In the spirit of John Green’s book of the same title, our theme for the month of October is “the Anthropocene reviewed.” Writers were asked to review and rate some facet of human experience on a five-star scale.
The year my partner and I moved in together (which, incidentally, involved moving in with Sam’s mother, father, paternal grandmother, and two younger sisters) was the year we began the tradition most sacred to our two-person family microcosm: attending the annual Hudson Valley Garlic Festival in Saugerties, a small town located in the northern part of Lenapehoking, right on the river called Muhheakantuck by the Lenape and Hudson on settler maps.
Like all sacred traditions, the origins of this one are not entirely clear. It had been established fairly early in our friendship that we both hold to the ‘measure with your heart’ method of cooking with garlic. The ritual of nearly all our joint cooking efforts opens (often before even deciding what it is we’re making) with one of us collecting onion, garlic, cutting board, knife, and compost bowl, peeling and chopping while the other makes space in the kitchen by putting away dry dishes and washing dirty ones. Yet only a couple months after our summer 2017 move found the two of us (along with a couple of friends who happened to be visiting for the weekend) entering what felt like a cross between a county fair and a farmer’s market, with more free samples that we—bottomless pits that we were in our early twenties—could comfortably eat. We returned home in the early evening of that fateful September Saturday reeking, having taste-tested garlic knots, garlic fudge, garlic mustards and dips, cheeses and cheese curds, nuts and nut butters, vinegars, pickles, and hot sauces—and, of course, all the many varieties of raw garlic on offer by each farmer: Musics and German Reds and Siberian Purple Stripes and more.
We’ve attended every year since—and always with others. Even during the fall of 2020, when we lived a twelve hour car ride away and the official Festival was cancelled, we bundled ourselves and our roommates into a car and made the trek to the parsonage we were not yet completely moved out of. That year was a do-it-ourselves affair, involving a church tent pavilion, camping in the yard, lots of sanitiser, and masking in the house while we prepared garlic soup, garlic knots, raw garlic samples (shout out to Devin, who spent over an hour that weekend just peeling garlic for us to use in each of the dishes), and Sam’s signature hot toddies for our handful of Festival-goers to enjoy.
Along with our post-Festival toddy tradition, we and our Festival crew will usually end up watching either the TV show Over the Garden Wall—because autumn—or the film What We Do in the Shadows—because vampires—(though, if memory serves, in 2018 the post-Festival entertainment included the recording of a puppet show set to the score of the rock opera Razia’s Shadow).
I must admit that, despite attending the Festival faithfully for the past six years—each time accompanied by a different assortment of family and friends, each time traditions altered slightly as first Sam and I and then Sam’s family have moved away—and despite eating garlic on a nearly daily basis, I remain first and foremost an amateur as regards the aromatic allium. Ranging from pale porcelain to purple in colour, encased in dry layers of protective paper, the bulb can be tedious to unwrap and deconstruct into its constitutive cloves. The extreme dryness of the exterior is belied by the sticky wetness contained within the cloves. If you’ve ever left a knife, cutting board, grater, or hands unwashed after processing even a few cloves, you know the stickiness lingers.
And the flavour! Garlic butter in mashed potatoes (or on toast), adding rich umami sweetness; chopped or sliced garlic to sharpen up a pizza; roasted garlic mixed with root vegetables in the oven. Garlic fills in the gaps. It binds ingredients together and elevates a meal into a festal occasion. It can be sharp and spicy, sweet and mellow, peppery and medicinal. As a crop, it’s resistant to both pests and pestilence. It requires little water or weeding, or much maintenance at all. Hardneck varieties give the double gift of both scapes (my pesto base of choice) and bulbs. Even the humble softneck Silverskins you find in the grocery store are delicious (though I will curse the seemingly endless layers of shrinking cloves that disappear into nothingness as I attempt to peel a head for my dinner). It’s amazing to me how this plant, originally native to South and Central Asia, has found a home far and wide, coming into the hearts and stomachs of so many people in so many places—enough that there are entire festivals dedicated to celebrating allium sativum.
How could I give garlic anything less than five out of five stars?
The land upon which we gather for this Festival is part of the traditional territory of the Lenni-Lenape, called “Lenapehoking.” The Lenape People lived in harmony with one another upon this territory for thousands of years. During the colonial era and early federal period, many were removed west and north, but some also remain among the continuing historical tribal communities of the region: The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation; the Ramapough Lenape Nation; and the Powhatan Renape Nation, The Nanticoke of Millsboro Delaware, and the Lenape of Cheswold Delaware. We acknowledge the Lenni-Lenape as the original people of this land and their continuing relationship with their territory. In our acknowledgment of the continued presence of Lenape people in their homeland, we affirm the aspiration of the great Lenape Chief Tamanend, that there be harmony between the indigenous people of this land and the descendants of the immigrants to this land, “as long as the rivers and creeks flow, and the sun, moon, and stars shine.”
Jack Kamps (’16) has been paid to do many things, such as teach preschoolers, pastor youths, schlep things in warehouses, bake pastries, design curriculum, serve coffee, maintain gardens, and fix computers. Jack is currently a student at Princeton Theological Seminary—though they tend to spend more time working on PTS’ small farm, plotting a future cheesecake business with their spouse, and listening to/talking about the latest Witch, Please episode than doing their homework.
My tastebuds adore garlic, but my guts do not. I’d pay a hefty price for a day at the garlic festival!