By Rudy Coggins
Dunn Daily Record
A ringing phone breaks the silence.
“Mount Olive Chamber, this is Julie,” said Julie Beck, president of the town’s chamber of commerce.
The caller inquired about the N.C. Pickle Festival.
“We’re not having a festival this year,” Beck said. “We’re doing it virtual. We hope to have a regular festival next year.”
Indeed, the show goes on.
Only the 35th edition of the nationally-known, award-winning event will have a mix of virtual and in-person activity this weekend.
Beck and festival co-chairman Lynn Williams began planning last December.
They initially thought vaccine distribution would begin in January and started to send out emails.
Their social media accounts blew up.
Vaccination had not started as Beck and Williams hoped.
Reality set in, again.
“When are these vaccinations going to happen and is it feasible to bring 30,000 to 35,000 people to Mount Olive at the end of April?” Beck asked. “At that point, we made the decision to go virtual. We didn’t want to go two years without a festival. We think it’s important to keep our name alive, keep our brand alive, let people know who we are.
“We realize that by going virtual this year, we may reach some people in other states who have never heard of us before and may decide to come down next year.”
Beck got her event planning class at the University of Mount Olive involved with the festival. Representatives Williams, Josh Phillips (Mount Olive Parks & Rec director) and Michelle Estrada (Cooperative Extension 4-H in Goldsboro) provided assistance.
Avid runners can compete in the Cuke Patch 5k, either virtually or live. The live portion begins Saturday morning at 9 a.m. in front of Ribeye’s Restaurant in downtown Mount Olive.
Competitors will cover a course that crosses over Breazeale Avenue, loops around the UMO campus and ends downtown.
Sleep Inn is the sponsor.
Students created a pickle eating contest.
Those interested in chowing down on some fresh dills had to make a 30-second video to express why they deserved to be in the contest.
They’ll meet on Zoom with the following rules: they must open their jar of pickles at the same time and count out and show the pickles on their plates.
The students gave a five-minute time limit to eat.
When time has expired, the competitors must show judges how many they’ve eaten and what is left on the plate.
The winner receives $100, a year supply of pickles and a trophy.
Beck’s most favorite category was the pickle recipe contest.
Competitors had to make a dill-ectable dish that included one-half cup of pickles. The categories included appetizer, dessert, a main course or other specialty.
The winners were pickle stuffed chicken breast by Cecilia Anderson of Goldsboro, Mount Olive sweet gherkin chocolate salad dressing cake with pickled cloud nine icing by Annette Stanek-Busch of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and picklelicious eastern North Carolina barbecue quesadilla with creamy mustard dipping sauce by Becky-Jo Lane of Pikeville.
Their dishes will be posted on the chamber and Pickle Festival websites.
Those who adore the lion cub who grew up to rule Pride Rock can see it live at Daughtry Field on Friday evening.
Gates open at 6:30 p.m.
Admission is five canned goods per person.
“We did that because we want to partner with Make a Difference Food Pantry and with everything going on in the pandemic, instead of charging people to come to the movie, we wanted to do something to give back to our community,” Beck said.
“The students and they narrowed it down between Tom & Jerry and this movie. They wanted to pick something that was family friendly and for people of all ages. There is such good life lessons in all of these movies.”
Food trucks will be available.
Members of the Mount Olive Area Chamber of Commerce board will walk around with wagons filled with popcorn, candy and other items.
Phillips and his staff are showing the movie on an inflatable big screen and providing the sound system.
Handy Mart is sponsoring the movie.
Walking tours of history
Steele Memorial Library and David John Aaron Historic Museum have partnered together to plan a walking tour of historic Mount Olive on Thursday.
Tickets are limited and must be obtained through the library.
Beck said tour-goers will have booklets.
“That was one of those silver-lining things about the pandemic because now we’re going to have these cool booklets that can give visitors details about downtown Mount Olive,” Beck said.
The NC Pickle Festival committee has partnered with Community Support in Schools. They’re accepting donations for the nonprofit organization that helps ensure kids stay in school, graduate and become productive residents in Wayne County.
More information is available at Justgiving.com.
“We have no idea how much food we’ll collect,” Beck said. “We have no idea how much money we’ll collect. Either way, we’re trying to give back to our community to make our county a better place.”
Finally, Beck has planned her annual pickle treasure hunt.
As usual, she is going to hide a jar of pickles somewhere in downtown Mount Olive on Friday. Competitors have to decipher her clues, which are riddles.
“Julie Beck has got a weird brain,” Beck said. “You’ve got to be able to figure out Julie’s brain, which Lynn says is impossible. Then you have to find the jar of pickles.
“It’s just another way to get the community engaged and thinking about pickles.”
The finder receives a T-shirt, pickles and other prizes.
One last note
Beck admits the 35th installment of the town’s two-day fete is not as normal as in years past.
She and Williams have put the wheels in motion for the 2022 NCPF.
A few vendors have asked for applications.
“I wish I was so swamped right now, but that’s not the case,” Beck said. “It is what it is and I’m just glad we’re doing some activities, keeping our momentum out there. I’m not upset about it. You can’t change things.
“I’m DILL-lited and I think the people who participate in our activities will relish their experience. Not having one for two years, we want to bust it wide open next year. We’ll be bigger, better and ready to roll.”