Friday, August 21, 2015

Salem's Spice Festival Celebrates New England Trade History

The 2nd Annual Salem Spice Festival will be taking place at Salem Pioneer Village on Saturday and Sunday, September 10th and 11th, 2016. Click here for event details.

In mid-September, New England Fall Events attended the inaugural Salem Spice Festival held at Salem Pioneer Village—a living history museum tucked away in Salem’s Forest Park.

Salem Spice Festival Pioneer Village New England Fall Events
Salem Pioneer Village's living history
museum hosts the Salem Spice Festival.
Salem, Massachusetts has a very rich history in spice importing. Owing to its busy ports and an enterprising sea captain named Johnathan Carnes, for nearly 80 years Salem even held the distinction of being the center of the lucrative international spice trade.

The originality of the theme of this particular festival caught our eye and we made a beeline to coastal Salem. We parked in the large lot inside Forest Park and easily spotted the sign along a fencepost welcoming us to the Pioneer Village. Though built in 1930, the Pioneer Village is a living history museum set in the year 1630.   

Salem Spice Festival Pioneer Village New England Fall Events
L to R: a period cottage in the Pioneer Village, a sign made with glue and spices, and medicinal herb talks in the garden.

Salem Spice Festival Pioneer Village New England Fall Events
The Pioneer Village allows a  peek
into colonial life in 1630 Salem
The village features a variety of period housing structures—thatched roof houses, a Governor’s house, wigwams, and simple cottages—as well as small herbal gardens, shops, and fire pits. All in all, you couldn’t have dreamed up a more perfect setting to host a festival like this one!

Entering the festival we were greeted by a friendly volunteer and handed an activity program for the two-day festival. Events such as a nettle pudding and Four Thieves vinegar tasting contest, demonstrations for making a burdock tincture, talks about the tea trade, soap in Colonial America, and mead making were lined up throughout the day.

Salem Spice Festival Pioneer Village New England Fall Events
L to R: Cooking over an open fire pit, grogg spices and recipe for sale, packets of spice from Salem Spice/Picklepot.

Salem Spice Festival Pioneer Village New England Fall Events Nettle Pudding
Nettle pudding tasting at the festival
Shaded under the tall trees which were transitioning to their fall color, we wandered in and out of the houses where period actors dressed in costume would talk about what daily life might be like for their character in 1630. They welcomed questions and were eager to share about life and experience in Colonial Salem.

Outside a black pot was suspended over a fire pit and various foods (not for public consumption) were on display such as nettle pudding and Four Thieves vinegar (consisting of thyme, rosemary, sage, lavender, mint, garlic and apple cider vinegar) traditionally used for its medicinal properties.

In the medicinal herb garden that was central to the village, various apprenticed students from the Green Witch School of Herbalism offered presentations about particular herbs, leaves, or roots which were cultivated for various uses in that time. Around the garden a gentleman bedecked in period garb played cheerful song on his fiddle which only added to the magical atmosphere of the festival. Here's a short video clip of his lovely fiddle playing.

Salem Spice Festival Pioneer Village New England Fall Events Thieves Vinegar
Four Thieves vinegar on display
On the perimeter of the village a number tables were set up showcasing local (present-day) food merchants and businesses in Salem such as Salem Spice/PicklePot, Jo Freedom Coffee, Ziggy’s and Sons Donuts, Day of the Dog, Ye Olde Pepper Companie, Atlantic Saltworks, and many others. 

It was here that we first encountered Karen Scalia, owner of the outstanding Salem Food Tours who plied us with one of Ziggy’s cinnamon sugar donuts. (Read about our incredible experience taking a Salem Food Tour).

Crafts were set up for the children such as “painting” with glue and using various ground and whole spices to decorate their picture. The program also mentioned there was a scavenger hunt, a corn-husk doll making activity, and kids could try to write with a quill. Sadly, we didn’t catch one of the “weed walks” hosted by Artemesia Botanicals but as Artemesia is one of most fascinating stores in Salem, we are confident it would have been quite interesting.
Salem Spice Festival Pioneer Village New England Fall Events
L to R: Visiting local vendors, Salem Spice Festival poster, an village actor inside a cottage.

One of the most delightfully entertaining moments was listening to the animated storytelling offered by Black Cat Tours. We were regaled with tales of Salem’s spice trade history and the challenges of skirting dangerous seafaring pirates while Salem’s spice importing grew. 

Salem Spice Festival Pioneer Village New England Fall Events Black Cat Tours
The Black Cat Tours storytelling was
one of the highlights of the festival.
The storytellers were intriguing, riveting and intentionally hilarious. The two actors played off one another with great energy, gusto, and a twinkle in their eyes. The storytelling was very well-done and one of the highlights for us on an already memorable day.  Here's a short video clip we took of the Black Cat Tours' performance at the Salem Spice Festival.

The festival was free of charge but a donation is appreciated to support the event. It was a family-friendly event and would be fairly easy to maneuver a stroller if needed. 
The space was contained within fencing and is surrounded by open woods. We spent a relaxing  90 minutes there and parking was very easy. Forest Park where the village is located is a 10-minute drive from Salem center. If you’re planning to spend a day in this wonderful city, it’s about a 30 minute walk between the historic downtown and the Pioneer Village.


The 3rd Annual Salem Spice Festival will be taking place Saturday and Sunday, September 11th and 11th, 2016. Click here for event details.

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