Ultimate Local Eating Experience - The Festival of Earthly Delights

Taste your way around New Hampshire all in once place at the Festival of Earthly Delights in Haverhill, NH.

Cupcakes from HippieCakes

Photo by Susan Laughlin.

*This story originally appeared in the August 2014 issue. The date for the 2015 festival is Saturday, August 23, 2015.

I don’t like to be called a part-time flatlander, but I suppose I am one since my winter home is in a suburb of New York City. But, come July, August and September, the Upper Valley is my Nirvana — a place we are reluctant to leave, especially on sunny afternoons.

Four years ago, when the first Festival of Earthly Delights was publicized, we waffled about whether to attend or not. Of course, we wanted to support Court Street Arts at Alumni Hall at their signature fundraiser and, of course, we wanted to encourage this non-profit to continue attracting local and national arts and entertainment, but, well, it was a lovely afternoon, and we’d heard the buzz that a hurricane was headed our way the following day, so … we went. Boy, are we ever glad we did! 

Now I’m going to tell you why this has been on our summer must-do list since then, but first I’m going to tell you why it’s called the Festival of Earthly Delights. Keisha Luce, director of this massive event, explains it this way: “Our region is a treasure of freshly made, high-quality delights. This is a celebration of all the flavors in our back yard. Food and drink and music bring together people who produce these things with people who enjoy them.” In other words, this is local at its best.  

But back to our experience. For the first three years, this event was held inside the huge barns at the North Haverhill Fairgrounds. Each year cars were backed up along Rte. 10 as they streamed into the fields to park.

We bought our tickets at the entrance and had a choice — did we want to sample the food only or the food and wine/craft beer? If you appear to look under 21 and want to purchase the beverage portion, you’ll have to show your driver’s license, but we felt safe on that count. Around the edge of each ticket are little boxes; 25 on the food ticket; 10 on the beverage. In exchange for a check on our card, we were handed a generous sample of cheese or chili or ice cream or popcorn or a mini-sandwich. The temptation to fill our card by tasting everything was a challenge — one most people don’t accomplish.  

Sample from Woodstock Inn Station & Brewery
photo by susan laughlin

Since we chose the food and drink option, we were handed a souvenir glass. These were for samples of the wine and/or craft brews. Two red fill-it-to-here lines were on each glass — one line for wine, one higher up for beer.

 Twinkling lights dangled from the rafters. Well-arranged hay bales and mums flanked the doors.

Live music from local bands lent an electric energy to the place. Each year the music has been toe-tapping sensational. It all mingled together — the aroma from the food, the people and the music all convinced us this was indeed a festive gathering.  

 More than 30 local restaurants, bakers, artisanal cheese makers, confectionaries, and about nine breweries and wineries lined the perimeters of both barns. People were either waiting in short lines for samples, mingling with others in the middle or sitting and enjoying their tastings at the picnic tables that stretched the length of each barn. I’d helped the Haverhill Garden Club with the flower arrangements the previous day. These were placed on each table and, to my eye, looked like floral perfection.  

So we went down one side of the barn and up the other, tasting different foods and sipping beers and wines. Comments could be overheard along the way: “You’ve got to try the cupcakes at Lily B’s.” “I love this brisket from Ariana’s.”  “I’m going back to Seven Birches Winery. Do you think that’s allowed?” “I never heard of Shiloh’s Restaurant, but now we’re going to try it.”  

A lot of hard work and time and money is shelled out by each vendor — cooking, packing, transporting, setting up, serving and cleaning up, yet each one gives the guests the feeling that this is exactly where they want to be on festival evening.    

It took us an hour or so to make the circuit of the first barn. We were slowed down by greeting people we hadn’t seen all summer, and recognized our mailman, the waitress at our favorite restaurant and the man who helps me put air in my tires at the gas station. The second barn was a duplication of the first, except with different vendors.  

Archie Steenburgh of Steenburgh Auctioneers and Appraisers, sponsor, and Keisha Luce, chairwoman
photo by susan laughlin

But wait, there’s more! Who doesn’t love door prizes? Just by filling out the back of your ticket and dropping it into the bucket before you leave, you’re eligible to win an actual prize or a gift certificate to restaurants, gas stations and farms.

In love with something so much that a sample doesn’t suffice? Some vendors sell their offerings to take home — a bottle of wine, a jar of BBQ sauce, a pound of fudge ...

But as so often happens in life, things change. Yes, there absolutely will be a fourth annual Festival of Earthly Delights this summer, but it won’t be at the fairgrounds and it won’t be on a Saturday. This one will be held on Sunday, August 23, 2015 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Alumni Hall, near the green in historic Haverhill Corners. Some of it will be inside; the rest in tents in the field behind. Master fiddler Patrick Ross, who’s performed at The Kennedy Center and Smithsonian, will be wandering around minstrel-style. The Boston-based Van Burens will perform their intergenerational crowd-pleasers. In addition to the door prizes, there will be a silent auction featuring food-inspired gift baskets.

This is a family-friendly event aimed at anyone from babes in strollers to seniors with walkers and everyone in between.  Jingo the Clown will be wandering around through the festival, fascinating everyone with his magic.  

Come — that’s all I can say. The dress is casual; the parking is free.

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