Cranberries: biography of the state’s signature fruit

Colleague and fellow folklorist Millie Rahn brings us this guest blog:

Steve Cole was introduced to cranberry growing through his great uncle, who spent a lifetime in agriculture in southeastern Massachusetts. There, Steve writes, he learned about the local crop “via an irrigation system that needed installation.” He adds, “For some, the cranberry has provided a comfortable living for five generations; for others, only enough money to make it through each winter. When something so dominates the lives of people, it is worth knowing about.”

Steve and his wife, photographer Lindy Gifford, are the authors of The Cranberry: Hard Work and Holiday Sauce, just published by Tilbury House Publishers in Maine. Steve and Lindy did much of their research in the early 1980s, while living in Wareham, near where Steve grew up. The book is based on interviews with cranberry growers in Plymouth County and Cape Cod, as well as extensive historical research. It is illustrated with contemporary and historical photographs and documents drawn, in many cases, from archival collections throughout Massachusetts.

Steve and Lindy recently held a launch party and book signing at the Ansel Gurney House in Marion, and also appeared in the book tent at the Working Waterfront Festival in New Bedford, which this year featured discussion of issues shared by fishermen and farmers.

Photo (l to r): Cranberry grower Wilho Harju, author Stephen Cole, Lillian Harju, and author Lindy Gifford at the book launch in Marion in late September. Wilho and Lillian Harju were among those interviewed about Finnish people’s contributions to cranberry growing. Photo by Phoebe Cole.

The authors will be signing their book throughout the fall, including the following dates and locations:

Saturday, October 10, 11 am

Cranberry Harvest Celebration at A.D. Makepeace Co. headquarters

Tihonet Village, Wareham

Saturday afternoon, November 7

Titcomb Books on Route 6A in East Sandwich

Sunday, November 8, Noon-2 pm

Where the Sidewalk Ends Bookstore on Main Street in Chatham.

More dates will follow at Plimoth Plantation, and in Boston and Concord.

Fishermen and Farmers Find Common Ground at Working Waterfront Festival

Great weather and great programming! We suggest heading down to New Bedford this weekend for the Working Waterfront Festival. If you haven’t guessed, this year’s theme is surf and turf. In promoting the festival, organizers point out that “Fishermen and farmers share a deep knowledge of, reverence for and dependence upon the natural world. Both groups pass traditional skills and knowledge from one generation to the next, often incorporating new technologies alongside traditional practices. And both communities face many of the same economic, environmental and political challenges.”

In addition to live maritime and ethnic music, there will be an open air market featuring local produce and fresh seafood and cooking demonstrations, occupational demonstrations of fishing and farming skills, tours of fishing boats, author readings, and kid’s activities.

Brighton school kids mix it up with Kristin Andreassen

Brian O’Donovan, who hosts A Celtic Sojourn on WGBH, let us know about this wonderul new video by Boston based Kristin Andreassen, Crayola.

Lowell Folk Festival is the place to be next weekend

Photo by Marianne Nika, 2008
Photo by Marianne Nika, 2008

This year’s Lowell Folk Festival promises to be a blast. You may already know that this event is one of the best curated folk festivals in the country — and it is free! On the last weekend in July, the whole city of Lowell morphs into one large celebration of top quality traditional music, folk craft, ethnic cuisine, and community spirit.

Among the music and dance traditions you will experience are Irish polkas and slides, Western Swing, Klezmer, Brazilian capoeira, an a capella gospel quartet, Quebecois dance tunes, Zydeco, Puerto Rican jibaro music, Tuvan throat singing, and a New Orleans brass band. Massachusetts performers include Boston Banghra, Grupo Canela, ekonting player Sana Ndiaye, the Eddie Forman Orchestera, and Branches Steel Orchestra. Fourteen Bay state artists will be demonstrating in the heritage crafts area, the majority of which were featured in Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts.

Hope to see you there!

Interns help document Massachusetts festivals

I’m delighted to have two energetic interns working with me this summer. Ellen Arnstein is on the verge of completing the BFA program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Signe Porteshawver is entering her junior year at Tufts University. Since late May they have been researching and working on compiling a comprehensive list of ethnic, folk, and agricultural festivals in Massachusetts. In addition to attending and documenting selected festivals, they are also adding their fieldwork findings to the “Celebrations” theme of our website. Below is their first guest blog post:

Every other year, St. Mary’s Assumption Albanian Orthodox Church in Worcester hosts one of the area’s largest Albanian festivals. Over a three-day weekend in mid June, St. Mary’s welcomed many of the areas 15,000 plus Albanian residents, as well as many other visitors from within and beyond the state. As interns for the Folk Arts and Heritage program, we came across the Albanian Festival in our research of Massachusetts’ public celebrations. We had the pleasure of attending this year’s festival as both visitors and fieldworkers, along with over 20,000 other attendees, taking in various aspects of Albanian culture. Along with other festival-goers, we enjoyed homemade traditional Albanian food – including some delicious leek pie and some smoky lamb kebab – while listening to traditional and contemporary Albanian music spun by recent Albanian immigrants, DJ Andrea and DJ JT.

One of the most exciting parts of the day was watching the folklore dance troupe, comprised solely of young congregation members, who choreograph traditional Albanian dances to perform at the festival every other year. The festivities all took place outside of the beautiful St. Mary’s Orthodox Church, whose walls are covered in magnificent icons written by Albanian iconographer Dhmitiri Cika.

We’re excited to be working with Maggie Holtzberg and everyone else at the MCC, and look forward to occasionally sharing our work as guest bloggers on this blog. When we’re not attending festivals around the state, we’re researching and compiling an annotated list of all public celebrations in MA that we can find, working towards a comprehensive festival listing for the state, and to add to the MCC and MOTT’s Worldfest. Please check out our ever- updated Google Calendar – and be sure to let us know what we’re missing!

Worldfest – the place to locate summer cultural/ethnic festivals in Massachusetts

Massachusetts WorldFest is back, and we want you to participate!

For the second straight year, the MCC and Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (MOTT) have launched Worldfest, a comprehensive online listing of the rich and diverse array of ethnic and cultural festivals across Massachusetts from June through September. We again plan a summer marketing campaign to drive visitors from across New England to these events.

Worldfest includes festivals large and small, in cities and towns from Boston to the Berkshires, from Cape Ann to Cape Cod. The website includes a search engine that allows visitors to search by region, name of event and/or date.

Worldfest‘s only criteria are that participating festivals represent communities or groups of communities within Massachusetts that share a common ethnic or artistic heritage or way of life. Massachusetts is home to a host of such groups, ranging from longstanding communities from Native America and Europe to newcomers from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Each of these, and many others, showcase vital cultural traditions through their public fairs and festivals, which deserve recognition and support.

If you would like your festival to be included, please submit this form. These listings are provided at no cost.

For more information, please contact John Alzapiedi at MOTT: or 617-973-8509

Candy Canes Still Made by Hand and Muscle

Today’s Boston Globe has a great article and video about a Lawrence, Massachusetts candy making institution — Priscilla Candies — and the seasonal specialty of making 3 foot-long candy canes. Seems like it’s time to pay a visit and interview the oldtimers who still know how to pull candy by hand. It is also interesting to learn about the Christian symbolism of the red and white striped candy cane.

Grupo Canela

Santiago\'s Family Restaurant

A native of Puerto Rico, Ismael Santiago has been living in western Massachusetts for nearly 30 years. For the past 12 of them, he has led Grupo Canela, a family band which plays jibaro music. This style of folk music — a blend of Spanish, West African, and Taino influences, first developed in the rural, mountainous interior of Puerto Rico. Grupo Canela also plays salsa. Ismael and his family run Santiago’s Family Restaurant in Westfield, Massachusetts, which offers authentic Puerto Rican food. On Friday and Saturday evenings, members of the nine-piece group come out of the kitchen, play a couple of pieces, and then go back in to continue cooking and serving. After a certain point, they all come out to play again, until late into the night.

We coaxed members of Grupo Canela to not only come out of the kitchen, but onto the stage at the National Heritage Museum earlier last month. Their set was a big hit at the concert we held in conjunction with our ongoing exhibition, Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts. Listen to a taste of Grupo Canela here (5MB) playing “Son de la Loma.

Next on the docket is a trip out to Santiago’s Family Restaurant to hear and taste this cultural experience in its locale.

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