Tips and Ideas For Hosting An Outdoor Harvest Party

Friends gather for a harvest dinner at the historic Canterbury Shaker Village - find inspiration for your own celebration with photos and recipes.

A September afternoon is a time to reflect on the past. It’s a precious break between the heat of summer and the first threat of frost. Golden leaves hark back to the days, just a few short months before, when green buds were appearing on the tips of chilly twigs. Baskets of fresh produce are journals of the love and attention paid to the soil by skillful hands to coax seeds into life and then protect them until harvest. There may be no better place in the world to ponder such things than at a fresh-air dinner at Canterbury Shaker Village. Here, history is written plainly and enduringly on the land, the buildings and in the Shaker traditions, lovingly preserved for hundreds of years.

Longtime New Hampshire transplant Tory Dodge waits all year for the arrival of the autumn season. A neighbor of Canterbury Shaker Village, she knows the property well and has a lovely spot known as Pleasant Grounds where she will set up a harvest table and host friends and family for a Shaker-style meal. Like real Shaker gatherings, the food will be homemade — inspired by the well-known and beloved Canterbury Shaker Eldress Bertha Lindsay and her cookbook “Seasoned with Grace.”

Dodge’s friends will all lend a hand, winding their way through the wooded trails with baskets of homemade food in hand. After just a short walk, they arrive at a tranquil pond resplendent in fall colors and filled with the simplicity and beauty that is the very essence of Shaker life. Dodge regales her guests with Shaker lore and stories of the rituals and rites that once took place on the hallowed grounds.

Just a few steps away is the pristine Canterbury Shaker Village, which is a rich time capsule of Shaker life in New Hampshire and hosts all kinds of festivals and events to share the ideals and history of a community long gone by. With a crisp autumn breeze and the aroma of a delicious Shaker buffet, Dodge and her guests will dine amongst nature and celebrate the Shaker spirit.

Who were the Shakers?

The inspiration for this harvest party, the Canterbury Shaker Village, is a gorgeous part of both Shaker and New Hampshire history. Now a museum dedicated to preserving the 200-year legacy of the Shakers, the village was once just that — a place where a community of Shakers lived and practiced their ideals of simple living, a communal lifestyle, celibacy, pacifism and gender equality. Today, they are perhaps best-known for their clean, simple approach to architecture, furniture and food, items that are now intertwined with and help define New England culture.

At the museum, you’ll find a variety of opportunities to learn about how Shakers lived. Perhaps the best way is to take one of the many workshops, which highlight the Shaker motto of “hands to work, hearts to God.” To the Shakers, work, worship and daily life were inseparable. In addition to the workshops and festivals that take place throughout the year, the museum and its grounds are a lovely place for reflection and quiet contemplation. Find hours (which are seasonal) at


Fresh-cut flowers from a nearby village garden boast both herbs and blooms. A simple glass jar holds loosely arranged bouquet so that the natural beauty of the flowers really shine.

The harvest dinner took place outside near Canterbury Shaker Village in a clearing overlooking a pond. The table was decorated with seasonal flowers that were picked from both a garden and roadside hedge.

A wreath of fall items gathered from the woods symbolizes the “circle of life.” The table has a simple carrier of late fall flowers in Shaker jelly glasses. Guests will each take an arrangement as a memento.

Simple, seasonal plants decorate the plates and bowls – a fern and a bright black-eyed Susan. You can use whatever you have on hand – other flowers, colorful fall leaves, etc.

A Group Effort

As the saying goes, “many hands make light work,” and this harvest celebration is no exception. Tory Dodge cooks and prepares for several days to create this outdoor fête, and friends join in to carry food and implements to the scene.

Covered casseroles hold hot foods – Kathy DiBella (left) brings her offering to the party. Baskets are laden with linens and serving pieces. Eldress Bertha’s baked beans are made sweet with a 1/4 cup of maple syrup.

Hay bales are seating and perches for food.

Enjoying the Setting

Festive drinks get the conversation about the folklore of Canterbury Shaker Village flowing. That’s party organizer Tory Dodge on the left in the center of the photo.

The Food

The “help-yourself” buffet was infused with authentic Shaker flavors.

Recipes for your own harvest dinner

Tory Dodge’s favorite Shaker-inspired potato salad

Serves 6-8
2-2 1/2 pounds Maine potatoes
1 large chopped yellow onion
1 tablespoon chopped chives
3/4 cup chopped celery
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and sliced
4 sweet pickles, sliced
For the dressing
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
3 teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons softened butter
3 egg yolks (fresh)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
3/8 cup vinegar

Peel and cut potatoes into small chunks. Boil until tender and then cool.

While the potatoes are boiling and cooling, make the dressing. Combine the salt, flour, dry mustard and sugar in a medium-sized, heat-proof bowl. Add the butter and work with a spoon to mash Ingredients into a paste. Work in the egg yolks, then the cream and finally stir in the vinegar.

Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water, but don’t let the bowl touch the water. Cook, stirring constantly, until the dressing thickens to the consistency of thin mayonnaise. It will firm more as it cools. Set aside.

Combine the potatoes, onion, chives and celery. Add the dressing and toss gently to combine. Taste for salt and pepper.

Transfer the salad to a bowl and decorate with the sliced, hard-boiled eggs, pickle slices and herbs.

Pickled green beans from Tory Dodge’s neighbor and friend, Linda

5 pounds fresh green beans
6 cups distilled white vinegar
6 cups water
1  cup salt
18 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup mustard seeds
6 dill weed flowers
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Sterilize six (1/2-pint) jars with rings and lids, and keep hot. Trim green beans to 1/4 inch shorter than your jars.

In a large saucepan, stir together the vinegar, water and salt. Add garlic and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. In each jar, place one sprig of dill and 1/8 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Pack green beans into the jars so they are standing on their ends.

Ladle the boiling brine into the jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of the tops. Discard garlic. Seal jars with lids and rings. Place in hot water so they are submerged and covered by an inch of water. Simmer, but do not boil for 10 minutes to process. Cool to room temperature. Test jars for a good seal by pressing on the center of the lid — it should not move.

Refrigerate any jars that do not seal properly. Let pickles ferment for two to three weeks before eating.

From “Seasoned with Grace” Eldress Bertha’s baked beans

Serves 8
2 cups pea beans
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon (scant) summer savory, dried
2 tablespoons molasses (not blackstrap)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 whole onion, small
1 stick of butter

Put the beans in a pot to soak overnight in cold water. The next morning, heat to parboiling, take them off and then drain the beans. In a pot, combine salt, pepper, soda, summer savory, molasses, maple syrup and the whole onion. Add the beans. Pour boiling water over them, a little more than to just cover them. Put the beans into the oven and bake at 225 degrees F for 6 hours. When you take them out, remove the onion and add the stick of butter.

From “Seasoned with Grace” Lamb stew

Serves 4-6
2 cups cubed lamb, for stewing
2 chopped medium onions
1 tablespoon butter
4-5 carrots, cut up into bite-size pieces
4-5 potatoes, cut similarly
2 tablespoons barley
Chicken or beef broth (optional)

Cover lamb with water and stew for 1 hour. Cool. Remove fat. Sauté onions in butter until transparent. Add carrots and potatoes and cook for about 5 minutes. Add this mixture to the lamb and broth. Stew for 2 hours. If a thick stew is desired, add barley in the last hour of cooking.

Recipes published with permission of Canterbury Shaker Village, Canterbury, from “Seasoned With Grace” by Eldress Bertha Lindsay. Edited by Mary Rose Boswell.  



Categories: Fall Food and Recipes, Features