Leave it to everybody’s favorite Puritan Cotton Mather to see the worst in Boston, that City on a Hill, that cradle of liberty. Mather famously described the city as “almost a Hell upon earth, a city full of lies and murders and blasphemies; a dismal picture and emblem of Hell.”
What a crab.
This week, I’ll be visiting New England, at long last, and cooking a meal from More Than a Tea Party, written by the Junior League of Boston, and published in 1989.
As much a travelogue and a local history as a cookbook, More Than a Tea Party takes the reader around to the city’s most famous landmarks, providing a little historical background and the kind of trivia tidbits you can use to impress your friends and clean up on Jeopardy!
For example, did you know that the Boston Common was once owned by William Blackstone, an Anglican priest who regularly quarreled with the church? These quarrels were what brought him to the New World, where he was the first European to settle in what would become Boston. Ostensibly a missionary, Blackstone preferred herding goats, trading oysters with the Indians in the area, tending to his rose garden, and collecting volumes for his vast library.
When the Puritans began to arrive several years later, Blackstone quarreled with them, too, and quickly decided that he’d be happier somewhere where there weren’t so many Puritans. He sold off “his” land, and settled in what would eventually become Rhode Island, a haven for many early European settlers who found themselves on John Winthrop’s bad side.
The Common would be used for three top Puritan activities: grazing cattle, training the militia, and public shaming. The carpenter who built the first stocks was, ironically, the first person to be installed in them – Winthrop thought that he overcharged for his services.
From the Common, More Than a Tea Party guides readers around the city to the following landmarks:
Other highlights include the Old State House, built in 1713 as the seat of the King’s colonial government. The lion and unicorn sculptures atop the east cornice were torn down in 1776 as symbols of tyranny, although they were later acknowledged to be awesome-looking, replicated, and restored:
And the Paul Revere House:
And to think that though the schools may have failed to teach me any of this, the Junior League of Boston picked up the slack.
But lest I get distracted from food by all the history, Boston is a town with a rather famed culinary heritage, helped a bit by the fact that they put the city name in front of anything they happen to be famous for cooking there – baked beans, brown bread, cream pies, clam chowder… it’s a branding thing, I guess.
Besides these well-known dishes, local staples include cranberries, apples, shellfish, and squash. There is a surprising amount of squash in More Than a Tea Party, so I’ll definitely be making a squash dish, and the opportunity to eat Boston Cream Pie is simply more than I can resist, so I’ll try that out, too.
In discussing the culinary history of Boston, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it’s also the home of the famed Boston Cooking School, founded in the 1870s by the Women’s Education Association of Boston. Mary Lincoln began there as a student, and eventually became its director, publishing Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book: What to Do and What Not to Do in Cooking in 1884. Lincoln said of the cookbook’s style
[Recipes] must be clear, but concise, for those who are already well grounded in first principles. They must be explained, illustrated, and reiterated for the inexperienced and the careless. They must have a word of caution for those who seem always to have the knack of doing the wrong thing. They must include the most healthful foods for those who have been made ill by improper food; the cheapest as well as the most nutritious, for the laboring class; the richest and most elaborately prepared, for those who can afford them physically as well as pecuniarily.
She’d later be replaced by another student, who would publish a rather famous cookbook of her own.