Both large and small, New England food festivals are celebrations of our native flavors, dedicated to the preservation and glory of the New England table.
By Christie Matheson
May 02 2016
From humble pancake breakfasts to faith-based bean feasts to tri-state chowder cookoffs, New England is a festival-goer’s paradise. In church basements, on town greens, and in city parks, we gather to indulge and commune. (Pass the Del’s!)
Our food festivals, large and small, are celebrations of our native flavors, dedicated to the preservation and glory of the New England table. Take any familiar food—maple syrup to johnnycakes, cranberries to cheddar—and you’ll find a festival for it. And not just for ye olde victuals, either. We’re also a land of food trucks, whoopie pies, and late-harvest Riesling.
Herewith, Yankee presents a selection of our favorite food festivals featuring classic regional cuisine, plus a sampling of quirkier attractions and grander food and wine extravaganzas.
Vermont Maple Festival – St. Albans, Vermont
802-524-5800 | vtmaplefestival.org
April 22–24, 2016
Vermont is the number-one maple-syrup-producing state in the U.S., so it stands to reason that a festival highlighting the state’s “liquid gold” is no small affair. At the Vermont Maple Festival, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, syrup makers compete for prizes and glory in the biggest maple contest in the state (with categories from amber maple to maple cream). There are also cooking competitions, sugarhouse tours, musical performances, a talent show, a parade, the 8.5-mile “Sap Run” road race, and countless maple treats to eat and drink.
Chowder Festival – Portsmouth, New Hampshire
603-436-2848 | prescottpark.org
June 4, 2016
Looking for a chowder fix? This is the biggest and oldest (at 32 years) chowderfest in New England, held at Prescott Park on Portsmouth’s beautiful waterfront. Chefs from Maine, New Hampshire, and Massa-chusetts serve up signature variations on clam, seafood, corn, and other chowders—500 gallons in all—in hopes of capturing the crown. Visitors can wash down their samples with cold beer, raw oysters, and live music.
Vermont Cheesemakers Festival – Shelburne, Vermont
866-261-8595 | vtcheesefest.com
July 17, 2016
There are more cheese-makers per capita in Vermont than in any other state, and most of them will be here, with mouth-watering samples of their cheddars, blues, Alpine-stye rounds, and more. (Disclosure: Yankee is a media sponsor of this event.) Cheesemaking seminars and culinary demonstrations go on throughout the day at beautiful Shelburne Farms, a 1,400-acre oasis on Lake Champlain. Grab tickets early for this one—it often sells out.
Maine Lobster Festival – Rockland, Maine
800-576-7512 | mainelobsterfestival.com
August 3–7, 2016
Dating back to 1947, this festival was originally conceived to revitalize summer tourism in the Camden area after World War II. Today it draws 30,000 people to Rockland each summer to indulge in more than 20,000 pounds of lobster (straight up or in a roll, wrap, or salad) and 1,700 pounds of butter. Runners can work off the excess in a 10K race (or kids’ fun run) on Sunday. Live music, comedy, an art show, and the coronation of the 69th Maine Sea Goddess round out the entertainment.
For more on Maine’s annual lobster celebration, visit: YankeeMagazine.com/Festival
Wild BlueberryFestival – Machias, Maine
207-255-6665 | machiasblueberry.com
August 19–20, 2016
The 41st annual version of this Down East blueberry fête includes farm tours, a cooking contest, a pie-eating contest, a blueberry quilt raffle, and road races for all ages. The church-sponsored extravaganza has an especially classic, homespun feel—and it’s pointedly family-friendly. Kid-focused events include a children’s parade, birdhouse building, and an interactive puppet show. Don’t miss the Blueberry Festival comic musical, written, choreographed, propped, and costumed by locals (last year’s theme: “History of the Blueberry: Part 1”).
Corn Festival – Norwell, Massachusetts
781-659-2559 | southshorenaturalsciencecenter.org
September 17–18, 2016
Corn has deep roots in our rocky soil: bred by Native peoples, fed to hungry Pilgrims, folded into our core cuisine. That heritage will be on display at this homespun festival (now in its 40th year), with demonstrations of centuries-old crafts, a corn-shucking contest, corncob dolls, hayrides, pony rides, and a corn pit for kids. (The organizers swapped out bounce houses and balloon animals years ago in favor of more-historical fun.) As for eating, you’ll find plenty of corn chowder, johnnycakes, and other corn-based treats to taste.
Apple Harvest Festival – Southington, Connecticut
860-276-8461 | southington.org/AHF
September 30–October 2, October 7–9, 2016
Spanning two weekends and drawing about 100,000 visitors, this apple bonanza runs the festival gamut, with live music, arts and crafts, road races (a 5-miler, a 5K, a 2-mile walk, and “Little Fritter” fun runs), fireworks, a parade, Zion Lutheran Church’s famed apple fritters, pie baking and eating contests—plus the sweetest contest of all, as Southington kids nominate their grandmothers for festival “Granny Apple” honors.
Cranberry Festival – Nantucket, Massachusetts
508-228-2884 | nantucketconservation.org
October 8, 2016
Where exactly do cranberries come from? On Nantucket, where cranberries have been a staple crop since the mid-1800s, this festival is the place to find out. Check out the bogs during harvest—and taste the fresh, tart product. Snack on cranberry bread from beloved island bakery Something Natural, fresh-pressed cranberry juice, and Sweet Inspirations’ chocolate-covered cranberries, while you enjoy hayrides, petting zoos, and a visit from Barnaby, Nantucket’s favorite kid-lit character.
Wellfleet Oysterfest – Wellfleet, Massachusetts
508-349-2510 | wellfleetoysterfest.org
October 15–16, 2016
Proving that there’s life on Cape Cod beyond Labor Day, this festival wraps up the season with a celebration of Wellfleet’s most famous export. Every moment of each day is stuffed with live music (bluegrass, African drumming, Celtic, and more), educational lectures, a sunset dance party, an oyster-shucking contest, and film screenings. On the food side, you’ll find oyster and wine pairings, abundant raw bars, restaurant booths, and chef demos.
Kenyon’s Grist Mill Clam Cakes & Chowder Festival – West Kingston, Rhode Island
October 22–23, 2016
Like many, we were dismayed when Kenyon’s Grist Mill canceled its popular Johnnycake Festival in 2014, but this smaller-scale event does its best to fill the void. Over two days in October, visitors are invited to tour the historic mill, sample free johnnycakes and local coffee, and snack on delicious clam cakes and chowder, all while learning about New England’s heritage foods.
Cider Days – Franklin County, Massachusetts
413-773-5463 | ciderdays.org
November 5–6, 2016
When other spirits were hard to come by, resourceful New Englanders made hard cider with their abundant apple crop; today, microbrew aficionados, wine lovers, and foodies are rediscovering cider’s charms. This two-day festival, now in its 22nd year, celebrates all things apple with cidermaking workshops, orchard tours, apple pressing and cooking demonstrations, community suppers, and a “Cider Salon” featuring ciders from nearly 70 makers, representing the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
If your taste runs more to white tablecloths than picnic benches, there’s a calendar’s worth of food and wine galas to attend in some of New England’s most beautiful destinations. At the long-running Nantucket Wine Festival (nantucketwinefestival.com), award-winning vintners and chefs descend upon the island for big parties, intimate dinners, and a whole lot of tasting in advance of the busy summer season (May 18-22, 2016). In the fall, the Newport Wine & Food Festival (newportmansions.org) features luminaries such as Jacques Pépin, Martha Stewart, and Jacques Torres, who lead dinners, tastings, and seminars at The Elms, Rosecliff, and Marble House (September 23-25, 2016). Not to be outdone by its island neighbor, Martha’s Vineyard launched its own four-day Food & Wine Festival (mvfoodandwine.com) with a portion of the proceeds going to island schools and farmers (October 13-16, 2016). And finally, Harvest on the Harbor (harvestontheharbor.com) in Portland, Maine, kicks off with a splashy gala and features a lobster-cooking competition, dinners pairing chefs with produce from local farms, and plenty of wine, beer, and cider (October 19-23, 2016).
As much as we love traditional food festivals, celebrations with a dash of irreverence are delicious, too. Maine’s Boothbay Harbor Fishermen’s Festival (boothbayharbor.com) cuts loose with a codfish relay, crate running, the “Miss Shrimp” competition, and, of course, great seafood (April 22-24, 2016). The Maine Whoopie Pie Festival (mainewhoopiepiefestival.com) honors the official state treat, with bakers competing for the title of best whoopie maker (June 25, 2016). The New England Food Truck Festival (nefoodtruckfest.com) at the Eastern States Fairground in West Springfield, Massachusetts, is a must visit for anyone enamored of America’s favorite brand of street food (July 23-24, 2016). Every fall, Eat X NE (eatxne.com) is Burlington, Vermont’s homage to area fare, with sessions on growing your own food and eating local on a budget (September 17-18, 2016), Finally, What the Fluff? (flufffestival.com) honors Archibald Query, who invented marshmallow fluff in Somerville, Massachusetts in 1917, with cooking contests, games of “Blind Man’s Fluff,” a marshmallow toss, and more (September 24, 2016).
Have you attended any of our picks for the best food festivals in New England?