes a demonstration of ikebana, the art of Japanese-style floral arranging.
Besides providing a unique way of having fun as a community and making Rosendale a culinary destination, the mission of the Festival is to raise money for various local groups in need. Recent donations included $1,200 to help complete the restoration of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail trestle and $3,000 towards the renovation of the façade of the Rosendale Theatre.
“All the money raised at the Festival goes to the community. Last year $5,000 went towards the renovation of the swimming pool at the Rosendale Community Center,” noted Bill Brooks, who with his wife still continues as the event’s primary organizer, backed by the Rosendale Chamber of Commerce. “Cathy and I are doing our best to make this year’s event even more special and interesting.”
The 16th annual Rosendale International Pickle Festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Sunday, November 24, at the Rosendale Recreation Center, located at 1055 Route 32. The price of admission is $3 per person, $5 for a family. For more information, call (845) 658-9649 or visit https://picklefest.com or www.facebook.com/rosendalepicklefestival.
International Pickle Festival, Sunday, November 24, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., $3/$5, Rosendale Recreation Center, 1055 Route 32, Rosendale; (845) 658-9649, https://picklefest.com.