And Then What Happened?: You didn’t hear it from me

  • PARATI

  • The 2017 Ashfield Fall Festival Staff File Photo

For the Recorder
Published: 10/2/2022 8:52:44 PM

Back in 1970, the young ’uns of Ashfield led by Marian Gray, Mimi Pieropan and Ruth Craft decided that, to celebrate all the goodness that autumn brings (and there is plenty of goodness in the tree colors and the finished produce alone), they should start an event and call it, “Autumn Festival.” Like so many other things, it rolled slowly at first, mostly as a bake sale kind of situation. Then they added in crafts, stirred in some serious food vending, local musicians, and games, and Ashfield had its own annual festival.

Then one year, someone decided to tell the Boston Globe about it. The Globe came out, wrote a story about the quaint little town sporting the festival with its unique name that had by then morphed into the much more modern title of “Fall Festival,” and all of a sudden, Ashfield’s little festival got discovered. It became the place to go over Columbus Day weekend, so much so that the publicity committee (well, there’s only one person on it), Laura, is annually growled at to stop publicizing the thing — this is our festival and too many people are coming to town! It’s a thankless life, being the Fall Festival publicity committee.

But here I am, telling you about it, as if I didn’t know how much trouble I’m going to get into for doing so.

But, the reason I’m telling you is because after skipping town for its two-year COVID-19 vacation, the Ashfield Fall Festival is back! Though, as with all long-running events in the world these days, we don’t know if we’re celebrating its 50th anniversary or its 52nd. Whichever it is, Ashfield will be rocking and rolling on Oct. 8 and 9 with its Pumpkin Games, its approximately 40 craft artists inside Town Hall and out on the common, its live music (including the Ashfield Community Band), Morris Dancers, locally-owned-and-presently-driven antique cars, outstanding food and a whole lot of other stuff that gives it that Mayberry-type small-town community feeling that you’ve been missing the heck out of for the last two closeted-up years of your life. (See? I’m gonna get run out of town for telling you all this, but it’s just so cool!)

Back in 2006, my first Fall Festival in the Elmer’s Store business, someone from the festival committee warned me that I had better not be planning to sell hot dogs, hamburgers or chili, as other people were already doing that. Being from Louisiana and all, I snarked, “Well, who’s serving the crawfish pasta?” Being from New England she’d never heard of crawfish pasta, so she said, “Umm, no one.” I said, “Be sure no one does, ’cause I am!” and very quickly got the recipe from a New Orleans chef friend of mine.

Suddenly having a crawfish pasta commitment on the books, I asked everyone how many people Fall Festival traditionally brought to town, and every single person said, “More people than you’ve ever seen!”

Seeing as how I had danced through Mardi Gras, worked major festivals and a presidential inauguration, I wasn’t sure that was true, but I couldn’t find anyone to stand down from it, so we made enough crawfish pasta to feed a crowd at the Super Bowl. And since not one person in Ashfield had ever heard of crawfish pasta, we had enough left over to feed a Red Sox victory parade. That was how we started serving dinner at Elmer’s. Our first offering was crawfish pasta, which enough people had tried and found they liked it and wanted it again.

Over the years our festival crawfish dish grew in popularity to where, the chef who used to come up from New Orleans every year to make it for us is coming back this year to revive the crawfish tradition along with his bona fide New Orleans chicken gumbo.

As much as I’d like to declare that our crawfish and gumbo delights were the most popular foods at the Ashfield Fall Festival, I believe that award goes to Gray’s Sugarhouse’s fried dough. Lord, is that good. It’s how they determine (I finally found out) the annual Fall Festival attendance, as everybody gets fried dough, so you count those tickets, and you know how many people came that year.

So, for a good time, come on up the mountain on Oct. 8 and 9. Just don’t tell anyone I told you about it. You’ll find me over at the crawfish booth acting like I don’t know a thing.

Nan Parati lives and works in Ashfield, where she found home and community following Hurricane Katrina. She can be reached at NanParati@aol.com.


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