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Revisiting New England from Fluff to Baked Beans

The United States is a diverse country. We are a culturally, intellectually, and religiously diverse people, and our regional foods reflect that. Every state, and even every city can lay claim to its own slice of American culinary culture. Buffalo, NY contributed the chicken wings that are so popular on game day, Philadelphia is all about the cheese steak, and it is hard to think of Chicago without thinking of deep dish pizza. While New England may not have a dish as popular as the buffalo wing or as iconic as Texas barbeque, a surprising number of amazing foods have roots right in our own back yard.

I started thinking about this when I saw a new book sitting on one of my co-worker’s desks awaiting processing. “Fluff: The Sticky Sweet Story of an American Icon” by Mimi Graney chronicles the story of the fluffy marshmallow spread that has been a lunchbox hit for decades. After reading this entertaining history and running to the store to purchase a jar of the marshmallow-y goodness I was seriously craving, I came to think of other things that are regional favorites.

Naturally, my mind went straight to what many people consider to be the Commonwealth’s most recognizable treat: Boston cream pie. While this “pie” might be the official dessert of Massachusetts (yes, Massachusetts has a state dessert), I don’t find it to be terribly representative of classic New England food culture. As Brook Dojny explains in “The New England Cookbook : 350 Recipes from Town and Country, Land and Sea, Hearth and Home,” New England cooking has been shaped not only by the native peoples that have inhabited this land for countless generations, but also by the multitude of immigrants that found their ways to our rocky shores, and even by geography itself.
Quintessential New England recipes are hearty and filling. They use easily available ingredients, largely from local sources, and are rarely fussy or overly complicated. Some prime examples of this are baked beans, chowders, Johnny cakes, steamed seafood, and the fruit cobblers and pies that are so prevalent on our tables.

Speaking of desserts (mostly), “The New England Orchard Cookbook : Harvesting Dishes & Desserts from the Region’s Bounty” by Linda Beaulieu was another recent find that solved a problem common to many Bay State families this time of year. We were positively drowning in a glut of apples after an apple picking outing with my husband, sister, and niece. Even with four enthusiastic apple eaters, we had barely made a dent into our haul weeks later. While I had to order this book from another library in the Minuteman Library Network, it was well worth the wait. Part travel guide, part agricultural history lesson, and part cookbook, this book did not disappoint. In no time, we had reduced our apple stock- without getting sick of them!

While most New Englanders can agree that an old fashioned apple pie is delicious, there are many traditional dishes that folks love or just love to hate. Moxie soda (love), brown bread from a can (love), Necco Wafers (love, especially the clove flavor), clam chowder (hate), and even good old marshmallow Fluff (love). Regardless of whether you think Indian pudding is delicious or horrible, mealy sludge, I think we can all agree that New England has a lot to offer when comes to filling our bellies.

Read Alli Palmgren’s column in the November 23, 2017 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin. Alli is the Technology Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library.

Liz Reed

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