Pickle people are a devoted bunch. “One group drove in from Colorado last year wearing matching pickle T-shirts,” says Bill Brooks, organizer of Rosendale’s International Pickle Festival. “I get thousands of phone calls — people plan their lives around it. I’ve even spotted a tour bus dropping people off.”
Now in its 16th year, the for-charity event attracts some 7,000 die-hards to a tented village surrounding the town’s community center. As the costumed Big Pickle strolls the aisles, visitors shop for and munch on chocolate-covered gherkins, deep-fried dills, and other addictively weird treats.
Look for festival-goers from Japan, toting homemade concoctions of cherry blossoms, plums, and radishes for judging. “The Japanese take pickles very seriously,” says Chef Patrick Wilson, a judge at the food competition. “It’s much more mainstream than it is here.”
Cucumbers are just for starters: Anything that can be pickled — pineapples, melon rind, herring, mangoes — can be entered for judging, an all-day affair that often requires tasting and retasting. “We eat a lot of plain crackers and drink plenty of water to cleanse the palate,” says Wilson. “And we save the hot and fiery pickles for the end.”
Even if you’re not a pickler, you can still compete in the eating, tossing, and juice-drinking contests. “While most people can drink dill pickle juice, the kind they have at the festival is different,” cautions past blue-ribbon winner Robert Rowen of New York City. “It’s a combination of all the brine from the bottom of the barrel, so it can be very spicy.” Contestants have to drink it through a straw, seeds and all, and the first one to finish a 24-ounce container wins. “Even though I received a pickle sweatshirt many sizes too small, it was worth it,” says Rowen. “I’ll be back.”
Rosendale International Pickle Festival
Nov. 24 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Community Center, Rte. 32 S., Rosendale