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Gilroy Garlic Festival Celebrates 34th Year

By Jerry Bernstein

Every year I pack my suitcase at the end of July and head for Gilroy, California, home of the Garlic Festival.
Every year I’m asked “Garlic Festival?” My answer is always “yes.” I have been going to the Garlic Festival for 17 years. When it was first suggested I said: “The What Festival.” “Garlic Festival,” was the answer I got back.
After much persuasion I finally agreed to go.
The Christopher Ranch, a co-founder and sponsor of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, has a plant at the entrance to Gilroy coming from the I-5 Freeway. Some years there is very little Garlic aroma. This year it was very strong. The only thing you can do is turn off your vehicle’s air conditioner, roll down the car windows and enjoy the aroma. That’s exactly what we did.
Shakespeare described the Garlic Scent as “the stinking rose.” Ancient Egyptians fed it to their slaves, claiming it made them stronger. The Greeks believed it gave their soldiers courage. Romans were more convinced it vitalized virility, while Transylvanians used it to repel vampires. In conclusion, it appears anyone who gets a whiff of Garlic has nothing to worry about,
Gilroy is a community with a main street from an earlier era. All that it is missing is a soda fountain, where you can drop in for a soda made with, of course, and Garlic ice cream. There are antique stores, which I like to browse through. These aren’t as many antique stores on Main Street as there were 16 years ago, but the downtown area still has a few and an ambiance that is hard to find today.
The fair first opened in 1978. This year an estimated 100,000 visitors attended the festival including Kanako Daibo and Takkor Machi representing the Garlic and Beef Festival held in Japan during October. Daibo is the Festival Queen and Machi is a Festival Princess. With them was Mikato Sakamoto, Festival President.
We arrived in Gilroy approximately at 1:30 p.m. and headed for O.D.’s Restaurant. They have the best hamburgers and French Fri potatoes sprinkled with a Garlic power. Their breakfasts are also scrumptious, and you have your choice of having garlic sprinkled over your eggs and potatoes.
Following lunch we checked into our hotel. WARNNG: If you plan to attend make your reservation in the early fall, not only do you have a choice of good accommodations but at a good price.
Friday morning we were at the festival grounds for the opening day. The weather was perfect. One of the first things we did was to head for Gourmet Alley, which after 34 years continues to be the heart of the festival. Here much of the garlic cuisine which the festival is famous for is cooked, including the traditional stuffed and marinated mushrooms, calamari, scampi, pepper steak sandwiches, pasta con pesto, Italian sausage, sandwiches, garlic bread and garlic fries. Throughout the grounds are booths selling all types of food, many including touches of garlic. There is also the Garlic
Ice Cream. My favorite is barbecued Turkey Legs, a meal in itself.
The fair does not have rides that carnivals offer their patrons, but it does have a delightful children’s area that should be the envy of other festivals. There are also stages with a variety of entertainers that both teenagers and adults can enjoy.
Last but not least is the Gourmet Cook-off where celebrity chefs square off against each other. The Cookout has become an international event with Garlic recipes sent from all over the world. From these entries, a committee selects the recipes to be used in the cook off.
Perhaps what makes the Garlic Festival so enjoyable are Gilroy’s volunteers who not only plan the festival each year but work the festival which has relied on them over the years to make the event a premier event? The volunteers do not earn salaries for working the festival. Each year disbursements are made, according to the number of hours the volunteers worked, who then donate what would be their salaries to a charity of their choice. During the 34 years the festival has been in existence $93.4 million has been donated to charity.

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