Conversation Highlights: The Sunday Evening Edition, August 11, 2019

Preserving the Harvest: Local Traditions, History & Culture

Preserving the Harvest: Local Traditions, History & Culture

Pumpkin Harvest in Sunderland, MA. (Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield)

It’s that time of year when the fall harvest begins to wane and a golden light fills the landscape, shining on the incredible bounty that is about to enter our homes and be served on our tables.

Nothing marks New England more than its seasonality.  A sudden chill in the air and the warming spices of pumpkin pie and hot apple cider take over our hearths and palate as we prepare to embrace the beginning of winter – only just around the corner now!

Traditionally, the harvest season was seen as a way to prepare for the oncoming colder months when the land hibernates and the growing season becomes dormant.  This is the season of food – a time to gather, prepare, preserve and share in many ways.  Whether it’s the gathering of the harvests or the gathering of family and friends to eat together, this season is about self-reliance, community, fortitude, and the preservation of cultural heritage through the culinary arts. It’s a beautiful season, one to relish and enjoy in the spirit of friendship, sharing of abundance, and preserving and processing our crops and animal food sources.

Excerpt from Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts (Seasons: Nov/Dec), a downloadable bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.





History of Salted Cod and Contemporary Meat Purveyors

History of Salted Cod and Contemporary Meat Purveyors

In New England, a common cured meat was dried and salted cod.

Isn’t it amazing how cultures have so much in common through the universal need of food?  Like the prosciutto in Italy, the cod in New England was traditionally dried and salted.  When the cod was ready to be used, the fish was placed in cold water to be rehydrated with the water being changed every few days.  Read the rest of this entry »

Preservation: Curing

Preservation: Curing

Canning and preserving the season’s produce is a wonderful way to enjoy the harvest year-round.  In Western Massachusetts, canning and food preservation has become a part of our cultural identity given the incredible amount of farms and local CSA’s that allow community members to purchase local food and support agriculture at a grassroots level. While it’s a part of our modern culture today, food preservation is actually an ancient practice rooted in our human history.  In fact, one of the oldest forms of food preservation is the drying of food.  In addition to drying, there are many methods of food preservation used throughout the world, including: freezing, fermenting, pickling, curing, jam and jelly, and canning.

Take prosciutto for example.  You might have tried this Italian cured meat on a sandwich, on pizza or as a part of a cold cut platter.  Prosciutto is made from ham, and the process to cure it is quite laborious. The most famous prosciutto is Prosciutto di Parma from Parma, Italy.  The ham is not cooked like a baked ham in the oven.  Instead, it is cured raw.  The sodium from the salt helps to slow down bacteria growth and prevents the meat from going rancid.  Curing meat has been around for thousands of years and is still a common practice today. In Parma, Italy, curing the leg of pork requires a lengthy salting process.  The ham absorbs the salt, thereby drying it out and preserving it.

Watch this video to see how the ham is preserved to make prosciutto in Italy.

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Preservation: Jams & Butters

Preservation: Jams & Butters

A common form of preservation is making jam!  It is a traditional way to preserve those delicious summer fruits (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, peaches) and the fall harvest (pumpkin butter, apples and cranberries).

Making jam can be an intergenerational activity that allows for skill-sharing between family members and across generations.  It’s a tradition that can be passed between friends, or passed down from grandparents to grandchildren or parents to children.  It encourages self-reliance and harmony with the seasons.

Remember Lydia Maria Child, the author featured in the Sept/Oct 2016 edition of “Learning Ahead?”  Her book, The American Frugal Housewife, includes many recipes for jams and preserves.  By preserving the fruits and vegetables from the harvest, you are also preserving a piece of cultural history here in Western Massachusetts by participating in this traditional heritage.  Read the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: Preserving the Harvest

Poetry & Place in the Hilltowns

Poetry & Place: Exploring the Hilltown Home of 19th Century Poet William Cullen Bryant

By Andrea Caluori-Rivera
MassLIFT AmeriCorps Member at Hilltown Land Trust & Kestrel Land Trust

Kindred Spirits was commissioned by the merchant-collector Jonathan Sturges as a gift for William Cullen Bryant in gratitude for the nature poet’s moving eulogy to Thomas Cole, who had died suddenly in early 1848. It shows Cole, who had been Jonathan Sturges mentor, standing in a gorge in Catskills in company of a mutual friend William Cullen Bryant. Painting is by artist Asher Brown Durand (1796–1886).

Western Massachusetts has been home to many poets and writers who were inspired by this region’s remarkable landscapes and natural settings. Since April is National Poetry Month, the spring season is a great time to explore some of the homes and writing places of local poets from the past, such as the William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington, MA.

William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) was an editor, abolitionist, conservationist and poet. He grew up in Cummington, MA and later purchased his childhood home and converted it to a country house. Known for his poems inspired by nature, Bryant was also well acquainted with prominent Hudson River School painters Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand. The three of them used their artistic talents in painting and writing to champion the American landscape and helped to inspire the American conservation movement. You can read more about Bryant and his life here:

The William Cullen Bryant Homestead, now a property of The Trustees of Reservations, houses a wonderful collection of items from Bryant’s lifetime as well as interesting objects from later decades left by Bryant’s descendants and those that lived there. The property also boasts an old growth forest and a trail system that follows a rivulet – a water feature Bryant wrote about in 1823 in his poem The Rivulet. Read this poem and his most famous, Thanatopsis.

This spring and summer, The Trustees of Reservations have a variety of activities planned for folks at the homestead where visitors can volunteer, experience history and learn more about this interesting place and its antique objects. These events offer a variety of opportunities to engage your local community through different interests such as community service, local history, poetry, food traditions, and ecology, and hiking.  Read the rest of this entry »

Seven Fall Festivals in Western MA

Annual Harvest Celebrations Highlight Local Food Traditions

South Ashfield Library serves up slices of homemade apple pie served with chunks of Vermont cheddar cheese at the Ashfield Fall Festival on Columbus Day weekend. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Autumn in Western Massachusetts is a great time of the year to explore the region. As the seasons change and school buses slow down your morning commute, community harvest celebrations fill our weekends with fairs, festivals and community dinners. Since 2005, Hilltown Families has been a resource for finding out about these community building celebrations that support local farming and highlight our local culture.  To follow is a sample of just a few of these harvest gems you’ll find out about during the harvest season.

10th Annual Honeybee Festival

Sept 10th, 2011 in South Deerfield: Celebrating all things honey, the 10th Annual Honeybee Festival happens on Saturday, September 10th from 10am-4pm, at Warm Colors Apiary. With honeybees being vital to our local food supply, participants can learn about their importance with live demonstrations of beekeeping.  Area chefs will be cooking up dishes of local food with honey as their featured ingredient, honey ice cream will be scooped out, and delicious samples of mead will be poured for the adults. — 413-665-4513. 2 South Mill River Road. South Deerfield, MA (FREE)

6th Annual North Amherst Harvest Festival

Sept 18th, 2011 in North Amherst: The next weekend on Sunday, September 18th from 12noon-6pm, is the 6th Annual North Amherst Harvest Festival. A fundraiser for the North Amherst Community Farm, the festival is a family-friendly celebration with live music,  farm-fresh food, microbrewed beverages, local ice cream, and a small farmers’ market offering locally grown produce. — 413-624-6223. 1089 North Pleasant Street. North Amherst, MA. ($)

Cooking demonstrations at the Garlic & Arts Festival. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

13th Annual North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival

Oct 1st & 2nd, 2011 in Orange: October is my favorite month for harvest celebrations in Western Massachusetts. The first weekend in October is the 13th Annual North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival in Orange, MA. Celebrating agricultural and a region rich in local culture, the Garlic and Arts Festival is a two day celebration with cooking demonstrations, garlic market, garlic cuisine, local artisans and great entertainment! — 60 Chestnut Hill Road. Orange, MA (>$)

50th Annual Festival of the Hills

Oct 1st, 2011 in Conway: That same weekend is the 50th Annual Festival of the Hills in Conway, MA.  On Saturday, October 1st the town hosts a pancake breakfast with local maple syrup, sale of baked goods from Conway local kitchens, and community turkey dinner.  Then on Sunday, October 2nd, is their festival with traditional New England celebration, including log-splitting, pumpkin-stacking, and a good old fashion skillet-tossing competition! — Conway Town Center & Ballfield. Route 116. Conway, MA (FREE)

41st Annual Ashfield Fall Festival

Oct 8th & 9th, 2011: One of my favorite community celebrations, anytime of the year, is the 41st Annual Ashfield Fall Festival on Columbus Day Weekend.  With the smell of pumpkin donuts and hot apple cider wafting through the air, this sleepy little Hilltown comes alive with an iconic New England harvest festival. On the common the community can play games, visit local artisans, watch Morris dancers, while listening to live music. Their annual “Pumpkingames”  bring generations together into teams that formed on-the-spot, competing in a variety of games, such as pumpkin bowling and a pumpkin relay race.  After dancing and playing games, try some warm homemade soup at the Congregational Church Soup Kitchen. And for dessert in the town hall, the South Ashfield Library serves up slices of homemade apple pie, served with big chucks of Vermont cheddar cheese! — Ashfield Town Common. Route 116. Ashfield, MA (FREE)

GFN Harvest Celebration

New on the scene this year is Grow Food Northampton’s October 9th, 2011 Harvest Celebration at the Northampton Community Farm. Live music, local food, games, and farm tours will complement this happy celebration of the first year’s harvest at Crimson & Clover Farm! –

17th Annual Cider Days

The first weekend of crisp November brings us Franklin County’s Cider Days. Celebrating the traditional drink of New England, Cider Days is for everyone who loves fresh apples, sweet and hard cider, cooking with apples, and enjoying autumn in New England. This is the 17th year of this festival, and there will be orchard tours, cider making workshops, cider tastings, talks by orchardists, and more. Highlights include Saturday’s Apple Pancake Breakfast at the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield, and the Marketplace at the Shelburne Buckland Community Center in Shelburne Falls, with local artisans and producers, food vendors, and of course, apples!

Other harvest festivals to look forward to include: 25th Annual Apple Harvest Crafts Fair & Children’s Festival in Amherst and Nuestras Raices’ Annual Harvest Festival in Holyoke on Sept 24th, 2011; Westhampton Fall Festival and Great Pumpkin Roll and Pumpkin Festival in South Deerfield on Oct 16th, 2011. Check back with us for these harvest festivals and more in the weeks to come, or check out list of Weekly Suggested Events every Thursday to find out what festival are happening that weekend.

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