Sabrina Ramras ’22, fresh from a tennis match, enjoyed kettle corn with her friend Lena Treiber ’22, who is from Brooklyn, N.Y.
“It’s cold, but I like the colors of the leaves right now,” said Ramras, who’s from Paradise Valley, Ariz. Her next stop: the pulled pork station.
Ann Guo ’20, a self-described foodie from Baltimore, recommended the brisket and the cider donuts.
She was among groups of students huddled around fires, sticks in hand and with serious concentration, getting just the right roasting done on their marshmallows, to be loaded into s’mores. And like most of those around the fire, she had a system for the perfect marshmallow: “I toast it lightly so it all melts.”
“I like it more burnt,” argued Stanley Dunwell ’20 of Atlanta. The proof is in the tasting, and if there’s a little mess, who cares? Every year, Dunwell appreciates the simple fun of the festival.
“When do you get to go in a bounce house with your friends, meet faculty and staff and their children?” he asked. “I love the food, and meeting all my friends here.”
“I was trying for sticking with tradition, but giving it a little spark with some new items,” said Stefania Patinella, executive chef with the College’s Dining Services. Patinella and colleagues (including Gregory Wardlaw, the catering manager) planned the festival foods weeks in advance. New this year was a butternut bisque (26 gallons were prepared) and an apple quince bar. Dining Services keeps a careful count of last year’s favorites in order to properly stock each year’s food lines. Valentine Dining Hall keeps its usual meal hours during the festival, by the way: cooks and servers who would usually be taking the weekend off are called in to cater the mammoth affair.
“Lobster rolls are tried and true,” said Patinella. Last year, diners made quick work of the 1,200 lobster rolls, so 1,430 were prepared this year, along with 35 gallons of clam chowder and some 600 candy apples.
“It’s Nirvana,” said Annika Lunstad ’21, carving a pumpkin with Andrew Tawfeek ’21E. This wasn’t a comment on the joys of extracting pulp and seeds to make seasonal folk art: they were carving the grunge band’s smiley-face logo.
The lawn was littered with pumpkins from the North Hadley Sugar Shack, as students and others carved away.
“I’ve never carved a pumpkin in my life,” said Tawfeek. Lunstad showed the way. As she carved, Lunstad said it was especially nice to see her fellow students “and a lot of dogs.”
“It’s really stress-free,” a good opportunity for distraction from midterms, she said.
President Biddy Martin said her favorite part of the event is walking among the crowd, seeing the College community. There’s always the chance for a good selfie with students, as well as the opportunity to take in some music.
And, of course, there’s the food.
“The brisket has a smell that draws me to it,” she said.
Those on campus with similarly discerning noses may have noticed that work on the brisket began the previous week.
Second Cook Keith Giligan, shown here, said he started preparing the brisket the previous Monday, rubbing the meat with salt, paprika, cloves, cinnamon, cayenne and garlic powder, and subsequently smoking the meat for four to five hours. The cooking started early enough the morning of the festival to allow the brisket a tender, flavorful finish.
Some of the longest food lines were not for meals but for snacks and drinks: kettle corn, lemonade, limeade and other treats at the Goodies and Giggles stand.
As James Goldstein, one of the proprietors, stirred corn, sugar and spices with a large paddle, his mother explained that it was a paddle that first got the business started.
Sheri Goldstein, a teacher in Connecticut, was once watching her son’s crew team while thinking of how to keep up with bills for college for her two sons, when a glimpse of the oars cutting into the water brought up the association: kettle corn.
The sons have grown and since graduated, but the family has kept at it, expanding their offerings to include beverages and other treats.
For some students, fall and its symbols, tastes and activities only became part of their personal history when they came to Amherst. They relish them just as much as lifelong New Englanders. Possibly more.
“This is my favorite event,” Yusrah Kaudeer ’21, third from the right, relaxing with some international student friends—who hail from Romania, Morocco and El Salvador—at the faux cemetery. Her native Mauritius only really has winter and summer, she said. For her, there’s something special in celebrating a New England autumn.
“The music is very good,” she added.
Nearby, Maria Belota Moreno ’21, enjoyed a candy apple while remarking on the differences, food-wise, with her native Brazil.
“We don’t have green apples,” she said. “And all of the pumpkin stuff is really different.” In Brazil, pumpkin is a savory dish. It’s never made into pie, ice cream or cheesecake.
No October fete is complete without a touch of the macabre. Each year at Fall Festival, the lawn becomes a makeshift graveyard, featuring an ever-grisly array of phantoms, skeletons and other terrors to amuse and pose in front of.