Over the millennia of our existence prior to the invention of refrigeration, humankind has figured out many ingenious ways to make food last longer without spoiling. Even better, we developed appreciative tastes for quite a few products of these preservation methods — notably those that involve marination in some form of brine or vinegar. Cuisines all over the world have incorporated their own spins on pickling, and each November they are celebrated at the Rosendale Recreation Center in the form of the International Pickle Festival. The 18th annual Rosendale Picklefest is coming up this Sunday, November 22 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Everyone around these parts has heard by now how the event started as a Japanese cooking party organized by Bill and Cathy Brooks with a friend who had emigrated to Rosendale from Japan, and quickly took on a much larger life of its own. Tsukemono or Japanese pickles are still a feature of the Picklefest, but the scope of the event has broadened considerably to include every imaginable foodstuff that can conceivably be pickled — not to mention every imaginable thing that can be done to a pickle, such as deep-frying it on a skewer or robing it in chocolate.
There have been some changes at Picklefest this year, most significant among them the fact that Bill Brooks has begun to carry out his long-threatened retirement as impresario of the event. Primary sponsoring organization the Rosendale Chamber of Commerce now takes the lead role, though Chamber president Sarah McGinty downplays Brooks’s lowered profile. “Oh, we didn’t let him do that [retire],” says McGinty, “and don’t let him tell you otherwise. He’s still doing the fun stuff. He agreed to let us help with the drudge work.”
This year’s lineup of 85 vendors will also be a bit different from recent years. “We’ve tried to bring in more vendors who are making what they sell,” McGinty explains. “We wanted to use this opportunity to support local businesses, which is what the Chamber is all about. It will still very much have that Rosendale flavor — I guess that’s a briny flavor!”
More than 20 of those vendors will be offering a wide variety of pickled foods; “Just Good Eats is working up some picked ice creams for this one!” according to the Picklefest Facebook page. The other booths will be selling other food items such as desserts, cheeses, hot sauces, Ecuadorian and Jamaican dishes, plus a wide selection of non-edible handicrafts.
Live music is always an appealing feature of the Rosendale Pickle Festival. The program for 2015 begins, appropriately enough, with the New Orleans sounds of the Rosendale Improvement Association Brass Band & Social Club at 11 a.m. At noon you can hear the world music ensemble Levanta, which features Gabriel Dresdale on cello, Raphael Garritano on guitars, Evry Mann on percussion and Thomas Workman on flutes, tuba, didgeridoo, fujara and more. The Centrifugal Force Hoopers will provide a display of virtuoso hula-hooping at 1 p.m., followed by more music from the Gold Hope Duo at 2 p.m. and African drumming from Amadou Diallo at 3 p.m.
During the last hour of the Festival, music gives way to feats of silly, dilly skill as the Pickle Games get underway at 4 p.m., hosted by Doug Motel. The Pickle Triathlon starts with a Pickle-Eating Contest, where contestants try to eat the contents of an entire small jar of Mt. Olive Pickle Spears. The first one to finish wins the Gold, followed by Silver and Bronze. Next is the Pickle Juice-Drinking Contest, where contestants get to drink 24 ounces of pickle juice through a Big Bore Straw. The final event, the Pickle-Tossing Contest, is a team effort in which a pitcher tosses a pickle chip to the catcher, who catches the chip in his or her mouth, then spurts it into the Counter’s Jar.
In the spirit of a country fair, there is also a Home Pickling Contest. Entrants must submit two jars of whatever they have pickled, labeled with their name, address, phone number, e-mail address and identification of the contents. Entries must be submitted by 11 a.m.; judging begins at noon.
The other aspect that’s notably different this year is the price of entry: “It’s the first increase in price since we started 18 years ago,” McGinty notes. Whereas admission used to cost $3 per person, $5 per family, it has now gone up to $5 per adult, free for kids under age 16 — still quite reasonable, and all the money raised after expenses goes to support local charities, not-for-profit organizations and municipal projects like replacement of the Rosendale Pool.
Between six and seven thousand people visit the Pickle Festival in an average year, and many are veterans: “This will be our third year attending and driving two hours to do so! Great day of family fun or a goofy couples’ getaway,” reads one enthusiastic review of the event on the Facebook page. But if you’re reading this, you probably won’t need to drive quite so far to enjoy some sweet sour fun. The Rosendale Recreation Center is located at 1055 Route 32. For more info, visit https://rosendalechamber.org/pickle-festival or www.facebook.com/rosendalepicklefestival.