Photos by Lauren Thomas
Camouflage, popcorn and peanut butter and jelly. If that was an answer on Jeopardy, it would have taken a visit to Wright’s Farm in Gardiner on Saturday, May 17 to know the question: “What are just three of the hundreds of flavor varieties that were available at the sixth annual Gardiner Cupcake Festival?”
The Hudson Valley-based bakeries and farmstands who contributed tens of thousands of the creatively conceived portable cakes to the popular festival last weekend didn’t make the selection process easy for visitors, who had to decide between choices that ranged from the traditional to the unusual.
The camouflage cupcake — which had a mottled multi-hued appearance that seemed to be the result of several batters swirled together — was an offering from Tantillo’s Farm Market, nearby neighbor to Wright’s Farm on Route 208 in Gardiner. They were also the creator of the popcorn cupcakes, a gluten-free option made with freshly popped corn and molasses molded into cakes.
For those who preferred a thematic approach, vendor Peace, Love & Cupcakes of Woodstock had creations that reflected iconic rockers: The Jimi Hendrix was a triple shot espresso cake with mocha buttercream frosting, while the Johnny Winter was a vanilla coconut cake with matching frosting.
The Gardiner Cupcake Festival began in 2009 as a low-key block party of sorts organized around an amateur cupcake baking contest. Held on Main Street at first, it grew to be such a popular attraction by its third year that traffic concerns in the small hamlet threatened the festival’s future existence. Wright’s Farm, a vendor at the event from the start, rescued the Cupcake Festival from extinction in 2012 and are now its organizers, holding the gathering each May on their huge 453-acre farm.
The size of Wright’s Farm in Gardiner is deceptive from the outside. Driving by on Route 208, one registers a fleeting impression of an enticing farmstand with plentiful hanging flower baskets and displays of seasonal produce, but it’s not until going onto the premises that one sees the extent of the Boylan-Wright’s family farmland, where they produce 100,000 bushels of apples every year. (And if that doesn’t put it into perspective, Wright’s Farm is only slightly smaller than Storm King Art Center in Orange County, which had to add trams to the visitor experience a few years back to appease exhausted art-lovers who didn’t anticipate the vast spaces.)
All that acreage allows a spacious setting for the Cupcake Festival, which now has room to grow even more. Visitors to the site last Saturday found ample parking a short walk away from where the tents were nestled into the farmland, away from any sounds or sights of the road.
The 5K Cupcake Classic opened the festival again this year, looking like it will become a permanent part of the annual event. Wright’s Farm’s Tammy Boylan reports 109 participants this year running through the hilly apple orchards against the backdrop of the Shawangunks. The winner for the men’s division was Jon Lindenauer; the women’s division winner was Lauren Speed (perhaps destined to be a race winner with that last name?)
The festival had plenty of activities for kids, including pony rides on sweet little horses from Aly’s Ponies & Traveling Barnyard, who brought a few kid-pleasing goats along, too. There were five bouncy houses and slides and the ubiquitous face-painting along with glitter tattoos and the opportunity for kids to decorate their own cupcake.
Food vendors offered deep-fried pickles, Mexican specialties and grass-fed beef burgers in a separate food section clustered around picnic tables. Visitors ate accompanied by live music on the nearby stage and the occasional roar overhead of the helicopter brought in to offer rides by Gardiner’s Sky Dive the Ranch.
Many of the features from the original concept for the festival remain, including live music, children’s activities, local wineries offering samplings (joined now by spirits and hard cider sips as well) and the always popular amateur cupcake baking contest, which drew 27 entries this time around.
Volunteer Kathleen Conner said she was impressed by the bakers’ enthusiastic (and competitive) family and friends who, while ineligible to vote, cheered on their loved one’s entries. Winner of Best Tasting cupcake went to Beth Hanigan for her cannoli concoction. Best Cocktail-Inspired cupcake went to the Piña Colada entry from Lisa Guardarramas, and the new category of Best Cake Pop went to the team of Milanie and Joseph Giordano. Danielle Fontanella took home the honors in the final two categories with related entries: Her cupcake topped with a lifelike molded lily flower won Best Decorated cupcake, and to win Best Use of Multiple Cupcakes, Fontanella clustered a garden-like bouquet of cupcakes together, each topped with individual flowers.
Entries in the amateur cupcake contest weren’t available for purchase. The three judges enlisted — a food blog writer, a magazine writer and a personality from 97.7 radio station — each ate one third of each cupcake before rendering their vote. (And they’re probably still doing crunches to work off the effects.)
And if there’s any doubt left as to the continuing popularity of cupcakes, consider this: even with an estimated 30,000 cupcakes available at the festival, some flavors still sold out.