Remarkably, this weekend marks the 22nd annual visitation of the Rosendale International Pickle Festival, always held at the Rosendale Community Center on Route 32 on the Sunday preceding Thanksgiving. It was founded by local garden center proprietor (now town historian) Bill Brooks, his wife Cathy and their Japanese expat friend Eri Yamaguchi, who missed the traditional tsukemono of her homeland. What started out as a Japanese dinner party for 200 soon turned into a celebration of all things pickled that attracted about 1,000 people the first year, and by now, 5,000 or more annually. From the beginning, it has also been a fundraiser whose proceeds benefit community projects in and around Rosendale.
A highlight is always the county-fair-style competition for home-fermented concoctions, but it’s also a fun gathering for those more interested in tasting pickle products than in creating them. Of the 100 or so vendors setting up shop both inside the Rec Center and in and around the large tents outside, about a quarter will actually be selling fermented foods of myriad descriptions, including the legendary deep-fried pickles-on-a-stick and chocolate-covered pickles. Other prepared foods to round out your meal, in addition to crafts and packaged gourmet products, will also be available for sale. An ATM is being installed in the Rec Center lobby, should your appetite grow to exceed your pocketbook.
Repeat Picklefest visitors know to expect live music and dancing from many ethnic traditions — as diverse as there are types of pickled foods around the world — for most of the day, with much of the activity going on outdoors, rain or shine (so dress warmly!). This year, there will be a special awards ceremony in which co-founders Cathy Brooks and Eri Yamaguchi will be honored with a banner and a ribbon. And a new ribbon will be awarded this year for the best vendor booth display.
Judging of entries in the pickle-making competition begins at noon. The judges are Tammy Firmbach, Christine Gustafson and Autumn Meyers. Eligible categories in the Home Pickling Contest this year include Dill Pickles, Sweet Pickles, Dilly Beans, Pickled Fruit, Pickled Root Vegetables and Pickled Vegetables. A Best of Show ribbon will also be awarded. Competitors may enter as many categories as they wish (limit one entry per category) and are asked to submit two jars of the same item for each entry (one for display, one for the judges to sample). Each jar should be labeled only with the category under which it should be considered. Jars must be unopened with a proper seal (wax or broken seals will not be accepted).
Judging is blind; you will be assigned a number for each entry when you drop off your entries and fill out your entry form (no later than 11 a.m. at the Rec Center on the day of the festival, or at Bill Brooks’ Barber Shop & Emporium at 369 Main Street in Rosendale up until the day before the event). Scoring is by assignment of one to ten points each for appearance, flavor, quality and texture, up to a maximum of 40 points. Prizes will be awarded for First and Second Place in each category. Best of Show is based on overall score; any tiebreaker is decided by consensus of the judges.
Late in the afternoon, the Pickle Triathlon gets underway. It starts with a Pickle-Eating Contest, in which contestants vie to consume the entire contents of a small jar of Mount Olive Pickle Spears in the shortest period of time. Next comes a Pickle-Juice-Drinking Contest, where contestants are tasked with downing 24 ounces of brine through a straw. The final event, the Pickle-Tossing Contest, is a team effort: The pitcher tosses a pickle chip to the catcher, who must catch it in his or her mouth, then spurt it into the counter’s jar. Awards are conferred upon the first- and second-place winners in each category. Children under 12 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian to enter the contests.
Admission to the 22nd annual Rosendale International Pickle Festival costs $5 per adult; kids get in free. Pets are not permitted on-site. The event goes on from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, November 24. The Rosendale Community Center is located at 1055 Route 32, just south of its intersection with Route 213.
Note that the Rec Center parking lot fills up fast for this popular event, so you may want to take advantage of the Festival’s shuttle service. From the south (New Paltz), use the parking lot at the former Tillson School, about a quarter-mile east of Route 32 on Gristmill Road (turn at Postage Inn). From the north (Kingston), turn east onto Creek Locks Road at the stoplight; the lot is located about a quarter-mile from Route 32. The bus will run loops about every half-hour, stopping at each lot and then at the Rec Center.