Every year, there is a Pumpkin festival in Keene, NH. A tradition of carving, costume wearing and early bar hopping, it is also a hub for local restaurants and chefs to exhibit their favorite New England foods. With only one day to meander the leafy streets and navigate through the mobs of hungry tourists and natives, I sunk my teeth into as much grub as I could. Lucky for me this task was as easy as a slice of pumpkin pie – I had friends. Hungry ones.
I should start by saying that I live for events like this. Not only are they the perfect way to acquaint yourself with local specialties, but they are a place for area companies, organizations and clubs to gather – whether its to encourage community activity or bring awareness to town events. Surrounded by hundreds of hand-carved pumpkins, Main Street is a place for friendly locals and eager visitors to connect and have fun.
Walking through Keene you’ll find it is a special place. Tiny jewelry shops, homey book stores, and an old-fashioned movie theater are just some of the comforting spots lining its streets. If you search a little farther, you’ll come across sweet potato and black bean quesadillas, fresh $5 sushi rolls and a hot mug of peppermint tea. Yet on this crisp October day, I knew there was something even better in the air.
On Pumpkin Fest, which falls in mid October each year, you’ll see firefighters watching the smokers and young kids at the cash register, excited to take your order for hand-cut french fries and freshly popped kettle corn. Many participants bake off their pumpkin pie – an obvious contender given its name. Each Pumpkin Fest encourages new chefs and home-cooks to bring out their own styles and flavors, but there is always stiff competition for Keene’s favorites: chili, sausage, and caramel apples.
Last year’s chili bowl – presented by Keene State College’s Habitat for Humanity was full of deep-flavor. Dark chili powder and hearty beans had little chance of losing its title for best chili this time around and unfortunately, I turned out to be right. It could have been better, especially with the $4.50 charge. The grilled sausage was however, on target. Topped with grilled onions and green peppers, my friends fought over who got the next bite. One of them stared at me for so long while I was eating it that I thought her eyes might just eat it for me. Was it possible for dessert to take first place?
Earlier in the day I walked by a stand where a group of women were selling candied and caramel apples. Despite the $4 price tag, I knew that I had to have one. One thing I have a hard time resisting is a crisp MacIntosh apple, especially one hand-picked from Alyson’s Orchard, a known location for fall New England weddings and beautiful blossoms. It was a wise decision, and one quickly recognized by my comrades. Oddly the thick caramel coating and chocolate jimmies weren’t even the best part – it was the apple all on its own. So juicy it dripped down our chins, it was the perfect end to our pumpkin-filled day.
Next year’s line-up is already in place: pumpkin butter, pumpkin whoopie pies and a nice glass of pumpkin ale.