BERRIEN SPRINGS -- Sweet or dill, pickles played an important role in the lives of the people of Southwest Michigan, according to Berrien County Historical Association curator Bob Myers.
"This region was settled primarily by German immigrants," Myers said. "Around the turn of the century there were a number of pickle processing plants here."
Today, the pickle plants may be gone but the pickle is still a major player on the dinner table, adorning a hot dog and sandwich or just out of the hand good eating.
Most vegetable stands in the area sell small cukes known as pickles and homemakers still buy them by the bushel to pickle.
"The annual Pickle Festival in Berrien Springs started about six years ago as a Christmas time event," said Myers. "Now it's grown and we have another version of the festival in July. But originally, it began with a German custom. On Christmas Eve, after the children have gone to bed, parents would hide a pickle ornament in the Christmas tree. When the children awakened they would run to the tree to see if they could find the pickle. The child that found the pickle ornament received a special treat -- either an additional gift or the privilege of passing out the gifts under the tree," Myers said.
Pickle Festival Chairman and former Dillmiester Chuck Voytovick hopes moving the summer festival from the Fourth of July to the last weekend in July will bring out more people from surrounding areas.
"Every village has their own Fourth of July celebrations so we moved ours so neighboring communities could participate," Voytovick said. "We've changed the date to make it a larger festival. We've added lots of new attractions like helicopter rides, a dunk tank and an inflatable midway for the kids. Of course our pickle fling contest on Main street where folks will be trying to break Vince Rago's record for flinging a pickle 292 feet is always popular," Voytovick said.
The Berrien County Historical Association and 1839 Courthouse Museum at 313 N. Cass Street in Berrien Springs sells pickle ornaments in their gift shop. During the winter months the gift shop also sells the popular chocolate covered pickle. It's all part of a tradition the Pickle Festival people hope to carry on.
The Pickle Festival on Sunday will be preceded by the Pickle Pickin' Music Fest from 1 to 7 p.m. Saturday. The Music Fest will take place in the Grove, a park in Berrien Springs and is sponsored by the Riversong Music Society. Headlining the day is Joel Mabus, a nationally known ragtime and blues guitarist. Those attending are welcome to bring their own guitars or just sit and listen.
The complete schedule of events for the Pickle Festival on Sunday follows:
n 7:30-11:30 a.m. -- Recreation Board Pancake Breakfast, Berrien Springs High School.
n 10 a.m.-4 p.m. -- Craft show in Memorial Park; and Antiques and Collectable Show in the Community Services Center.
n 11 a.m.-7 p.m. -- Inflatable Midway: Moonwalk, Rock Climb, Obstacle Course, Giant Slide, Dunk Tank, behind Village Hardware.
n 12:30-3:30 p.m. -- Curious Kids Museum Star Lab/Planetarium, 112 N. Bluff St., at the American Legion.
n 12:30-3:30 p.m. -- Petting Zoo, Courthouse Museum.
n 1 p.m. -- Charles Kesterke Big Wheel Race, North Main Street.
n 1-3 p.m. -- Pickle Smash, Pickle Toss, Memorial Park.
n 1-4 p.m. -- Pickle Tasting Room, Village Hardware store.
n 1 p.m. -- Pickle Recipe Contest, Senior Center tent.
n 1-2:30 p.m. -- Pickle Decorating Contest, Journal Era.
n 2 p.m. -- 1860s Boggers baseball game, high school ball field.
n 2 p.m. -- Pickle Relay Race (four-person teams, any ages), Mars Street at the water tower.
n 2 p.m. -- World Famous Pickle Fling, North Main Street.
n 4 p.m. -- parade, downtown.
n 5:30 p.m. -- Tire Burnout Contest, South Main Street; and Powder Puff Spark Plug Challenge, South Main Street.
n 6 p.m. -- Helicopter Air Drop for kids/prizes, (kids find specially marked Ping Pong balls), Shamrock Park Field.
n 10 a.m.-6 p.m. -- Helicopter rides (fee), Shamrock Park Field.
n 7:30 p.m. -- Stereo Sound Off, Shug's parking lot.