Keene on Pumpkins: The Biggest Pumpkin Festival of New Hampshire

 

From delightful sights to wonderful tastes and smells, the New Hampshire annual Keene Pumpkin Festival is a great event for everyone


Story and photo by Eva Mizer

If you’re looking for a great event that friends and family will enjoy, you need not look farther than the Keene Pumpkin Festival held in Keene, New Hampshire. A wonderful mix of autumn filled with food, music, and activities, the festival hosts an annual spectacle of 29,762 pumpkins.

I carved pumpkins as a child and was therefore very intrigued by the thought of this festival. I remembered all of the pumpkin “parties” we had as kids and wanted to get immersed in the fun again. Frankly, I was a bit surprised when I arrived in Keene, New Hampshire. In my life, I have never seen so many. Pumpkins on terraces line the streets, sitting in the road, in windows, and on tables. Giant towers displayed pumpkins of every shape, size, and design made by everyone from school children to adults, as well as local businesses. If I had wished, I could have entered my own, or even buy a pumpkin and carve it right on the spot. I watched a few groups do this, and then stood speechless when I watched people take electric saws to carve massive pumpkins big enough to sit in.


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A unique way to eat a pumpkin pie - in a cone.

Upon arriving at the festival, my first priority was food. I had driven a long way, and was happily overwhelmed by the assortment of food to choose from. Local venders and organizations sell hot dogs, tacos, hamburgers, apple dumplings, hot cocoa, tea, soda, funnel cake, shrimp on a stick, and much more. My favorite was a delightful twist on a classic with pumpkin pie in a cone (although delicious plain, it is quite delectable with chocolate and caramel).

After eating, it was time for having some fun. The festival has lots of games and entertainment for all ages. The variety was endless and included face painting, a rock climbing wall, the Museum of Pumpkin Oddities, and much more.

Also not to be missed, the competitions are unique as they are fun and entertaining. Think you can eat a pie faster than anyone else? Try the pie eating contest. I was very tempted to enter the Seed Spitting Contest, but refrained and decided to leave it up to the kids and professionals. 

Walking around from event to event, I was delighted to hear a considerable amount of live music floating through the air. Normally, I would have expected to find one band performing at a time, and with little variety. But the Keene Pumpkin Festival triumphs again with different artists ranging from covering the classics with Marlena Phillips, to the sweet grassroot vibes of the youth choir and fiddle ensemble of the Blueberry Jammers & Future Famous Fiddlers. Music genres represented included classical, country, pop, indie, and rock in many locations such as the lovely local cafe dubbed "The Starving Artist", the Central Square, and Gilbo Ave. I especially loved listening to the bands in “The Starving Artist” while drinking hot cocoa and pondering a possible dinner of warm chili.

Music was not the only art form to be showcased at the festival. The Keene’s craft fair, where an assortment of local artists work is on display and for sale. I admit I was mesmerized by the beautiful colorful glass balls you can hang up in the sunlight, and needed to be reminded of the time while browsing through the textiles and crafts. I saw memorable clothes and trinkets that you can buy to remember your visit to this lovely little town, but I settled for a sweater from a local chic second-hand store.

The town itself is a gem. Buildings with lovely architecture from the 1800's still line the streets. I found these buildings to be kept modest and tidy, which seems to be a rarity now-a-days. The town has reacted beautifully to the flow of people from all over the US and Canada with organization and cooperation that shines impressively. Coming off the highway, festival-goers are directed to a parking lot where a shuttle waits to take them to the heart of the town and festival. The shuttle runs about once every 15 minutes both to and fro the festival. The drivers themselves take pride in the festival and are friendly and talkative with the people whom they drive.


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Pumpkins line the streets in Keene's biggest festival.

And let's not forget the pumpkins! I drove about 4 hours, and trust me, the pumpkins themselves are worth any drive. I saw many scary and theatrical faces, as well as some odd and quirky, not to mention outright witty, designs including various inventive uses of gourds, toothpicks, paint, and, in one case, marbles.

It's best to come for the activities during the day, but that is just a warm up to the real show. When the sun goes down, children and adults alike rush to light all of the nearly 30,000 pumpkins to create a spectacular show. I would have taken part in such an activity, had I owned a lighter. I have since made a mental note to remember to do so in the future. The pumpkins lining the streets create an eerie yet fun and festive corridor while the massive towers of pumpkins (lit by electric lights) look out over the various parts of the festival, making a quite impressive demonstration of human and pumpkin engineering.

Overall, I was very impressed with this festival. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone, as I am sure you will have a great time. It was just the right mix of music, food, fun, and, of course, 29,762 pumpkins.

 

What are your fondest memories of carving pumpkins?

What is your secret to a great pumpkin pie?