Category Archives: Salem

Pursuing Punch and Mr. Cassell

Now (almost) fully in holiday entertaining mode, having (almost) left the semester behind me, I have been perusing old cookbooks in pursuit of a famous punch traditionally served at Hamilton Hall’s annual Christmas Dance. It’s a particularly potent rum punch, which led to a few horrible hangovers in my youth. Now I know how to handle it and have no fears of this weekend’s dance! I had my own little party a few days ago and hoped to serve it myself, but I didn’t find quite the right recipe, despite consulting the most obvious source, the 1947 Hamilton Hall Cook Book. I like this slim volume for several reasons: the shortness of its recipes, which are limited primarily to ingredients and very few processes, the odd names and ingredients (“Shrimp Wiggle”, “Maggi Essence”, “Veal Bewitched”, “Forced Meat Balls”, “Old Election Cake”), historical information embedded in the recipes, and the various topical features, primarily those on the Hall’s Rumford Roaster (which I wrote about in an earlier post) and one of its most famous resident caterers, Edward P. Cassell. The most amazing image in the little book is a portrait of Cassell in front of the Peirce-Nichols House, basket of “coveted invitations to an Assembly, a debutante ball or a wedding at which he was to be major-domo” in hand, taken by Salem photographer E.G. Merrill in 1907. It’s an iconic image of an iconic man: at this time, the cookbook proclaims, Cassell had been “a Salem institution for nearly half a century and Salem [was] justly proud of him.”

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Edward Cassell 1907 Merrill

I wish I could find the correct rum punch recipe and I wish I knew more about Mr. Cassell. He was the second African-American resident to cater to the crowds at Hamilton Hall, succeeding John Remond, the patriarch of the well-known Abolitionist family and quite the entrepreneur himself. Despite his more recent vintage, Cassell seems much more mysterious than Remond, although I haven’t really taken the time to dig into his life and work. The long history of service provided by African-Americans to the denizens of Salem, in and around Hamilton Hall, needs more attention, I think, along with the cumulative experience of African-Americans in Salem. I do know that at the commemorative exercises held in recognition of the 250th anniversary of John Endecott’s landing in Salem in 1878, the tables were laid by Mr. Edward Cassell, the well-known caterer, and were handsomely decorated with a choice display of flowers, arranged beautifully in large bouquets, and a small one at each plate, with a neatly designed carte de menu, memento of the celebration and that the lunch embraced more than a score of dishes, substantial and elegant”, that he was famous for his ice-cream figures (mostly animals) and savory salads, that his Ropes Street home burned to the ground in the Great Salem Fire of 1914, and that he died in the following year. But that’s about it. As to the punch: no rum variety in the Hamilton Hall Cook Book, but there is an interesting recipe for “1858 Mulled Wine” involving lots of boiled wine thickened with egg yolks and topped with frothy egg whites which looks to me far older than 1858. This is the forerunner of egg nog, called caudell in the medieval era and caudle later. This popular drink, like its cousin posset, was enjoyed at Christmas and all winter long, and inspired the creation of bowls, spoons, and cups for just that purpose–like the charming late 17th century cup made by John Coney, which later came into the possession of Oliver Wendell Holmes and the collection of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Caudle Cup MFA 1690


Christmas in Salem 2014

I found this past weekend’s annual Christmas in Salem house tour to be rather eccentric as compared with previous years: centered on Lafayette Street and its side streets, it included both Colonial Revival houses that were built in the decade after the Great Salem Fire of 1914 and Victorian houses located just outside the conflagration zone. The focus on the Fire was more implicit than explicit–except for one house which featured a mantle of Christmas decorations made out of Fire devastation scenes! I did visit the Gove House of my last post, which has been subdivided into condominiums which feature original architectural details: lots of woodwork, beautiful doors and windows, and an amazing coffered ceiling and conservatory in one unit. Every single home on this year’s tour had a distinctive personality, presented as much by its architecture as the collections and creations of its owners, which were featured quite prominently. There were three homes open on Fairfield Street, the most distinguished post-Fire street, including one that was decorated by a group of very tasteful ladies (including, I must unabashedly add, myself), for two very tasteful owners. So of course, from a completely biased perspective, this house was my favorite!

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Six Fairfield Street a few years after it was built in 1915 (from Frank Cousins’ Colonial Architecture of Salem) and yesterday.

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Christmas in Salem 2014 Gove House

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The first floor of the Gove House on Lafayette Street.

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The colorful exterior of Seven Linden Street, built in 1855.

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Nine Linden Street: where the Gove family’s servants lived in the later 19th century. The tile around this fireplace has a subtle Greek key design which you can’t quite make out in the photograph.

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Sparkling Five Fairfield Street, built, solidly, in 1915.


Spotlight on South Salem

This weekend’s (35th) annual Christmas in Salem house tour is centered on South Salem and the neighborhoods along Lafayette Street which were rebuilt after the catastrophic Great Salem Fire of 1914. This seems like a very appropriate architectural focus for this commemorative year, and the tour poster really conjures up the era as well. All the tour information can be found here; it’s too late to buy advance tickets but they will be available on Saturday and Sunday at the tour headquarters, the Saltonstall School on Lafayette Street. Christmas in Salem is the most important annual fundraising event for Historic Salem, Inc., Salem’s venerable preservation organization which was formed in the 1940s to save the 17th century Corwin House (now unfortunately called the “Witch House”) from destruction. Generally the tour focuses on the downtown neighborhoods and Salem’s colonial and federal architecture, but occasionally it ventures out to the more outlying sections of town, including North Salem, the Willows, and now South Salem.

South Salem Tour

I’m looking forward to the tour because it will feature several (predominately Colonial Revival) homes on Fairfield Street, which I’ve featured on this blog several times. Now we get to go inside! Just after the fire, the property owners of this street commissioned the most renown Boston-area architects to rebuild their homes, with pretty impressive results. I have served as a tour guide for Christmas in Salem for many years, and I’m still not sure whether the majority of tour (ists? -goers?) are enchanted more by the architecture or the decorations, but for me it’s definitely the former. I walk to work along Lafayette Street two or three times a week, and there are several houses along my route that I examine in detail as I walk by–one of which is also on the tour. This is the William H. Gove house, an imposing Queen Anne mansion that survived the 1914 conflagration. Built by Salem attorney William H. Gove (who entered his profession through an apprenticeship, then went to Harvard College and Harvard Law School) in 1888, this mansion really dominates the streetscape and has a myriad of details that capture my attention every time I walk by. It was transformed into condominiums several years ago, and a ground-floor unit is on the tour. I know that Gove was a successful and wealthy man, but I can’t help wondering if some of his wife’s family fortune went into the construction of this house, as his mother-in-law was the one and only Lydia Pinkham, whose famous over-the-counter herbal remedy, Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, made her the most successful female entrepreneur of the nineteenth century. Perhaps Mr. Gove would not be pleased with this suggestion.

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South Salem Gove House 1984

South Salem Gove Mansion

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The William H. Gove House (1888) today, in 1984 & 1918; Trade Card for Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, 1880s, Baker Library, Harvard University; Lafayette Street facades.


Thanksgiving Colors

We spent Thanksgiving up in my hometown of York Harbor, Maine, which is only about an hour north of Salem. When we arrived York looked very different than still-green Salem, coated in icy snow. Many people in the southern counties of Maine and adjacent counties of New Hampshire lost their power due to a Thanksgiving-eve snowstorm, but we were fortunate to have light and heat and lots of food and drink. While waiting to eat on Thanksgiving Day, we took a drive around the grey town: York (encompassing York Harbor, York Village, York Beach and Cape Neddick) is a summer town and it always looks strikingly stark to me in the winter. I’ve also got some pictures of my stepmother’s Thanksgiving table here–before we messed it up. When we returned to Salem, all was icy and white but today is forecasted for the 50s so the terrain is returning to that golden brownish-green hue so characteristic of November.

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This cat o’nine tail exploded before we left; the rest burst while we were away (just one day and night!) Impossible to clean up all this fluff.

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Thanksgiving table: Della Robbia plates and Shaker chairs.

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Fifty shades of grey off Nubble Light.

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White on white: one of my favorite houses in York, and the gargoyle outside my parents’ house.

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My favorite childhood painting.

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Back home; sunny Sunday.


So Many Puddings, so Little Time

I am not cooking this Thanksgiving (fortunately), but that did not stop me from browsing through cookbooks old and new (which is of course much easier than cooking). My recent dip into the history of molasses exposed me to a world of puddings, and I would like to make a least one over the holidays. Puddings of the past seem so interesting and textural, much unlike the smooth packaged puddings we have today. Pudding has become a rather generic word for desert in British English, but in the past, there were clearly variant types of puddings–savory and sweet, boiled, steamed, moulded, drippings, blood, bread, fruit, pastry, custard–with a wealth of amazing names:  “Quaking Pudding”, “Hasty Pudding”, “Spotted Dick”, Cabinet, Bakewell, “Queen of Puddings”, Roly-Roly. By the middle of the nineteenth century, when the popular Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management was first published, the list of puddings had been whittled down some, but was still quite long.

Puddings and Pastry Beaton

Before the nineteenth century, puddings were both savory and sweet: the trend line is definitely towards the latter but it takes time. I’m looking through my neat little facsimile edition of The Second part of the Good Hus-wives Jewell (1597) and what puddings do I see? A pudding of “Calves Chaldron”, several recipes for that perennial Scottish favorite, Haggis pudding, a pudding of veal and spices, and a  “pudding in a pot” with mutton or veal. No sweets. I consulted Joseph Cooper’s The art of cookery refin’d and augmented containing an abstract of some rare and rich unpublished receipts of cookery (1654) to gauge pudding developments in the seventeenth century, and found a mix of savory and sweet: rice puddings and bread puddings, “white puddings” and “black (blood) puddings”, oatmeal pudding, French barley pudding, “a hasty pudding in a bagge” and shaking and quaking puddings. Haggis was hanging in there too. For the eighteenth century, I looked at two cookbooks and found a diverse array of pudding recipes. Henry Howard’s England’s Newest way in all sorts of Cookery, Pastry and all Pickles that are fit to be Used (1708) offers up Green Pudding, Calves’ Foot Pudding, Puddings in which to boil chickens and/or pigeons, and cabbage pudding (yuck), along with a “Good Pudding” that looks like a mix of sweet and savory, while A Collection of above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick, and Surgery (1734) has recipes for apple, orange and lemon puddings, along with liver pudding (yuck, yuck) and the soon-to-be classic plumb pudding.

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The eighteenth century does seem to be the golden age of puddings, which were so important that they even became political. I found a Salem pudding story in the charming little book written by Marianne Cabot Silsbee, A Half-Century in Salem (1887): apparently the city’s Federalists and Democrats were divided not only in their politics but also their pudding-eating habits, with the former eating their pudding before the main courses, the latter after. Puddings were perfect symbols for satire and caricature across the Atlantic, as the plum(b) pudding came to be both quintessentially British and Christmas in the nineteenth century. It in this century that my favorite pudding (besides “Hasty Pudding”, which is transformed into “Indian Pudding” in America with the substitution of corn meal for oats) emerges:  “Tipsy Pudding”, better known as Trifle. That’s pretty common now, so I want to go for something old/new in my own pudding experiments: I think I might try out the “Amber Pudding” (which is very old) and “Hedgehog Pudding” recipes in the wonder book of Victorian puddings, Puddings and Pastries à La Mode (1893) by a certain Mrs. DeSalis. Because right after Thanksgiving, it’s pudding time.

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Pudding Time Cruikshank

All Cookbook images: British Library; Puddings & Pastry here;  George Cruikshank, “Pudding Time”, Plate 6 from Illustrations of Time (1827), British Museum.


From Cure-all to Confection

The amalgamated Holidays officially kick in this week, so it’s time to think about festive things to eat and drink. Last year at this time, I seemed preoccupied with the latter, but now I’m thinking about food. I came across my grandmother’s recipe for molasses cookies–very thin, crispy and buttery, my absolute favorite, and started wondering about the principal ingredient. There must have been tons of it here in Salem in the nineteenth century, as it was the key ingredient in rum production and there were so many distilleries here. I know that molasses was imported into New England from the West Indies in the colonial era, but it think there were domestic refineries in the nineteenth century: was it produced in Salem? If so, where? Molasses-making is a messy business: was Salem ever in danger of experiencing its own version of the disastrous 1919 Great Molasses Flood in Boston? And what about consumption (besides rum): molasses does seem to have been much more in demand a century or so ago than now: why? There are so many recipes out there–for Black Jacks, still produced by America’s oldest candy shop, Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie right here in Salem, as well as for another local molasses creation, Anadama bread, not to mention Indian Pudding, Boston baked beans and Boston brown bread. Molasses seems to be as characteristically New England  or “Boston” as the Red Sox. Then the English historian in me kicked in and I confronted the age-old question:  what’s the difference between molasses and treacle? Then the sixteenth-century historian in me kicked in, and I wondered what was the connection between molasses and the root of that old English word treacle, theriac, which was sold as a powerful panacea across early modern Europe. And just like that, my mind had wandered/wondered from cookies and candy to plague cures.

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Advertisement for the famous Mary Jane molasses and peanut butter candy, made first by the Charles N. Miller Company in Boston in 1914  and later by the New England Confectionery Company (Necco).

The migration of medieval medical recipes into the culinary sphere was not always a straightforward process, but it’s best to proceed from the past rather than the other way around. Theriac was an ancient electuary (medicinal paste) used first and foremost as an antidote to venomous snake bites. In the classic case of fighting fire with fire, The flesh of the snakes themselves was an essential ingredient, along with lots of others–64 in all in the classic Galenic recipe. In the course of the Renaissance, theriac was compounded to various formulas and came to be regarded as a universal antidote and panacea, with that produced in Venice generally regarded as the most effective, and the most expensive, naturally. As poison was associated with plague in the late medieval medical mentality, so theriac became the key plague antidote and consequently its preparation was serious business: under official supervision to ensure the proper process and correct composition.

Theriac Hortus Sanitatis 1491

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L0057175 Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641

Theriac preparation from snakes (the origins of snake oil???) from the Hortus Sanitatis of Jacob Meydenbach, Mainz, 1491; woodcut illustration by Hieronymus Brunschwig of a physician supervising the manufacture of theriac by an apothecary, Liber de Arte Distillandi de Compositis, 1512, and seventeenth-century Italian majolica theriac jar, Wellcome Library.

Despite its (undeserved) reputation for efficacy, Venetian theriac could not crowd out the market in plague cures and regional recipes began to develop. In England, there were several major developments in the use and perception of theriac over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: in typical English fashion, the foreign word had long been anglicized as “treacle”, and  “Venetian Treacle” became an ingredient in variant plague cures and preservatives, rather than the exclusive antidote at about the same time that the London College of Pharmacists ruled that treacle need not contain snakes, and treacle (sans Venetian) started appearing in both medicinal and culinary recipes. Everything really changed–or came together–in the course of the seventeenth century, an era that was characterized by many, many recipes for “treacle water” as well as increasing imports of refined sugar from the West Indies, along with its by-products. These sweeter syrups, collectively called treacle, began to replace honey in the medicinal “London Treacle”, at about the same time that they started to appear as key ingredients in recipes for gingerbread, tarts, and puddings. So treacle comes to mean any syrup made during the sugar-refining process: black treacle, golden syrup, blackstrap, and molasses–all of which were relatively cheap ways to sweeten your plague water or your pudding. There were also treacle “lozenges” that soothed the throat and provided a bit of “sweatmeat” at the same time, and a recipe for gingerbread cakes that closely resembles that for my grandmother’s molasses cookies.

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Treacles

A mid-17th century recipe for Treacle water containing Venice Treacle and less exotic ingredients, Wellcome Library Manuscripts; recipes from Mary Kettilby’s Collection of Above Three Hundred Receipts in cookery, physick, and surgery: for the use of all good wives, tender mothers, and careful nurses (1714–Thick Gingerbread) and Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1747–Gingerbread Cakes); The two British treacles: plain treacle or “golden syrup” and “black treacle”, the closest approximation of American molasses.

 


When Monster (Buildings) Attack

Salem is still in the midst (throes) of a relentless building boom that began several years ago with the construction of an over-sized courthouse and will eventually encompass a train station/parking garage (just opened), a new hotel complex, and an expanded campus for Salem State University. This is a lot of construction for a relatively small city, and the buildings are big. Actually I’m not sure whether the scale of these structures bothers me more than the design, though now that I’ve thought about it for a second, it’s definitely the former with the courthouse and the latter with the proposed hotel complex, which looks like it is shaping up to be a truly ugly building. Anyone who has glanced at this blog briefly knows that I’m a traditionalist when it comes to architecture so no surprises there. But I don’t want to write about the design attributes of these buildings in this post: I’m more focused on what the average citizen can do when these big projects attack–and they can, at any time and anywhere. After years of watching these developments play out, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that there is very little that one person–or even a group of very dedicated and well-connected people–can do to stop them, most especially if the state is the developer. The process usually goes something like this: the project is proposed in all its glory, people get mad, and organized, but are repeatedly told that it’s a done deal, a fait accompli, except for (relatively) little details that are subject to mitigation, these details get discussed in the review process, the project gets built, period. And that’s how Salem got its GIANT courthouse and its generic parking garage. Even though Salem State University is Salem State University, the process of development has been a bit more collaborative, at least from my perspective (which could be very biased, as I work there), but now the university wants to build a large parking garage in very close proximity to a residential neighborhood that really doesn’t want it there. And I’m wondering if they have the power to stop it.

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Massive/massing: the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center in Salem; the new Salem Station Parking Garage; the proposed RCG Hotel Complex with “Cube” wing, courtesy Salem News.

I’m very torn on the Salem State parking garage, and not just because I work there. It seems quite apparent to me that design is a much greater priority for those who are planning the Salem State campus than those who are transforming Salem’s downtown. Salem State has 10,000 students and no parking garage–obviously it needs one (but it also needs a train stop)! There are actually three separate campuses: must there be one HUGE parking garage rather than three smaller, less obtrusive ones? I suppose this option is cost-prohibitive, but this is what every student that I’ve talked to wants. And there are plans for more buildings: won’t forcing this garage down the neighbors’ throats hurt future development plans? The neighborhood has organized itself into a group called Save our Salem (S.O.S: they started out as Save South Salem so this was a wise change), and they look committed. I’m really hoping that this particular superstructure doesn’t harm the environment in which I live and work.

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Facades and aerial outline of the proposed 54-foot, 725-car parking garage on the North Campus of Salem State University; Save our Salem signs along Raymond Road.


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