When my pickle-making partner finally got to the end of his experiment, the results proved disappointing. The finished dills were too intensely puckery even for Tom, who likes them sourer than I do. And the total cost of ingredients was much more than he would have shelled out for an equal quantity of high-quality deli pickles. So all in all, I’m content to clear the fermentation laboratory out of my dining room and leave pickle-making to the experts for the foreseeable future.
Fortunately, both for those like me who don’t want to bother making their own and for those who love pickling and are always looking to compare notes with other brine-brewers, those experts are coming to the Rosendale Community Center this Sunday for the 13th annual International Pickle Festival. You can go on YouTube to see home videos of the event’s most-talked-about wacky features, such as the cringeworthy Pickle Juice-Drinking Contest and another competition in which people fling pickle slices across the room – overhand, underhand or Frisbee-style – trying to get as many as possible into their teammates’ open mouths. Taking a leaf from Saugerties’ even-more-venerable Garlic Festival, oddball foods grab the spotlight, like deep-fried pickles on a stick, pickle soup, pickle pizza and dilly chili.
But the real focus of the Picklefest is a cross-cultural look at how the pickling process is employed creatively across the globe. The event’s organizers, longtime Rosendale garden center proprietors and civic boosters Bill and Cathy Brooks, held the first one in 1998 at the behest of a client-turned-friend named Eri Yamaguchi. Sushi bars were still thin on the ground in Ulster County in those days, and Yamaguchi missed the panoply of pickled vegetables that enliven Japanese cuisine, such as the hyper-crunchy, bright yellow pickled radish known as oshinko. Picklefest Mach I was intended as a Japanese dinner for about 200 guests, but 1,000 people showed up, and the Brookses knew that they had hit on a hitherto-unmet community need.
The rest is history, but the Pickle Festival – which now draws upwards of 5,000 visitors each year – is still called International for a reason. A Japanese tea ceremony and dance performance, a roving German accordionist and Schuhplattler dancers, African drummers and bluegrass bands have long been staples of the event, along with plenty of activities for kids. While the lowly cucumber transfigured by salt and vinegar still holds center culinary stage, it’s a great place to sample a wide variety of other pickled products: dilly beans, sauerkraut, marinated mushrooms, chow chow, pickled beets, peppers, cauliflower, tomatoes, asparagus, carrots, okra and almost any other imaginable vegetable. And you can round off your marinated meal with some protein in the form of pickled eggs, corned beef or sauerbraten.
Pickling wimps like me will attend to stock up on jars of our favorite vinegary foodstuffs, prepared by people who really know what they’re doing. Seasoned picklers, on the other hand, are invited to enter their products into competition, with entry forms available online at www.picklefest.com/4.html. Official categories include Pickles, Bread-and-Butter Pickles, Relish, Chutney and Green Beans, but the judges make up their own special categories each year to accommodate the more eclectic entries. Two sample jars of each entry must be delivered for judging no later than 11 a.m. on the day of the Festival.
The International Pickle Festival takes place this Sunday, November 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Rosendale Community Center, located on Route 32 just south of its intersection with Route 213. For more information phone (845) 658-9649 or visit www.picklefest.com.