The Hudson Valley Garlic Festival will return to Cantine Field in Saugerties this Saturday, September 29 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, September 30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The popular event has been presented by the Kiwanis Club of Saugerties since 1992, but this will be the first Garlic Festival to take place since its founder, Pat Reppert, known as “The Goddess of Garlic,” passed away in February at age 81.
The roots of the Garlic Festival go back to 1989, when Reppert was running a small antiques and gift shop at Shale Hill Farm in Saugerties, where she lived with her husband, Dr. Edmund “Rep” Reppert. Always eager to share her knowledge and known for having the knack of inspiring others, Pat organized a small garlic-themed festival that year, with the intention of educating people about the wonders of garlic and promoting New York-grown bulbs along with her fledgling herb business. Without little publicity other than her newsletter, “Notes from Shale Hill Farm,” attendance at the event far exceeded expectations.
The following year, more than 425 garlic-lovers showed up in Reppert’s herb gardens for festival number two, quadrupling the inaugural year’s attendance and stretching the small farm to its limits. By year three, in 1991, tickets were pre-sold as a form of crowd control and Reppert fielded more than 1,500 phone calls from people seeking admission.
At that point, she knew “this garlic thing,” as she referred to it, had grown too big for her to handle. Reppert turned it over to the Kiwanis Club of Saugerties, who held their first Garlic Festival at Cantine Field in 1992. Despite considerable rain, 5,000 people attended, with 13,000 arriving the following year. By 1994, the event was a two-day festival drawing more than 30,000 visitors, and these days routinely attracts some 45,000 attendees. The highest weekend attendance recorded was 53,000.
Garlic-based products likely to be available at this year’s event include salsa, hummus, pasta sauce, sausage, pickles, olives, cheese and even chutney, as well as garlic caramels, fudge and ice cream.
The Garlic Marketplace will have an abundance of growers selling softneck garlic (named for its soft, pliable stalk, suitable for braiding) and hardneck garlic varieties like Rocambole (easy to peel with full-bodied taste), and Purple Stripe (pretty to look at until turned into the best baked garlic). Hardneck varieties are the source of garlic scapes, those curling extensions of the stalk that appear about a month after the first leaves in the growing season. They’re often cut off the plant and tossed, because they’ll divert the plant’s growing strength away from the bulb, but the scapes are edible, with a delicate flavor. They can be used like green onions as an ingredient in cooking or chopped in a salad. Experts say to look for plump and firm bulbs covered with plenty of papery sheath.
For those inspired to try growing garlic themselves, vegetable expert Crystal Stewart of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County will be on hand to answer attendee questions. Chef demos will be offered by Ric Orlando, Jorge Rodriguez and Noah Sheetz, and guest lecturers include award-winning garlic grower Tony Sarmiento along with Garlic Seed Foundation founder David Stern and Bob Dunkel, editor of the group’s newsletter.
Live entertainment will be provided by Ian Flanigan, Annie and the Hedonists, Mark Rust, James Rissacher, the Bondville Boys, Bells & Motley Olden Music, The Homegrown String Band, and Sundad. There will be traditional harvest dancing by the Morris dancers, and One World Puppetry’s Garlic Giant and Garlic Fairy will walk the festival grounds. Saugerties-based Arm-of-the-Sea Theater will perform the Turtle Island Medicine Show, featuring their blend of live music and larger-than-life puppet characters.
Craft vendors will be there, and the children’s area will feature pumpkin-decorating and other fun activities organized by members of Saugerties Key Club and Saugerties Boys & Girls Club. Face-painting will be provided by the Saugerties Teachers Association. Single-day admission costs $10 at the gate (cash only) and it’s a rain-or-shine event. Children age 12 or younger are admitted free when accompanied by an adult.
And don’t forget to cast a vote for next year’s official Hudson Valley Garlic Festival poster. Artists submit designs in advance and the two finalists are displayed at the festival’s information tent. The artist receiving the largest number of votes receives $450 for their winning design, which is used for tee-shirts and all garlic festival promotion the following year.
Hudson Valley Garlic Festival, Saturday, Sept. 29, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 30 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., $10 at gate, free for kids under age 12 with adult, Cantine Field (Cantine Veterans Memorial Complex), Washington Ave. Extension, Saugerties; (845) 246-3090, www.hvgf.org. Pets aren’t allowed to attend the festival. Visit the website for parking details.