The former sauerkraut capital of the world makes its annual homage to its history with the Phelps Sauerkraut Weekend during the first full weekend in August. The 53rd annual festival, held in Phelps, New York, will take place this year from Aug. 1-4, with a patriotic “Red, White and Kraut” theme to honor the 100 year anniversary of the American Legion.
The Phelps Sauerkraut Weekend annually features a parade, motorcycle show, carnival rides and a 5k and 20k race, as well as hosting the Mustang Rally of the Finger Lakes. The planning committee chooses a “Sauerkraut Royalty” each year, a court made up of second and third graders, who are in charge of organizing and building floats for the parade. Those interested can also try their hand at the sauerkraut-based recipe contest, or participate in Cabbage Bowling (which is exactly what it sounds like).
“We actually have the oldest race in the Finger Lakes,” said Hannah Smith, the event coordinator for the Phelps Sauerkraut Weekend. “It's the second oldest in New York State.”
On top of these annual events, this year’s festival includes a Family Night on Thursday, led and sponsored by the Phelps Police and Fire Departments. Starting with a Kiddy Parade at the Phelps Park, children are encouraged to show up in their favorite costume to participate in the parade, where they will then proceed to the fairgrounds for discounted ride tickets and other activities.
Smith, who grew up in Phelps, said her favorite parts of the event are the Saturday night fireworks and the parade that prances through Main Street at the opening of the festival. The carnival rides and games are set up on the Ontario Street fairgrounds across from the local fire department.
Phelps is no longer considered the sauerkraut capital of the world (in fact, very little sauerkraut is produced in the town anymore). According to the Phelps website, the original downtown factories that produced the town’s Sauerkraut were all sold off or demolished by 1994. The Silver Floss/Empire State Pickling Company was sold in 1965 to Rochester company Curtis-Burns Inc, before later being sold to Comstock Foods. Seneca Sauerkraut Factory was sold to Seneca Foods before the building was demolished in 1994, and local sauerkraut canning was ended in 1985. Despite this, the festival continues in remembrance of the industry that helped build the town.
“Phelps Sauerkraut Weekend is meant to highlight and feature and celebrate that the sauerkraut industry built the town,” Smith said. “But the mission we have now is celebrating that history, but also celebrating the current industries.”
One of their newer events attempting to highlight more local industries is the Kraut Krawl, which brings together a variety of local craft beverages. Having been established last year to replace the annual sip and stroll held at every festival. While the Finger Lakes is known for their local wines and ciders, the Kraut Krawl highlights the tastes more central to Phelps.
While patrons can sip on a variety of local beers, wines, spirits and ciders, they can also pick up food and sweets from the local pizza shops and bakeries featured along the walk. It’s an opportunity to get a taste of the local food and beverage industry while supporting the local businesses.
“It's really a showcase of industries that we're in the center of in Phelps,” said Smith.
Smith encourages those new to the area to check out and participate in the races, given their history. In honor of this year’s theme, proceeds from the weekend will be donated to Honor Flight Rochester, an organization that transports local veterans to Washington, D.C., so they can visit their memorials.