What’s green and tangy, has a nice crunch and is the veggie of honor at Winchester’s biggest community festival?
Pickles, of course.
The town’s 20th annual Winchester Pickle Festival takes place Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
This year’s event was organized by the Winchester Pickle Festival Committee, a newly formed organization dedicated to keeping the tradition going.
According to Kevin Bazan, one of the volunteer organizers on the committee, the group decided to stick with what’s worked in the past for the 20th event.
The festival kicks off with a parade at 10 a.m., featuring the Winchester and Nelson town bands and led by Mr. Pickle, a fan-favorite character played by N.H. Rep. Henry A.L. Parkhurst. For all but one of the years the festival has been running, Parkhurst has donned his signature green suit to become Mr. Pickle.
The best part of the job, he says, is making festival-goers happy.
“I think for me it’s seeing the wonderful smiles and grins and happiness on the faces, especially the children,” Parkhurst said.
There will also be music from local rock band Version Six starting at noon, a pickle-eating contest at the town gazebo starting at 1 p.m., and a car show throughout the day at the ELMM Community Center.
Vendors at the festival are strongly encouraged to sell at least one pickle-themed item, according to Bazan, whether that be a pair of pickle socks or pickle sunglasses. On the food front, pickles will be available in abundance, with items like deep-fried pickles, bacon-wrapped pickles and pickle soup on the menu.
That’s in addition to the free pickles handed out at the festival, which are paid for through taxpayer money and handed out by the Kiwanis Club.
Bazan doesn’t personally have much of a taste for pickles, but he loves the sense of community the festival promotes.
“I hate pickles. I can’t stand pickles,” he said. “I wish it was something other than pickles, but that’s what it is, and I like to see the community get together. This is really Winchester’s big community event where we love to see everybody visit Winchester and stroll along Main Street.”
The Pickle Festival was started in 1998 by Winchester resident Gary O’Neal.
Parkhurst and Bazan both noted that the pickle festival is an important event for the Winchester community.
Just ask Roberta Fraser, a former organizer of the annual festival.
Fraser headed the festival for about 13 years until she stepped down two years ago, citing the strain of the time commitment. At that time it was taken over by Winchester Proud, a local organization promoting events in Winchester, and it’s now helmed by the newly formed pickle festival committee.
Though Fraser is no longer an organizer, she still likes to help out at the festival. She said she’s pleased with how it’s gone since she handed over the reins.
“I would never just leave them. But they do great without me; they’re doing wonderful. They have a lot more help, they have a lot more people, and they’re doing a lot of things differently, which is great,” she said. “When somebody else takes it over, it’s nice to see something new in a different way.”
As for Parkhurst, who’s so dedicated to his character that he won’t partake in any pickles during the fest to avoid staining his suit, keeping the festival — and Mr. Pickle — alive is a priority.
“I just hope it can continue for a long, long, long time,” he said. “I won’t always be Mr. Pickle, of course; somebody will take my place, and I just hope they will keep the tradition.”