Participants prepare for the pickle-eating contest at the In the Pickle Festival in Kingwood. Photo by Simon Liang, courtesy In the Pickle Festival.

This Saturday, if you stroll through Town Center Park in Kingwood, a community located about 30 miles north of Houston, the unmistakable smell of brine will be in the air. For the third year, the In a Pickle Festival takes over the area to celebrate all things pickle—dill, sweet, spicy, fried, you name it.

Started in 2019 by Krystal Wertman, owner of Jelly Girl Crazy Pickles, the festival was conceived as a way to boost the community and revitalize the area after Hurricane Harvey. “I work the Kingwood Farmers Market, and after the hurricane—which flooded all of Kingwood—we had no customers,” she says. “Everyone was pretty depressed there for a while.” The festival also raises money for Hunter syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body does not properly digest sugar molecules, which affects two young boys in the Kingwood community.

One of only two pickle festivals in Texas—though Wertman likes to point out that the Mansfield Pickle Parade and Palooza held in March doesn’t count since it’s primarily a parade—Kingwood’s inaugural bash drew a crowd of 10,000 people. “I was blown away,” she says. “People are obsessed with pickles. People fly here to attend. They bring their dogs named Pickle and dress in pickle costumes. It’s pretty great.”

While the pandemic hurt the festival a bit, causing its cancelation in 2020 and drawing only 4,000 to 6,000 people last year, organizers are expecting 8,000 attendees this year. There will be 65 vendors, crafters, and food trucks selling everything from pickle earrings to pickle hot sauce, and serving pickle pizza, pickle lemonade (a crowd favorite), fried pickles, and other pickle-related items.

Activities abound for everyone who puckers up to the festival. There’s pickle-eating and juice-drinking competitions for adults and children. Anyone can compete, though each competition is capped at 12 participants. (Sign up in advance by emailing [email protected] or check if there are open spots left on Saturday at the festival.) Competitors come hungry: In 2019, Salvador Garcia took home first place in the adult contest by eating seven-and-a-half large Dell Dixie pickles in five minutes.

There’s also a home-canning pickle contest—with home canners submitting their finest pint of pickles and judges picking a winner based on appearance, texture, and flavor—and new this year: Megaton Brewery will host a stein-holding contest with a special pickle beer made for the festival. Other festivities include a pet parade, pet and people pickle attire contests, live music, German folk dancing, and mechanical bull rides.

For those craving something sweet and tangy, Amy’s Ice Creams is a “Big Dill” sponsor and will be selling its pickle ice cream. In the past, they served sweet cream ice cream with pickle juice mixed in, which Leon Evison, Houston operations manager, says was bright green and had a strong dill flavor. But he’s taking things up a notch this year: “I’m going to bake dill pickles, dice them, and add them to the ice cream—and then serve it with a pickle juice shot.”

Sounds dill-ightful.

The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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