West Brookfield Asparagus & Flower Heritage Festival

West Brookfield Common, Routes 9 & 67, West Brookfield, Ma, MA 01585

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WEST BROOKFIELD - One of Massachusetts' most eagerly anticipated events will take place on Saturday, May 18, when this town's historic common welcomes visitors to the eleventh annual Asparagus & Flower Heritage Festival. The party, free and open to the public, begins at 10:00 a.m. and ends at 4:00 p.m. on that festive Saturday, but in fact, folks from around New England frequently arrange mini-vacations in the area, planned around what has become a much-loved and truly special event. Picture more than one hundred local growers, artisans and countryside businesses gathered on one of New England's most picturesque village greens, displaying items artistic, artisanal and of the earth, where everyone seems to be smiling at everyone else. Add music, a may pole dance, frog jumping contest, and food, wonderful, glorious food, all gathered in the name of one Dederick Leertouwer and his favorite food - asparagus. In 1790, the Dutch diplomat traveled from his native Holland, sent by his government to promote trade in Massachusetts and New England. He settled in West Brookfield, but missed the scrumptious, delicately flavored green harbinger of spring. "Forthwith," says local historian Dick Rossman, "asparagus roots were shipped here from Holland, and Dederick planted them near the foot of Foster's Hill. Asparagus patches still appear there; several of my neighbors claim to own the original patch." He modestly admits that, in fact, his is the only authentic Leertouwer strain, but "we don't like to boast". The festival began as a friendly, small-town happening, sponsored by the Quaboag Historical Society and the town's historical commission. A local woman volunteered to cook the asparagus chowder for which she is now justly famous. Pies were baked, other savories served. Growers brought plants, flowers, honey, and so on. Artists, artisans and crafts people brought unique and lovely items snapped up by visitors who recognized great things and great events when they saw them. Animals, raised for fun, food, or fashion, abounded. Kids brought frogs to jump; a maypole dance charmed and enhanced. Music, of course, accompanied the myriad activities, the bustling, busy, happy day of celebrating the earth's goodness and its promise. And when that day ended, everyone knew the event was a keeper. Since then, the festival's activities, offerings and participants have multiplied. Asparagus cookbooks, featuring heirloom recipes from local cooks, were printed and eagerly snapped up. Thousands of appreciative visitors now attend each year. Live music is presented by Dick Chase and friends. The maypole dance will be performed at 1:00 p.m; the frog jumping contest follows at 1:30 p.m. Free activities and games for children will take place all day. Strolling magician Ed the Wizard will perform throughout the day. Asparagus Alley offers the now-famous asparagus chowder and numerous other lunchtime selections; you won't want to miss the pies. There are tables and benches, or just grab a hay bale and sit awhile, enjoying the music, the splendid common, the commotion, the crafts and the photo ops. Bring the kids and grandchildren, the more the merrier. You may get to meet and greet Dederick Leertouwer. Although it has been stated that, on the third Saturday in May, all roads lead to the West Brookfield Flower and Heritage Festival, West Brookfield's beautiful common is, in fact, located at the junction of Routes 9 and 67. Look for the bandstand just off the head of the green. (If you don't see the fountain, take heart. It'll be back, we're told, for the Fourth of July, more beautiful than ever.) Plan to spend all day. There is much to see and do in the area. There is no rain date. You might want to mark your calendar now. Festival information may be found online at asparagusfestival@charter.net.

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