They’re great with cheese, even better with peanut butter, and (along with ginger ale) are perfect for settling an upset stomach. In fact, you probably have a box of them in your cupboard or pantry right now. But did you know that crackers have their roots in Newburyport?
Are they making masks or sea biscuits? Is there really even a difference?
In 1792, Newburyport resident John Pearson sought to create a biscuit with a long shelf life. You may be wondering how dreadfully boring 18th century Newburyport must have been if townspeople were occupying their time with baking experiments – but boredom was not the case. Newburyport was a rich maritime hub; the home to an important, bustling port. Pearson was concerned as the traditional biscuits sailors took along on their voyages went stale fairly quickly. Baking a mixture of water and flour, Pearson created a long-lasting biscuit known as “hardtack” or “sea biscuits” which became very popular among the grateful sailors (who probably weren’t aware that they were eating baked paper mache).
But how did the cracker get its name? Well, in 1801, another Massachusetts baker, Josiah Bent, burned a batch of his biscuits and found that, as they burnt, the biscuits made a cracking sound. Thus, the name “cracker” was born.
Bent wanted to expand the “sea biscuit” market beyond sailors and make a snack food everyone could enjoy. Savvy to the fact that water and flour didn’t make for a pleasant taste, he experimented with flavors and eventually came up with the soda cracker (great-cracker-grandfather to the saltine). Bent’s cracker business grew and popularity and was purchased by Nabisco (aka, the National Biscuit Company) in 1810. The rest, they say, is history.
Lobster bake at the Gloucester House
Were seafood aware of the divine right, lobster would be king. On the North Shore, we are lucky to have some of the best lobster – be it a buttery-delicious lobster roll at Woodman’s of Essex, Turner Seafood’s specialty baked lobster, or the quintessential New England lobster bake at the Gloucester House.
While today, it is considered a delicacy, lobster has a dark past which would probably shock many a lobster enthusiast. …Okay, maybe not “shock,” but it would come as a surprise that lobster is the Cinderella of crustaceans, once considered so worthless and repulsive that even servants and slaves turned their noses up at it.
When the settlers first arrived to Massachusetts in the 17th century, lobster was abundant. Lobster would wash right up on shore in big piles and people would just pick them up and bring them home for dinner. As we have learned with commemorative Elvis plates and coins sold on late-night TV, when there’s a lot of something to go around, it depreciates in value. This abundance, combined with the fact that the crustacean looks like an insect (the word “lobster” even comes from the Old English word “loppestre,” meaning “spidery creature.”) made lobster a poor man’s dish, only suited to feed slaves, servants, prisoners, and children. We’d like to think that, when it came to the children, lobster was the 18th-19th century equivalent of lima beans or brussel sprouts. It is said that many servants, we assume taking full advantage of their societal station over prisoners, slaves, and kids, had stipulations in their contracts stating that they would not eat lobster more than 2-3 times a week.
Eating lobster aboard the Schooner Lannon
All of this changed in the late 18th century with the railroad. Lobster was cheap and plentiful (and often canned, taking its place alongside tuna and Spam), making it a good food to serve on trains. Passengers from around the country weren’t aware of New England’s aversion to lobster and found the seafood quite tasty. Mind you, New Englander’s issues with lobster had nothing to do with flavor or taste – their dislike stemmed from the fact that it was cheap and looked like a bug. When lobster caught on with the fancy railroad travel crowd, the upper class in Boston and New York jumped on the bandwagon, cementing lobster’s place as a seafood delicacy.
The story, however, does not necessarily end there. With this new-found popularity, lobster prices rose higher and higher. When the Great Depression hit, people just couldn’t afford to buy lobster. What goes up must come down and, by World War II, canned lobster was being pushed on reluctant soldiers stationed abroad.
Unlike many other foods during the second World War, however, lobster was not rationed. With not a lot of other choices, people began eating lobster and, once again, realized that it was quite tasty. Lobster caught its second wind and once again rose in popularity among high society and celebrities. Today, we still consider lobster a delicious delicacy.
Sources: A Taste of Lobster History
How Lobster Got Fancy
On Wednesday, we visited Maudslay State Park in Newburyport on a quest for springtime photos of the region. A beautiful, 480 acre estate on the Merrimack River, the park was the homestead of the Moseley family at the turn-of-the-century. Where once stood two mansions, barns, greenhouses, gardens, and so much more is now a picturesque property with stunning views of the river and numerous trails.
There are still remnants of the park’s grand past – a root cellar, the gates to the original Moseley Estate, and the foundations of buildings long gone (all of which have provided fodder for a slew of ghost stories and purported hauntings throughout the years – and, while fun, are completely unfounded).
Today, the park is a fantastic space of hikers of all levels, picnics, kite-flying, horseback riding, biking, and casual walkers. They offer many programs for hiking enthusiasts and, in the spring and summer months, Newburyport’s Theatre in the Open puts on free plays and shows. If you are not familiar with the park, we recommend looking over a map beforehand – there are a few twists, turns, and dead ends and one could get lost easily.
Click on the photo for a larger view of the map.
For more information, visit the Maudslay State Park Association’s webiste – http://www.maudslayassociation.org/index.html
For a brief history on the park and the Moseley estate, visit http://historyofmassachusetts.org/maudslay-park-in-newburyport-mass/
Even if you don’t find yourself in the rotogravure or have a sonnet written about your bonnet, there is still a lot to do this Easter on the North Shore! Here are just a few hop-pening events and delicious treats on the way…
Chococoa Baking Company
50 Water Street
The Tannery, Mill Building #1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Chococoa’s to-die-for Whoopies are getting all dressed up for Easter! Chococoa is partnering with Jenny’s Wedding Cakes to bring you special Easter-inspired designs which look almost too good to eat! Designs are available for their scrumptious chocolate/vanilla whoopies and lemon/lemon whoopies. Supplies are limited, so order yours today at 978-499-8889 or e-mail Getwhoopie@Chococoabaking.com (we can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to make them last until Easter!).
Easter Bunny Brunch
April 20, 2014
DoubleTree by Hilton – Boston/North Shore
50 Ferncroft Road
Danvers, MA 01923
Join us the DoubleTree for an Easter Brunch. It’s a family affair, including live entertainment, an Easter Egg Hunt and pictures with the Easter Bunny! Brunch Buffet will feature Chef’s Carving Stations, an Omelet Station and Waffle Station. Adults $38, Children $18, Children 5 and under free. Sunday, April 20th. Seatings at 11:00am, 11:30am, 12:00pm, and 12:30pm. Reservations required, please call 978-750-7990.
Easter Brunch at Tupper Manor
April 20, 2014
295 Hale Street
Beverly, MA 01915
Hop, hop over to Tupper Manor and celebrate this special holiday! Enjoy a bountiful brunch buffet while enjoying the historic atmosphere of Tupper Manor and ocean views. Entertainment for the kids including the Easter Bunny & Easter egg hunt at Noon & 2:30pm. Seatings are at 11am and 1:30pm. Adults – $39.95, Seniors – $33.95, Children (3-12) – $15.95 and Chicks (2 & under) eat free!
85 Leavitt Street
Salem, MA 01970
Looking to satisfy your sweet tooth this Easter? From peanut butter eggs and milk chocolate moon bunnies to Sweet Sloops packaged in festive Easter and spring gift boxes, Harbor Sweets has something for you! We recommend the Robert L Strohecker Assorted Rabbits – solid chocolate and filled to the brim with almond butter crunch, caramel, pecans and whole toasted almonds.
Rockport Easter Egg Hunt
April 19, 2014
The Rockport Division of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce sponsors an Annual Rockport Community Egg Hunt for the children of the town each year. In addition to an appearance by the Easter Bunny, an assortment of candies and chocolates are distributed and the hunt also features a number of special eggs to be redeemed for prizes.
Victoria Station’s Easter Sunday Buffet
April 20, 2014
11am – 6pm
86 Wharf Street
Salem, MA 01970
Have a memorable Easter with you family at Victoria Station & Vic’s Boathouse! Enjoy their well-known, outstanding Easter Buffet with beautiful panoramic views of Salem Harbor. The fabulous menu features carving stations, banana-Nutella french toast, seafood stuffed sole, a dessert and pastry buffet, and so much more! Make your reservation today by calling 978-745-3400.