On December 1, the Groton Historical Society welcomed sixty people to the beautiful Boutwell House for a program about the history of Christmas celebrations through popular foods of the 1770’s, 1850’s and 1930’s thanks to the Groton Commissioners of Trust Funds.
The presenter, Clara Silverstein, is the Community Engagement Manager for Historic Newton and a former food writer at the Boston Herald. She has published three cookbooks, including The New England Soup Factory. Clara blogs about historic recipes at heritagerecipes.com.
Participants were treated to samples of Sarah Boutwell’s Cider cake and hot cider prepared by Bobbie Spieglman, President of GHS, Bonnie Carter and Liz Strachan. The Boutwell House was decorated with festive greens, fruit, popcorn and cookies. These were provided by Penny Hommeyer, Lynne Kavanaugh and Linda Andelman. Outdoor planters were decorated by Ann White and Laura Semple. The Woman’s Club provided a decorative swag for the front door and the Nashoba Board of Trade donated poinsettias. Special recognition goes to the GHS program committee members, who did the prep work to bring this program to Groton, Nancy Barringer and Judith Adams.
3 Centuries of Holiday Celebrations in New England from John Ellenberger on Vimeo.
- And there was much enjoyment.
- Clara Silverstein speaks about "Ginger to Jello: an Unexpected Christmas History" in a December 2015 program.
- Historical foods!
Thanks to all who attended today’s very special Groton Historical Society open house, where we experienced the sights, sounds, and tastes of the holiday season.
Sights were provided by Garden Club members including: Lee Burton, who put forward the suggestion for members to help out; Penny Hommeyer, Lynne Kavanaugh and Linda Andelman, who did the indoor decorating; and Ann White and Laura Semple, who did the planters. The majority of the lovely greens came from the home of Peg McWade, and Penny and Lynne brought some lovely greens and winterberry as well. The swag hanging on the front door was donated by the Groton Woman’s Club, and the poinsettias were donated by the Nashoba Board of Trade.
Sounds were provided by the following student musicians of Indian Hill Music: Kristen Williams, flute soloist; Claudia Castro and Erin O’Neill with instructor Sue Gleason, all on flutes; and the adult recorder group of Barbara Murray, Camilla Blackman and Dorrit Schuchter.
Tastes, of course, were provided by all who shared their cookies and the traditional family recipes from whence they came.
by Kara Fossey
The leb cakes are spread out on every available surface-the kitchen table, the dining room table, and the enameled counter of the Napanee hoosier cabinet that has stood in the kitchen forever. There is a method to it, like an assembly line. My grandmother’s two sisters make the dough and cut out shapes with a seemingly endless supply of tin cookie cutters. I like the antique ones best because they’ve darkened with age and I imagine all the hands that have used them to shape dough. The cutters are mostly shaped like animals. The best part about the cookies is that the outlines are always familiar: there is the Pennsylvania Dutch distelfink [a stylized bird], the fat bunny, and the lumpy figure that is simply referred to as the ‘bear or the dog.’
The cookies are tested for doneness by pressing a finger into the center to see if it slowly bounces back. Grammy ices the cookies once they’ve cooled enough that the icing won’t run down the sides of the cookies and adhere the bottoms to the tray. My brother and I stand at the dining room table with bottles of vibrantly colored sugar: red, orange, yellow, green, blue. I won’t learn until years later that Grammy carefully makes each of these batches of sugar by adding food coloring to plain white sugar and then rolling the sugar out between layers of wax paper before letting it dry overnight.
There is something about time shared in the kitchen and over food. It has a way of staying with you even when the details of other memories curl at the edges. It’s how I remember Grammy leaning over a pot of boiling potatoes on her vintage stove and laughing as she smothers the flame that catches on her apron. It’s how I recall the smooth edges of the Griswold cast iron pan as it fluffs up a batch of perfect scrambled eggs. It’s how I know to store my potato chips in the freezer for freshness. And it’s why I treasure an old wooden box filled with recipes written in neat cursive.
And now, in my own home 350 miles away, wearing Grammy’s apron and standing at my great-grandmother’s hoosier, I shake sugar on rows of leb cakes cut from those same old cookie cutters and marvel that something as simple and ephemeral as a cookie has the seemingly magic ability to close time and distance. The buzzer goes off on the oven once more and it’s impossible to feel she’s not there.
On Sunday December 6th, the Groton Historical Society will host a holiday open house and cookie swap from 1-4 PM. The Boutwell House at 172 Main Street will be decorated for the holidays thanks to the Groton Garden Club. There will be live music courtesy of Indian Hill Music. We encourage visitors to bring along a dozen of their favorite cookies and their family food memories to share.
Clara Silverstein, who will be presenting heritage recipes at the Society’s program on December 1st, has released a version of Groton’s own Sara Adelia Boutwell’s 1850s-era cider cake, a dessert fit for a 19th Century governor! This updated recipe was originally published on Clara’s Heritage Recipe Box website.
Sara Adelia Boutwell’s Cider Cake (1850s)
Makes 16 (2 inch square) pieces
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup apple cider
1/2 cup molasses
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup sour milk or buttermilk (see note)
Powdered sugar, for serving (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-by-8-inch pan.
- Sift together the flour, ginger and baking soda and place in a large mixing bowl.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the cider, molasses, melted butter and buttermilk.
- Slowly add the cider mixture to the flour mixture, stirring gently, just to combine the ingredients (do not mix too much).
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for approximately 18 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick comes out clean.
- Let cool before slicing and serving. Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar if desired.
Note: The original recipe called for sweet milk, but I wanted a more acidic ingredient to help the baking soda work effectively. To make your own sour milk, add a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup of milk, stir, and let it sit until bubbles form on top, about 5 minutes.
In advance of the Society’s Heritage Cooking Event with Clara Silverstein on December 1st and the Heritage Cookie Swap on December 6th, we’d like to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.
Pictured above is The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1899). The painting shows common misconceptions about the event that persist to modern times: Pilgrims did not wear such outfits, the Wampanoag are dressed in the style of Native Americans from the Great Plains, and what can we say about the seating arrangements?
For the more authentically inclined, Slow Foods USA has documented some traditional Thanksgiving recipes, including Wampanoag and pilgrim recipes for all the nasaump, turkey sobaheg, boiled bread, curd fritters, samp, and stewed pompion you’ll need to recreate your own First Thanksgiving of 1621. Also available are many other delicious-sounding harvest and holiday traditions from across the country.
The recipes are complimented by information and links about the complicated and often-controversial origins of the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s definitely worth a look!
Slow Foods USA – http://www.slowfoodusa.org/thanksgiving