Boston is like a folded quilt with its well-known neighborhoods on top: The North End, Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Charlestown, The South End, Fenway, East Boston, and South Boston. Unfold the quilt to discover Allston, Brighton, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, West Roxbury, Roslindale, Mattapan, and Hyde Park. Many of these neighborhood were independent communities that became part of Boston proper in the late 19thcentury, an activity that also led to the expansion of other cities such as New York, which consolidated other cities into boroughs such as Brooklyn. Just as in Boston, smaller borough neighborhoods such as Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, still have maintain their own identity.
Recently, Rob attended a Sunday morning event at Doyle’s Cafe in the Jamaica Plain (JP to the locals) section of Boston. Founded in 1882, Doyle’s is not just a historic JP Irish bar and restaurant, but it’s also a tribute to Boston’s history. It’s worth a visit just to look at the walls covered with pictures, magazines, and newspapers that so eloquently echo Boston stories from a different time.
That Sunday morning event was Boston Media Makers (BMM), a regular gathering of people working with audio and video on the web: podcasters, videobloggers, filmmakers, artists, writers, PR and social media people. Our host was the indefatigable Steve Garfield, who’s rarely seen in Boston without a camera. While there, Rob met Roy Krantz, a publisher, web designer, and just a fascinating and passionate personality.
Roy explained that he and his wife Susan would be hosting a concert at their Jamaica Plain house featuring the Hi-Tone Ramblers. The band describes their style as a “melting pot of Anglo and African-rooted songs, rhythms, blues and old-time fiddle and banjo tunes.” Also at the BMM meeting was Tim Rowell, the Hi-Tone Ramblers talented banjo player. Both men extended a very warm invitation. How could two rather curious, sentimental people like us resist?
So… last night we headed down to JP. Not surprisingly, we stopped at Doyle’s for a quick bite and headed to Roy and Susan’s house nearby. We were surprised to find an unconventional house, a former printing shop that had creatively converted by Roy into an eclectic and charming home. Even better, its unique design and tall ceilings would shortly ensure great acoustics for both the band and the audience.
And the Hi-Tone Ramblers didn’t disappoint. With Cathy Mason on fiddle, Tim Rowell on banjo, Tim FitzPatrick on guitar, Bethany Weiman on cello, and Paul Strother on bass, they delivered two fantastic sets. Not a single foot was idle the entire evening. Complementing the music, the band members lightheartedly described the history and their philosophy of song selection. We’ve been to many concerts over the years, but we’re happy to say that listening to some creative string music in a converted print shop in Jamaica Plain proved to be one of the best musical experiences we’ve ever had.
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:
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.
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.