Holy aïoli!

Photo of Garlic Festival founder Pat Reppert by Beth Blis

There are five elements: earth, air, fire, water and garlic…Without garlic I simply would not care to live.

– Louis Diat

It helps to love garlic more than just a little when you go to the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival at Cantine Field in Saugerties this Saturday and Sunday. If your passion for the stinking rose goes beyond the normal admiration – garlic is one of those foods that evokes a strong passion, either pro or con – then you will be in your element. Surrounded by garlic-infused foods from garlic burritos to garlic snowcones, you will be happy as a garlicky clam (they have those, too). And once your belly’s full of garlic goodness there will be all manner of music to listen to, both stationary and strolling, and other forms of entertainment that includes giant puppet theater, garlic lectures and cooking demonstrations and shopping for garlic-themed items.

Garlic has been claimed not only to keep vampires away, but the evil eye, too – as well as preventing plague, treating tuberculosis, leprosy, arthritis, high cholesterol and flu. Personally, I haven’t proven this scientifically, and neither have studies, but I think that garlic has a cleansing, purging quality. Eat a lot of it raw and you feel your endorphins surge. Instantly you feel somehow healthier. Try it!

I think that if a meal lacks garlic, it lacks life, it lacks zest. When I put together a meal, I feel like something is missing if it has no garlic in it, and I ask myself, “How can I get garlic into this meal? Which dish can use some?” Sometimes I just put it in everything.

Garlic is key to some of the world’s most sumptuous dishes, from emerald Argentine chimichurri sauce to Greek skordalia with potato to lush, velvety aïoli sauce, deadly good on everything. Without garlic, spaghetti aglio olio would just be pasta, and Spanish gambas al ajillo would be just shrimp.

People celebrate garlic in festivals all over the place, not just Saugerties. There’s the big famous one in Gilroy, California, of course; but they throw them all over the country, from the Poconos to Ohio, and in France, Spain, Turkey, Romania, the Czech Republic and even England, even though employees of Buckingham Palace are forbidden to consume it so as not to offend the royals with inelegant breath.

The Hudson Valley Garlic Festival, a harvest celebration honoring garlic’s benefits to health and palate both, has been going strong since its 1989 inception at Pat Reppert’s herb farm, Shale Hill Farm and Herb Gardens. The first year only 100 guests showed up, but the next year attendance quadrupled. By 1992 it had moved to Cantine Field, and Reppert bequeathed the festival to the local Kiwanis Club, which was equipped to handle and organize the large crowds of garlic devotees and would funnel profits into benefiting the community. The first year at Cantine Field attracted 5,000 attendees; by 2007 there were 53,000.

I’ve gone more times than I can count, and my favorite part is raw garlic tasting: little chips and slices of around 60 varieties of local, natural, mostly hardneck garlic, all for sale, with little tastes to compare. Some are pure white, some blushed with purple; some heads diminutive, some grand. Some are milder and some are spicy; some start innocuously enough but quickly develop in your mouth into something tongue-searing. I always get a big assortment to keep me in garlic heaven though the winter.

Of course, garlic foods abound. I’ve had some amazing pulled pork at the Festival, and I (and everyone else and their mother) love the sautéed mushrooms. The line can get dauntingly long. Offerings vary a bit year to year, but you may find garlic soup in a variety of versions, lots of garlicky sausages, garlic corn, garlic fish, garlic fries, garlic calamari, garlic pizza, garlic ravioli, garlic shrimp scampi, garlic fried dough, garlic Italian ice and garlic ice cream, which is a lot better than it sounds. It has a sweet roasted-garlic thing going on that really works.

If you want to take your garlic goodies home with you for later, you’ll find pickles (try Gary’s: yum), mustards, dip mixes, marinades, sauces, pestos, cheese spreads, oils, jams and jellies, smoked meat, sausages, garlic fudge and garlic biscotti and much more.

Chef demonstrations will be given by our own Ric Orlando of New World Home Cooking, as well as Kevin Archer, Pat Crocker and Michael Rick. The garlic lecture speakers will include Noah Gress, Ted Maczka and David Stern. Bob Dunkel and Crystal Stewart are also on the schedule.

Musical acts on five stages will include Sundad, Jules and Rick, Fisher Kiernan, Mark Rust, Rich Bala and the Barefoot Boys, Annie and the Hedonists, Captain Squeeze and the Zydeco Moshers, the Homegrown String Band and the Mojo Myles Band. Morris dancers will be doing their thing – a form of English folkdance dating back to the 15th century – near the large pavilion. Arm-of-the-Sea Theater always puts on a dramatic and thought-provoking puppet show that appeals to both young and old, and usually throws in a couple of parades around the Festival as well. One World Puppetry and Performance Art will feature the Garlic Giant and the Garlic Fairy. Mr. and Mrs. Garlic can be seen wandering around the Festival as well; see if you can find them, as well as the “Garlic Goddess” herself, Festival founder Pat Reppert.

Gates open at 10 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday and close at 6 p.m. on Saturday and 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $10 at the gate, free for children under 12. Trolley stops around the area will help shuttle festivalgoers in, plus there is ample parking at the site. See www.hvgf.org for a schedule of events and a list of shuttle locations.

@ Jennifer Brizzi

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