Like other much-maligned members of the cabbage family, the humble cauliflower tends to go underappreciated nowadays. Mark Twain famously wrote, in Pudd’nhead Wilson, that “a cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education,” perhaps inspired by the white brassica’s resemblance to the human brain. Fans of the 1960s TV vampire Zacherley may fondly remember the Chiller Theater host performing simulated brain surgery with a cleaver on an unfortunate cauliflower in between movie segments, but many kids who grew up in that era of canned or overboiled veggies still think of it merely as one of their least-favorite foods.
This is unfortunate, because cauliflower properly prepared can be sublime. I know a cream-of-cauliflower soup recipe so sinfully rich and flavorful that my ex-husband claimed to have married me for it, and it’s my ace-in-the-hole for luring my son home for a taste of Mom’s cooking during college breaks. Cauliflower actually lends itself to all sorts of elegant dishes, and was reputedly a favorite at the table of King Louis XIV.
For more than 50 years beginning in the 1890s, the town of Margaretville was the epicenter of the cauliflower industry in the US, supplying an appreciative market of New York City gourmets before California farms eventually took over. It was a vital component of the Catskills economy for decades, so it seems appropriate that the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce should pay homage to broccoli’s albino cousin each year around this time. The Cauliflower Festival returns to Margaretville on Saturday, September 27 for its 11th annual visitation, “celebrating farming, cooking and culture in the past, present and future of the Catskill Mountains.”
The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Village of Margaretville Pavilion, located behind the supermarket on Bridge Street. Predictably enough, you’ll find fresh cauliflower for sale by the bushel, amateur chefs vying for prizes with their best cauliflower recipes and a tent sponsored by the Town of Middletown Historical Society depicting the history of the local cauliflower industry. Food vendors will tempt you with a variety of tasty treats, including cauliflower soup. There will be an arts-and-crafts tent where you can get an early start on your Christmas shopping, and plenty of other area businesses will have booths and tables set up to hawk their wares.
Much of the emphasis of the Cauliflower Festival is on entertaining that most notoriously cole-crops-averse demographic segment, young children. Kids’ and family activities will include hayrides, pony rides, barrel train rides, a rescue animal petting zoo, face-painting and hands-on craft activities. The Tractor Parade that circles the fairgrounds at 11:30 a.m. will end with opportunities for tots to have their pictures taken sitting at the wheel of a tractor. A hay-baling demonstration at 2:30 p.m. at neighboring Davis Farm should also be fun for the kids.
School-age youngsters should enjoy the Stream Table exhibit being set up by the Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District. It’s just one of many environmental-themed offerings, with the Catskill Center, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Catskill Forest Association and several alternative energy and green homebuilding vendors scheduled to attend. The Watershed Agricultural Council, celebrating its tenth anniversary, will sponsor a farmers’ market featuring partners in the Pure Catskills best-practices program.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a festival without live music. At 1 p.m., Jason Starr will perform songs in the spirit of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and encourage audiences to sing along. At 12 noon and 2 p.m., Mike Herman and the Catskill Mountain Boys will play fiddle music to accompany square dancing in the pavilion.
Admission to the Cauliflower Festival is free; some children’s activities charge a nominal fee. For more info, visit www.cauliflowerfestival.com.
Cauliflower Festival, Saturday, September 27, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., free, Village of Margaretville Pavilion, Bridge Street, Margaretville; www.cauliflowerfestival.com.