The weather was ideal last Saturday and Sunday, September 25-26, as thousands made the annual pilgrimage to Cantine Field in Saugerties. Official attendance figures weren’t available, but a healthy crowd at the festival – and this looked to be one – is between 20,000 and 30,000 each day.)
This year’s festival, the 22nd, had everything regular attendees have come to expect: over 100 vendors, selling varieties of garlic you just can’t get anywhere else, crafts, children’s area, live music, performance art and cooking demos.
For Garlic aficionados across the Northeast, making the late September pilgrimage to Saugerties is an annual tradition.
“Garlic is in pretty much everything I eat,” said George Miller, a Trumbull, Connecticut high school history teacher making his fifth visit to the festival in as many years. “I pack as much as my trunk will carry and hope it lasts longer than it usually does.”
Miller favored braids of farm-grown garlic for use in everything from pasta to salads, though he also stocked up on salsa, chutney and pesto. Earlier on Saturday, Miller had undertaken what he called his “annual rite” by imbibing a garlic shooter in the middle of the main row of food vendors before working his way from booth to booth, chatting and buying, and most importantly, tasting.
“I could go on about the medicinal advantages of garlic,” he said. “But the truth is, it just tastes good.”
Ruth Ann Barnes is the owner of Athens-based Ruth Ann’s Crafts, a business devoted to selling dolls and intricate fashion wares. While she mostly does craft shows, Barnes has been a regular at the Garlic Festival for at least six years.
“It’s just a wonderful experience,” she said. “There are lots and lots of visitors at the festival…People are there to buy and spend money, and what vendor wouldn’t like that?”
Charles Serro of Grampa Pete All Natural Gourmet Tomato Sauces also reported brisk business during the weekend.
“All my tomato sauces are garlic products, and it’s great to be part of an event like [this],” said the Catskill-based Serro.
Although the festival crowds dwarf any other event held at majestic Cantine Field, the layout of the grounds allows for plenty of open space. Hay bales in the center of the main thoroughfares and at the performance stages offer places to relax the feet and aching back, and the often overflowing adjacent garbage receptacles testify to the primal need to sit while gormandizing. Shady spots were harder to come by, even in the vast tent during the chefs’ demos and lectures, where David Stern’s packed early Saturday afternoon lecture gave way to a still-more-packed demonstration by Rick Orlando on cooking with black garlic. Orlando, owner and head chef of New World Home Cooking in Saugerties, has seen his popularity skyrocket with a series of successful appearances on the Food Network’s cooking challenge show, Chopped.
Regular vendor Arlene Yannece remembers the festival’s modest roots.
“We first actually did the Garlic Festival 15 years ago when it was very small,” said Yannece, who runs Country Herbs with her husband Ralph in Freehold, New Jersey.
Yannece said the feeling this year in particular was strong, with everyone from customers to fellow vendors. “It was a pre-recession feeling all around,” she said.
That joy was also apparent in the faces of children, some of whom had just tasted raw garlic for the very first time in between face-painting and rock climbing
“It was good,” said Jason Sullivan, a five-year-old from Englewood, New Jersey, who was visiting the festival with his parents and two older sisters, Sasha and Samantha. Sullivan’s father, Herb, reported that his son was loathe to eat a piece of raw garlic, but he eventually took the plunge with the promise of a large piece of fudge.
“It was a little weird, but I liked it,” said Jason. “The fudge was even better.”