The story of the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival has been told many times, but bears a brief repetition. In its first year as a sort of open-house event at Pat Reppert’s Shale Hill Farm and Herb Gardens, it drew around 100 people by word-of-mouth alone. Attendance quadrupled in the second year, and by 1991 it was clear that there was a great public hunger for an event on the East Coast to rival the one that put Gilroy, California on the map. So in 1992 the Kiwanis Club of Saugerties took some of the administrative headaches out of the snowy-white hair of the Garlic Goddess, as Reppert came to be known, and moved the whole shebang to Cantine Field, which could accommodate the thousands who wanted to attend. Under the not-for-profit’s umbrella began the practice of donating the Festival’s net proceeds to a long list of community service organizations; they even bought the Town of Saugerties a brand-new, state-of-the art ice skating rink one year. The rest, as they say, is history, and enough years have now passed for most of the kinks, such as traffic flow issues, to be worked out.
There’s a lot more going on at the Garlic Fest than just garlic. Roots music emanates from four stages, with performers this year including Annie and the Hedonists, Rich Bala and the Barefoot Boys, Captain Squeeze and the Zydeco Moshers, the Homegrown String Band, Jules and Rick, the Mojo Myles Band, Mark Rust, Sundad and kids’ band extraordinaire Uncle Rock. Out among the crowds you’ll see giant puppets and performance art from One World and Arm-of-the-Sea Theater, while a troupe of Morris Dancers brings home ancient rituals of the planting and harvest seasons. The Garlic King and Queen greet visitors as they make their stately way about the grounds in their unwieldy costumes, while a giant garlic-shaped hot-air balloon hovers over all.
For many visitors, the main attractions are the lectures and cooking demonstrations by master gardeners and celebrity chefs. This year’s lineup includes Ted Maczka (a/k/a the Johnny Appleseed of Garlic), Kevin Archer, Pat Crocker, Ric Orlando, David Stern, Michael Rick and Noah Gress. Backyard gardeners can find all sorts of garlic seed, with a special emphasis on types that thrive best in the mid-Hudson’s climate. But most of all there is the food itself: strings of garlic heads in a mind-boggling selection of over 60 varieties, and garlic-flavored foods of every variety – including many applications that would strike the average amateur cook as a bit, shall we say, counterintuitive. Besides the usual savory meat, starch and vegetable dishes, pickles and condiments, you can find garlic soup, garlic pretzels, garlic bacon, garlic jelly, garlic cheeses, garlic nuts, garlic corn-on-the-cob, garlic biscotti, garlic fried dough, garlic fudge, funnel cakes with caramelized garlic, the inexplicably popular garlic ice cream and even garlic Italian ice. How can you resist?
The 2010 Hudson Valley Garlic Festival runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, September 25 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, September 26. As of press time it’s already too late to purchase reduced-price advance tickets, but the day-of admission is still quite reasonable at $10 per adult. Entry is free for kids under age 12 accompanied by an adult. For directions, schedules and more info to make you salivate, visit the Festival website at www.hudsonvalleygarlic.com.