Stock up on sundries from harvesters and makers, brewers and bakers.
New Englanders have always prided themselves on the craftsmanship of their wares, both edible and not. Indeed, there’s nary a town without a tavern pulling locally made pints, a country store selling jams and jellies, or a shop showcasing works by area artisans. These are just some of the items that merit inclusion on a list of must-have New England souvenirs.
Craft Beer and Cider
You can sample (and shop) your way across New England brewing history, from one of America’s oldest outfits, Rhode Island’s Narragansett (1890), to some of the nation’s first craft breweries: Maine’s D.L. Geary (1983) and Massachusetts’ Boston Beer Company (1984) of Sam Adams fame. Smaller breweries with acclaimed suds include The Alchemist in Vermont, Smuttynose in New Hampshire, Trillium in Massachusetts, Tilted Barn in Rhode Island, and New England Brewing Co. in Connecticut.
There’ve been apple orchards in New England since, oh, the mid-1600s. Where there are apples, there’s cider—hard or not, here it’s elevated to an art. Notable cideries include Maine’s Urban Farm Fermentory, which also has mead; Connecticut’s innovative New England Cider Company; Massachusetts’ Far from the Tree; and Vermont’s family-friendly Cold Hollow, which also makes cider donuts. Yum.
Jams and Preserves
This region is a preservationist’s dream–and not just for architecture. Cooks here put up all sorts of things for winter: strawberry preserves, apple butter, cranberry sauce, blueberry jam–particularly in Maine, where blueberries grow abundantly wild late in the summer. Pick up jars of your favorites at farmers markets or one of the region’s ubiquitous country stores, perhaps Connecticut’s Old Wethersfield, Rhode Island’s Brown & Hopkins, Massachusetts’ Wayside, New Hampshire’s Old Country Store & Museum, Maine’s East Boothbay, or the behemoth Vermont Country Store.
New England does its best to keep up with Canada, the world’s largest maple syrup producer, so there’s no reason not to buy American. Each spring, sugarhouses here tap their maple trees and boil the resultant sap down into syrup. Although it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, locally made varieties are readily available–in U.S. Grades A and B and in light, medium, and dark (for baking only) shades of amber. The states best known for it, though, are New Hampshire and Vermont, which, by the way, has its own strict grading system.
A fresh-from-the-boat New England lobster-shack feast is one thing. But what if you want local lobster to go? Seafood markets, lobster pounds, and even some independent lobstermen all along the region’s coasts sell the crustaceans. As soon as you buy them, though, the clock starts ticking: you have 48 hours (maximum) to get them home and cooked. During that time, your lobsters must be kept sedated (i.e., lightly chilled) but alive, with claws rubber-banded. If you don’t want to travel with new “pets,” ask the fishmonger about shipping or look into online pack-and-ship retailers like Maine Lobster Now, The Lobster Guy, and Lobsters New England.
Antiques and Collectibles
Looking for an old skeleton key or vintage metal sign? Some antique pewterware or a Boston rocker? Collectibles abound in shops, emporiums, and flea markets—from cities like Boston (Charles Street), Providence (Wickenden Street), and Portland (Old Port District) to towns like Woodbury and Middlebury, Connecticut; Chester, Vermont; Essex, Massachusetts; and Wells, Maine. A stretch of Route 4 in New Hampshire is known as Antique Alley. For six days in May, July, and September, roughly 5,000 dealers and 250,000 shoppers gather for south-central Massachusetts’ Brimfield Antiques & Collectibles Show.
What’s the saying about all work and no play? Well, some New England companies combine both. The plush, adorable creatures made by Vermont Teddy Bear are guaranteed for life; it even has a Bear Hospital to handle Teddy emergencies! Real Good Toys, also in Vermont, makes finely crafted dollhouses, kits, and miniature accessories. New Hampshire’s Annalee Dolls are distinctive, cute, and collectible—especially the holiday-themed figures.
The textile industry that defined 19th-century New England declined in the 1920s and ‘30s. Today, the few remaining producers mostly sell wholesale. Vermont’s Johnson Woolen Mills is an exception. The warm, soft, and often boldly checked flannel shirts, jackets, capes, wraps, scarves, hats, and even undies sold in its factory store and elsewhere are splurge-worthy classics. Pet accessories, backpacks, and throws make great gifts, too.
Yarn and Knitwear
Independent spinners and knitters were busy here long before the maker movement made crafting chic again, and you’ll find their wares in shops and farmers markets across the region. Noteworthy commercial outfits include Bartlettyarns, Inc., which has been producing its skeins of mule-spun wool in Maine since 1821; Rhode Island’s North Light Fibers–with yarn in contemporary blends of alpaca, bamboo, and other exotic natural fibers–and Maine’s Swans Island Company, whose dip-dyed wool yarns and knitwear are especially lovely. Stock up. Winter is coming.
Savvy moccasin-lovers know that Maine shoemakers craft some of the best, and one of the best of the best is Quoddy. The story goes that, back in the early 20th century, Leon Leonwood Bean himself was a customer. Although Quoddy has recently collaborated with both L.L. Bean and Sperry on limited-edition lines, it’s best-known for its custom, made-to-order moccasins, deck shoes, and boots. Reach out while you’re Down East or back at home. The wait for your shoes is worth it. Ditto with Wassookeag, another great Maine maker of bespoke footwear.
Nothing says durability like canvas; nothing says coastal New England like sailing. The elegant, creative, rope-handled totes sold by Portland-based Sea Bags, which has shops across the region, are made from recycled sails. Port Canvas in Arundel, Maine, also hand-crafts its sporty, customizable canvas totes and duffels–perfect for lugging home all your New England souvenirs.