It’s October in New England, which means we’re getting treated to our annual parade of colors from the trees to the pumpkins to the mums. Though we’re not a big region of the country, we do have enough climate diversity that we can enjoy the show for about a month. Missed it in Vermont and New Hampshire? No problem. Catch it in on Nantucket or in Connecticut.
But there’s so much more to fall in New England; the other senses won’t be denied. Many of us know when the season arrives not just the the sight of leaf changes, but by the smell of the season. Fall has a different aroma and we – either consciously or subconsciously – seek it out. Our palettes won’t be denied either because the last of the harvest brings its own special seasonal offerings. Recently at a harvest festival in Rockport, MA we had our first mulled cider of the season made from local Cape Ann apples. It certainly took the edge off the remains of an Atlantic storm that was kind enough to provide some very stiff winds on a brisk day. We’d be remiss if we were to forget the sense of sound. Though the equinox begins to usher in a quieter time, it also gives us the rustle of newly-fallen leaves, closing music for a beautiful season. And finally, fall affects the sense of touch, which could be the brush with an early snow flurry or the feel of a just-picked apple.
Seasons are a gift of place and New England is one of the most generous in the country. Your senses will be grateful.
On a recent, beautiful, summer evening, approximately seventy-five lucky individuals converged on Wilson Farm in Lexington, MA at closing time. Gathering among rows of tomato plants and other ripening farm vegetables, the crowd slowly filled the chairs that flanked three long tables draped with white tablecloth and adorned with beautiful fresh cut flowers. Many in attendance had never met before, but would share a common bond tonight: a culinary experience with fresh food from New England.
Dining in a location where one typically doesn’t sit down to eat (like in a field, a dock or a barn) is a novelty, and only added to the anticipation of knowing that much of our dinner had been picked hours earlier from the very field where we now sat. For us, it was reminiscent of the feeling we would get while picnicking with our young sons on a rainy day in our living room: out of the ordinary yet quite special.
Through the din of conversation, our servers (folks who worked at the farm stand and recently trained for the evening) began serving up course after course upon the table, some plated individually, and others offered family-style. With each course, Wilson Farm Chef Todd Heberlein would proudly and passionately explain each dish’s contents, philosophy, and thoughtful preparation. The colors, aromas, and flavors were an amplification of their freshness and a testament to Chef Heberlein’s artistry.
As the courses passed, the sun was replaced by candlelight, adding another welcome dimension to the evening. Ultimately, seventy-five content, satiated people left Wilson Farm as friends – not just with one another, but also with a passionate local chef and with a farm that very much embraces its New England heritage.
There is no better way to celebrate the harvest than to dine on food, simply and lovingly prepared where it was grown, shared at a community table among people who appreciate it and enjoyed in the fresh air beneath the open sky.
As we’ve said many times before: New England is as much about the people as it is about the history, culture, food and the landscape. We saw this here as well. Jim Wilson, one of the owners of Wilson Farm, was present the entire evening, sharing his big smile and ensuring that we were enjoying ourselves. Chef Heberlein didn’t hide either, making the rounds and checking to make sure we were smiling. Great New Englanders. Great farm. Great evening.
There’s something about a visit to the beautiful Green Mountain State of Vermont that always has us wanting to return before we’ve even left. Upon entering the state, we immediately sense a shift in the air and in the scenery, but surprisingly we also sense a shift within ourselves. Simply being among the pristine, New England beauty clears our minds. Bucolic open spaces dotted with quaint villages surrounded by magnificent mountains would put anyone at ease. And we always sleep better in Vermont, waking refreshed, recharged and rejuvenated.
Vermont isn’t just a special place; it’s a way of life. Vermonters clearly live what they love and love what they live. The visitor quickly discovers the striking connection between the green beauty that surrounds and the passion for all things green, which includes both philosophy and food. There is equanimity here.
In Vermont, wherever you turn, you drink up beauty like rich milk, and feel its wholesome strength seep into your sinews.
Threescore: The Autobiography of Sarah N. Cleghorn, 1936
Our attraction to things local seems endless throughout Vermont and includes farmers’ markets, restaurants, and country stores. Our recent trip was to the magnum opus of local, the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival. What a fête it was, hosted on the beautiful grounds of Shelburne Farms with Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks for its stunning backdrop. With a canvas like this, we knew we would be in for a treat.
The Vermont Cheesemakers Festival
We arrived as the event opened and discovered it immediately bustling with visitors. Though the festival was crowded, we still managed to catch up with fellow cheese aficionados from home – Richard Auffrey, Jennifer Ede, and Jane Ward. We also had the chance to meet and chat with the knowledgeable Nancy Gilman from Provisions International, a regional distributor that works with many Vermont producers.
The event consisted of a vast array of tables staffed by many Vermont cheese artisans and purveyors, along with a few “flatland” participants from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. There were so many wonderful and diverse cheeses to sample. Though some of the more familiar, widely available cheese producers were present (Blue Ledge Farm, Cabot Creamery, Jasper Hill Farm and Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery), we decided to focus our attention on lesser-known artisans, some of whose work we had experienced and others we had not.
Artisans & Purveyors
Aside from cheese, we also enjoyed meeting and speaking with many other passionate, hardworking, dedicated Vermonters who were proud to share their local provisions, some of which we’ve enjoyed before, some we’d heard about, and some we discovered for the first time. This included the many non-cheese artisans presenting breads, crackers, jams, syrups, brownies, candies, condiments, wines, beers, spirits, and meats.
What a rich and rewarding experience it was to listen to personal, hardscrabble stories of why, where and how these craftsmen do what they do. Such stories help connect us not only their products and Vermont, but also to New England. We look forward to following them closely as they continue to refine their crafts.
On the ride home we discussed the festival and other things that make Vermont an interesting destination. We reexamined weekend highlights, food favorites, and interesting people. Even after many, many trips to the Green Mountain State, we realized that there is still so much yet to explore not only from a food perspective, but a historical and recreational standpoint as well.
Fortunately, we always manage (figuratively) to bring a bit of Vermont home with us, and this weekend was no exception. Even better was that we did manage (literally) to bring home some excellent cheese, beer, and other foodstuffs.
OK, full disclosure (in case you haven’t read our story): The Two Palaverers was the name of a tavern in colonial Boston. Though The Two Palaverers is no longer with us, more than a few colonial taverns still dot the New England landscape. Many of the remaining ones are tastefully preserved, but their taps have run dry.
Fortunately, the contemporary New England brew scene is far from running dry. Recently, we had a chance to visit the American Craft Beer Fest at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. Our intent was to taste every New England brew we could find. Though we’ve been hunting down craft beers for years, we had the pleasure of being chaperoned by our brother-in-law from Vermont, one of the most passionate craft beer guys we know. We used to think he came down to visit us because he enjoyed Massachusetts, but soon realized it was all a front as he was really just looking for an excuse to get to Andover Liquors, one of the better craft beer retailers in New England.
Here’s the summary: all six New England states are brewing – and brewing well. There is, fortunately, no uniform style. We found IPAs, porters, stouts, lagers, wheat beers, summer ales, etc. If you like your hops beyond the level of an IPA, you’ll have choices there, too. New England beer is like New England herself: historic, diverse, and never boring.
We’d also like to call-out and thank fellow New Englanders Jason and Todd Alström, founders of BeerAdvocate. These brothers, in our opinion, are doing great things not just for New England brewing but for beer in general. In addition to running an informative web site, BeerAdvocate hosted the American Craft Brew Fest. They also wrote one of the best pieces on New England beer that we’ve read. Thanks guys.
-The Two Palaverers
Here is a sampling of New England brewers at the Craft American Brew Fest:
We love oysters. Even better, we’re spoiled by some great offerings from five of our six New England states. (Sorry Vermont.) What’s so interesting is that even though most of our oysters share a common ancestry, they truly take on the characteristics of where they grow. Call it “bivalve terroir.” For us, it provides a different dining experience, as we taste offerings all the way from Damariscotta in Maine to Ned’s Island in Connecticut. We find that mignonette sauce, rather than cocktail sauce, amplifies these regional characteristics and brings the oyster experience to a new level.
Because we can reach the coast of all five New England oysters states in less than 90 minutes, getting fresh shellfish is never an issue. Having children who know how to shuck makes it even better because we can relax on the deck with a bottle of Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine or a local craft brew such as a Harpoon Brewery UFO Hefeweizen. Not surprisingly, our children love oysters too, so our “shuck tax” is about 50 percent. (Note: (1) we only buy from trusted sources and (2) our children were held off until they were older.)
This all sounds great, right? We can end our little oyster tale now on a positive note, but we’re not going to do that. Why? Because we also like going out for oysters. Here’s the rub: we are seeing escalating prices – $3.50 per oyster – at many venues that have raw bars. Let’s do some math. We pay $0.99 retail per oyster, which means wholesale price is likely around $0.50. Even with labor and reasonable discard, how can establishments justify a 600% markup? Restaurant wines don’t command this premium. We’ve been paying about $2.50 per oyster in New York City.
C’mon folks, why such a “raw” deal on one of our regional specialties? You’re doing those of us who love oysters a disservice. Thank goodness there are still plenty of places with raw bars that offer a fair price and give us some great New England oysters.
Childhood memories, unlike other thoughts, have strong emotional dimensions that include amplified aspects of sight and smell. I discovered that food, because of its social and sensuous qualities, unlocks a treasure chest of childhood memories. With this in mind, I decided to use food to probe into the childhood memories of my in-laws and garner insight into ethnic New England during the Great Depression. So often we think about our region and its colonial past, town greens, and white church steeples, yet we forge many of the ethnic threads that combine to form the broader New England fabric.
From Old Italy to New England
My in-laws, Umberto and Isabel (Celani) Ciampa, grew up in Boston’s Italian North End during the Great Depression. They rarely speak about their past unless they are reminiscing with their contemporaries at some gathering such as a wedding or (more frequently) a wake. I found the best way to gain any insight into their childhoods was to be direct and use their culinary memories as a catalyst. For the most part, after some prodding, they appeased me. I’m not quite sure why it is so difficult to get them to share their stories; perhaps they consider their lives nothing special or extraordinary. Nonetheless, they just can’t understand why someone would find their lives interesting.
Once they begin articulating these fascinating, often-humorous childhood stories, the details innocently reveal a side of them rarely seen. Their tales not only shed light on a generation, but also introduce me to friends and family who seem to exist only in old photographs. I’ve had the privilege of subsequently meeting some of them, but their numbers are diminishing, a loss for all of us. These stories fill in missing gaps and explain the idiosyncrasies and unique views of my in-laws, particularly when it comes to food.
My father-in-law, Umberto, “Bert,” was born in the North End on Charter Street, the third child of six children and second of four sons. His parents were from the villages around the southern Italian town of Avellino. His immediate family moved often and lived in various apartments in either the North End or the nearby Boston suburb of Medford.
Pepper and Egg Sandwiches
As a child, his mother would make him pepper and egg sandwiches for his school lunch. Frequently he would trade those sandwiches for a friend’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “Why?” I asked. (I would have preferred the pepper & egg myself) “Because,” he replied, “it was something we never had at home and I loved it.” Then the stories began to flow.
Bert immediately spoke of tripe, one of his favorite comfort foods. He laments that unlike during his youth, tripe appears less often on both kitchen tables and contemporary restaurant menus. He still enjoys it when he is fortunate enough to find it.
He then spoke glowingly about his mother making pasta every week and laying it upon their beds to dry; a favorite was fusilli, prepared by dexterously wrapping the dough around a dowel.
Basil and Gravy
His mother grew many things, including basil, which decorated windowsills and fire escapes. I would imagine if you closed your eyes, you’d smell the tomato, garlic and basil wafting from their open window to the street below. Sunday was “gravy” (tomato sauce with meat) day.
My mother-in-law, Isabel (Lisa Bell on her birth certificate due to a poorly interpreted Italian accent) was also born in the North End, in a third floor walk-up apartment above Parziale’s Bakery (est 1907) on Prince Street. She was the sixth child of seven, and third girl of four daughters. Ironically, she and her sisters were not taught to cook by their Italian mother, who also came from a village not far from Avellino. This surprised me. One can only speculate the reasons: safety, duty, and impatience.
My mother-in-law has an aversion to basil, which surprised me, but she could never explain why. She learned how to cook from her mother-in-law after she got married, who, ironically, loved basil, but it didn’t matter. She speaks fondly about her father, a waiter at the Cantina Italiana (est 1931) on Hanover Street. He always cooked on Tuesday, his day off, while drinking wine and listening to Enrico Caruso.
Over lunch last fall, I asked her if she remembered having a favorite dish. “Oh, I loved the snails my mother would cook in garlic and oil.” Purchased by the bag from Giuffre’s Fish Market at the corner of Cross Street and Salem Street, the snails would constantly crawl out of the bag in the sink and up the kitchen walls. Members of the family would pluck them down and place them back into the bag until dinner.
After the snail account, she moved to speaking of eels. Prior to becoming part of a family meal, the eels occupied the family bathtub. This description evoked audible gasps from her grandsons, whichs turned into a discussion they won’t forget and will likely share with their own children.
Pigeons, locally grown and caught (meaning snatched via an open window from a windowsill) were another culinary delight in the North End, though not to my mother-in-law. I found this out the hard way. As a new bride, I carefully and meticulously prepared a special dinner for my new in-laws that would include Rock Cornish game hens à la Silver Palate. Four lovely, brown, succulent birds came out of my oven. When I placed upon the table, my mother-in-law proclaimed that she would not be able to eat dinner. Why I asked? (Shocked and disappointed for I knew she ate chicken- although never on the bone) “I cannot eat them because they remind me of the pigeons from the North End.” Wait. Wasn’t this the same woman who expressed such passion for snails?
Both of my in-laws will not eat a lentil in any form. I discovered that they were not alone among many of their North End peers. The reason? Apparently there was a pasta and lentil dish from Campania that all the southern Italian children in the North End would be forced to eat regularly. How often? Enough that the mere taste of a lentil elicits a gag reflex. I surmise that this pasta and lentil dish comprised a protein-filled meatless meal, very economical for large families during the Great Depression.
And We Weave
Ironically, this is not just an Italian-American story, but also a New England narrative. Our region is home to many ethnic groups (Native American, French, Portuguese, Irish, Eastern European, Latino, Asian, Indian, African etc.) which share their history along with our colonial forefathers.
New England’s ethnic diversity is a true gift, one that is easily taken for granted, but noticeably absent in many areas of the country. Failing to capture these sometimes-quirky snippets from long ago means the human side of life gets buried with the storyteller.
Gather those family memories, stories and recipes from whichever New England state was home. For it is these seemingly insignificant threads that when woven together, create our regional, historical fabric. A fabric so strong, durable, and rich it can only be found here.
Historic city. Esteemed seafaring heritage. Some say she has seen better days. A pretty girl with a dirty face. Very proud people.
The description could apply to either Naples, Italy or New Bedford, Massachusetts. Having spent time in both cities, we see the similarities even though thousands of miles separate them. Both, in our humble opinion, are worthy destinations and offer far more to the visitor than may be apparent on their often tired facades. They also have an intoxicating vibrancy, fed by well-needed renewals. That’s why we keep going back.
Recently, on a beautiful, spring Saturday, we headed down to Massachusetts’ South Coast for some research and relaxation. For those of you not familiar, South Coast is the term used to describe the non-Cape Cod coastal section of Massachusetts that extends from the canal to the border of Rhode Island. Like much of coastal New England, this region blends natural beauty, hardscrabble living, local rituals, and rich American history. It doesn’t have the crowds or the kitsch of the Cape, but offers travelers a rewarding, yet accessible experience to explore New England. On this particular day, we covered the entire length from Wareham to Westport and included our regular, requisite stop in New Bedford.
Our destination in New Bedford was Travessia, an urban winery in the heart of the city. Travessia is run by Marco Montez, whose love for the vine flows as beautifully as his wine. Marco is reinstituting the ancient tradition of vinification in a city, rather than in a remote, rural setting. He chose New Bedford and frequently uses locally-harvested grapes for his array of wines. Though he does business sixty miles from the capital of Massachusetts, Marco is well-known by the Boston wine community and justifiably so: he’s a passionate New Englander who cares deeply about his product and his ties to the South Coast. But we digress. Travessia was our expected destination, but another place in New Bedford became our unexpected destination.
On the way to Travessia, we passed what appeared to be yet another, undifferentiated pizza establishment. Laura grabbed my arm, pulled me to a stop and pointed me to the name, “Brick Pizzeria Napoletana.” I tuned out immediately, which is normally uncharacteristic for me (and Laura), except when it comes to pizza. We’ve had so many lackluster pizzas over the years despite searching endlessly for great ones. For some bizarre reason, we take our pizza seriously – very, very seriously. I’m trying rather hard not to turn this into a pizza post because that one is already in the works. Nonetheless, being too often disappointed, I find that the Naples designation applied to pizza only exacerbates my angst because it’s almost always not like real Naples. Hence, we moved on to Travessia for a pleasant tasting with Marco.
After sampling some great wine and purchasing some nice bottles, we headed back to the car. Again, Laura stopped me in front of Brick. “They’ve got a real wood fired oven in there!” she exclaimed. “Wood-fired bad pizza is still bad pizza,” I responded. She was undeterred and dragged me in. I’ve been married too long and know when resistance is futile. Once inside, my nose reacted to the aromas immediately. They registered “Naples, Italy.” Wow. Interesting. I thought it was fluke and fought what my senses were telling me.
I saw the Caputo Flour in the kitchen, so I instantly knew they took their dough seriously. Then I saw the fresh mozzarella, the San Marzano tomatoes, and the sprigs of fresh basil. I started a conversation with John Goggin, the pizzaiolo, who was kind enough to give a skeptic like me history of the restaurant, a description of the ingredients, and a review of the baking process. In fairness to John, I did tell him that I spent many years in the North End of Boston in a famed pizzeria, so we had some common ground. John informed me that his son Jeff, whom we just missed by a matter of minutes, was the owner.
I capitulated to both Laura and John and ordered a classic Margherita pizza. Though one of the simplest of pizzas, the Margherita is the true test of a pizza establishment. More ingredients only serve to mask imperfections. And that was the challenge because there would be no room for error and it would confirm my anticipated disappointment.
Then the pizza arrived.
It was visually stunning. It was cooked to perfection. It was delicious. I was wrong – dead wrong. And I admitted it to Laura. (Another reason we’ve been married for 20 years.) This pizza was Naples, Italy-caliber. No kidding. I wanted to give John a hug. This was an unexpected experience. Right away, I wished I lived nearby so I could stop in regularly, perhaps pairing a great Margherita from Brick with a nice red wine from Travessia.
In the meantime, Laura and I will continue our trips to the South Coast, somehow knowing there will be more visits to New Bedford, to Travessia, and to Brick Pizzeria Napoletana. And what about Naples, Italy? We’ll head back there as well. It’s a jewel like New Bedford. Fortunately, we can now experience some Neapolitan pizza without the hassle of a long flight.
Are there take-aways here? Absolutely. In fact, there are several.
Great things are happening in older New England cities like New Bedford.
Entrepreneurs like Marco Montez and Jeff Goggin infuse life into our historic cities.
New Englanders like John Goggin make a huge difference for customers.
Massachusetts’ South Coast is a rich and evolving destination with no canals to cross.
The key to a happy marriage is listening to your spouse and admitting when you’re wrong.
Life is too short to eat bad pizza and drink lousy wine.
-Rob Ciampa, Palaverer
Photos credits: City-data.com (Wikipedia Commons), Travessia Urban Winery, Rob & Laura Ciampa
We love a great beer or ale, but finding an equally-great venue that serves them up properly is often a challenge. That’s why the Armsby Abbey in Worcester, MA had been on our radar since we heard about its opening in 2008. They are serious beer connoisseurs. Unfortunately, our schedules over the past couple of years only permitted a few quick stops in “The City of the Seven Hills.” Last week, after a recent run through the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts and Connecticut, we had a window of time to explore Worcester in greater depth. Stopping at the Armsby Abbey was the obvious choice for some light fare and some extraordinary brews. Several years back our expectations of a specialist pub were set by one of the finest in the country: The Brick Store Pub in the Atlanta, GA suburb of Decatur. They knew their Belgian ales; they knew their other European brews; and they knew their American artisinals. We soon discovered that our new place in Worcester did too – and then added some New England flare.
The Armsby Abbey, though a relatively small establishment, boasts a rich selection of American microbrews and craft European offerings. Beer enthusiasts will find many things to savor, but novices need not worry because the staff is quite generous with their assistance. We ordered Malheur 10 and Malheur 12 Belgian ales. Joe Scully, or any of the other talented members of the Abbey team, freely offer direction and recommendations. We spent time chatting with Joe during our visit about the selection and pairing processes. He is passionate and knows his beverage and menu offerings in great detail, something we’ve come to expect from better destinations in New England. Many of the Abbey’s brew selections change regularly, with current draught choices posted on a large, prominent black board across from the bar. The Abbey catalogues bottled beers separately, many with impressive pedigree and others lesser known, but equally good.
Beers and ales are not the only things the Armsby Abbey knows well. They also specialize in boutique distilled spirits and limited-production American wines. On the dining side, their “Farmhouse Menu” consists of fresh, artisan products, many of which are locally sourced and organic. Rather than make a substitution of lesser quality, the Abbey will simply not serve an item should they run out of a small purveyor’s ingredient. We were impressed by the menu’s variety, categorization, and especially taken by their “slates,” which are carefully chosen selections of farmstead cheeses, meats and various condiments. The “New England Slate” is a cornucopia of New England products from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont, that also includes local honey from Princeton, MA along with mustard from Worcester.
It was great to find a world-class pub like the Armsby Abbey in Worcester. Their bias toward locally-sourced, New England fare made it even better.
April in New England. Seasonal dissonance exemplified by days of cold and snow followed by seventy-five degrees and sunshine. A Red Sox game at Fenway Park with a ski jacket. One part of April remains consistent: Patriots’ Day. Though many outside New England don’t celebrate (or even know about) this holiday, many here in the six states (especially Massachusetts) do. For others, Patriots’ Day is also “Marathon Monday,” the day of the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest, famed race from Hopkinton, MA to the heart of Boston.
This historical significance of Patriots’ Day is difficult to miss. It commemorates the start of the American Revolution in 1775. Visit The Old North Church in Boston to see where the lanterns were hung. Wake very early and witness the first shots on Lexington Battle Green. (Arrive early and bring a stepladder.) Head to the Old North Bridge in Concord and view the Minuteman response and the turn of the battle. While there, visit the Old Manse, home of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne and garden of Henry David Thoreau. Be sure and look through the windows of this beautiful building from the vantage point where our ancestors witnessed the shot heard around world and saw the birth of a nation.
When the day is done, head back to Boston and explore the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street. The emotional impact of standing by the graves of Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and John Hancock is hard to describe. Contrary to some contemporary sentiment, we New Englanders are fiercely proud of our history — our American history. Perhaps the events from the 1770s in Massachusetts will remain a beacon of political discourse for many more generations.
As a final tribute to this historic day, allow us to share Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’sPaul Revere’s Ride, first published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1861 and later included in his Tales of the Wayside Inn in 1863. Historians are aware of some of the inaccuracies of the poem, along with lack of credit to the the other riders William Dawes and Samuel Prescott. Prescott was the only one to make it to Concord and deliver the warning. History will forever contain such inaccuracies, but one can’t miss the healthy vein of truth either. Happy Patriots’ Day.
-The Two Palaverers
Paul Revere’s Ride
(a.k.a. The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”
Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.
Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.
Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.
Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.
Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.
A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.
It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.
It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.
It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.
You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
There is great anticipation among New England food lovers each winter for the upcoming bounty. We’re not talking about oysters, even though they remain one of our favorite local delicacies. We’re talking about shrimp, specifically Maine shrimp, whose arrival is met with ever-increasing fanfare. A recent proclamation on Chowhound captured it well, citing both their wonderful taste and their versatility in a broad range of recipes. What’s surprising is that many in New England aren’t familiar with them, although a recent article from Midcoast Maine Free Press suggests that may be changing. We decided to share our own discovery.
Spending a good deal of time over the years on the bayous of Louisiana and in the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia changed our perception of shrimp forever. We were introduced to White shrimp, Brown shrimp, Pink shrimp, Royal Reds, etc. Knowing spawning cycles and seasonal patterns was not an exercise in science but rather a necessity for gastronomic indulgence. Buying the right shrimp at the right time from the right vendor was the recipe for the right dish. It spoiled us. We found that not all shrimp was created equal.
Unfortunately, we never gave much thought to local, New England shrimp. Was it lack of marketing? Could it be ignorance on our part? We don’t know, but our epiphany came during a wonderful Chinese New Year meal prepared by some neighbors a couple of years ago. This was the first time we heard about Maine shrimp. They explained that the tiny, sweet, cold water delicacies from the Gulf of Maine were only available in late winter – and only for a very brief time. Our neighbors were fortunate to have a camp on an island off the Maine coast, giving them an upper hand in knowing about this regional specialty.
Intrigued, we immediately began looking for these small crustaceans, but without much success. Then one day late last season, out of the corner of our eyes, we saw them at a local market: tiny, bright, and pink. So colorful in fact that we thought they were cooked, even though they were raw. We didn’t purchase any that day because we had existing dinner plans that evening. The next day we returned only to discover that they were gone, the season brought to an abrupt halt. Just like that. No more Maine shrimp would be arriving that year. Talk about poor timing!
This year we vowed to be more prepared, especially after reading an article about themin The New York Times informing us that the 2010 season would be extended through May. That was welcome news for our culinary mission to find and successfully prepare these little, elusive jewels. And found them we have from Maine to Massachusetts.
So what’s the big deal?
These cold water shrimp are completely different from any shrimp we’ve prepared and eaten. They are extremely delicate, sweet and succulent with a soft, melt-in-the-mouth quality. While many Mainers eat them raw, we prefer them cooked, just quickly enough for them to begin releasing some of their sweet “liquor.” Part of their characteristic charm is the subtlety of their flavor. Also important to us is that they’re from New England. (Perhaps biasing us a bit.) Not all are as enthusiastic as we, though, and Jacqueline Church offers a counter opinion. It wouldn’t be New England without a diversity of views, even if we’re talking about what’s in our own back yard.
Devra First from The Boston Globe referred to them as our own regional bugs. Having lived in the south, we agree with her and regard them as New England’s very own version of the crawfish, crawdads or mud bugs (as those in New Orleans refer to them). Although they visually resemble crawfish in appearance, Maine shrimp are slightly larger in size, lending themselves rather well to crawfish substitution in Southern dishes. Purists may argue this point, as that is where the similarities end, especially since Maine shrimp are from saltwater and crawfsh are from fresh water. Indeed, they are a different species with a different taste, but they certainly work in the kitchen.
We enjoy the flexibility in preparation,with most approaches being rather simple and quick. We either sauté them Spanish style with garlic, oil and a dusting of cayenne or boil them with Old Bay seasoning. Leftovers can be shelled and made into a creative shrimp salad. Shelled shrimp can also be used for such dishes as Low Country shrimp and grits, or for a creative, lemon-infused scampi, which adds a sweetness to the latter much like adding Limoncello would. One other interesting preparation we found is serving them in a stir-fry over coconut scallion rice. With the Maine shrimp in season now, we have them at least once a week. Even our teenage shrimp hater comes back for seconds. One final note on preparation: exercise caution because their small size makes them easy to overcook, so careful preparation is the key.
These little beauties are not expensive and range in price from $3.99 per pound unshelled to $8.99 per pound shelled. Two pounds easily feed a family of four. If you don’t see them, ask your local fishmonger to get them for you. Be sure to specify your preference for shelled or unshelled. With the season extended to May, there is no excuse not to indulge.
-The Two Palaverers
Photos credits: Bangor Daily News, Laura Ciampa, Rob Ciampa