Tonight I’m going to share some traditional New England recipes from some of Boston’s oldest restaurants. New England cooking is pretty basic, real comfort food. And of course, since we’re near the ocean, we eat lots of seafood.
I’ll start out with a couple of recipes from Boston’s oldest restaurant, the Union Oyster House. The building itself dates to sometime in the 1600’s; it became a restaurant in 1826.
The new owners installed the fabled semi-circular Oyster Bar — where the greats of Boston paused for refreshment. It was at the Oyster Bar that Daniel Webster, a constant customer, daily drank his tall tumbler of brandy and water with each half-dozen oysters, seldom having less than six plates.
The toothpick was first used in the United States at the Union Oyster House. Enterprising Charles Forster of Maine first imported the picks from South America. To promote his new business he hired Harvard boys to dine at the Union Oyster House and ask for toothpicks….
The Kennedy Clan has patronized the Union Oyster House for years. J.F.K. loved to feast in privacy in the upstairs dining room. His favorite booth “The Kennedy Booth” has since been dedicated in his memory.
Here are a couple of popular Union Oyster House recipes
1 lb Cooked lobster meat
4 oz Unsalted butter
2 c Half-and-half
Chopped fresh chives
1. Cut lobster meat into 1/2 inch chunks.
2. Melt the butter, and stew the lobster meat in it until the lobster is heated through.
3. Place the mixture in a warmed casserole dish.
4. Heat the half-and-half until piping hot, almost scalded.
5. Pour it over the butter and lobster in the casserole.
6. Garnish with chopped chives and serve at once.
Union Oyster House Gingerbread
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 cup unsulfured molasses
1 cup hot water (160 degrees F)
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch square baking pan, knocking out excess flour.
2. Into a bowl sift together flour, baking soda, spices, and salt.
3. In another bowl with an electric mixer beat together oil and sugar until combined and beat in egg and molasses until combined well. Gradually beat in flour mixture until combined and add water, beating until smooth.
4. Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool gingerbread in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of pan and invert gingerbread onto rack to cool completely.
5. Serve gingerbread with whipped cream.
Durgin Park is almost as old as the Union Oyster House. A Boston landmark since 1827, it is located near Faneuil Hall in the old market district. There is a huge shopping area there now, but when I first lived in Boston none of that was built yet. I’m going to share a some really old Yankee recipes from Durgin Park.
Boston Baked Beans
1 lb dried navy beans
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 lb salt pork
1/2 medium onion (peeled and uncut)
4 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1. Soak beans overnight. In the morning, preheat oven to 325°F Place the baking soda in a Dutch oven and fill half way with water.
2. Bring to a boil, add the beans & boil for 10 minutes. Drain beans in a colander and run cold water through them. Set aside.
3. Dice the salt pork into 1-inch squares. Put half of the salt pork on the bottom of the bean pot, along with the onion. Put beans in the pot. Put the remaining salt pork on top of the beans.
4. Mix the sugar, molasses, mustard, salt and pepper with 3 cups of hot water and pour over the beans.
5. Cover pot with lid and place the pot into the preheated oven. Bake for 6 hours. Check pot periodically to make sure the amount of liquid is okay. Add water to the beans slowly as needed to keep them moist; DO NOT FLOOD THEM. Just “top them up.”
3 cups milk
1/4 cup black molasses
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
Vanilla ice cream
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Mix together 1-1/2 cups of the milk with the molasses, sugar, butter, salt, baking powder, egg, and cornmeal. Pour the mixture into a stone crock that has been well greased and bake until it boils.
3. Heat the remaining 1-1/2 cups of milk and stir it in.
4. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake 5-7 hours.
5. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
Legal Seafoods was orginally a just a fish market. The restaurant started up in 1950. It has lots of locations nowadays, but at first it was just a little restaurant in Inman Square Cambridge. Seating was communal, with everyone sitting at long wooden tables. There was sawdust on the floor to soak up spills. Here are a couple of my old Legal favorites.
Legal Seafood Clam Chowder
4 quarts littleneck clams (about
1 2/3 cups cooked and chopped)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cup water
2 ounces salt pork, finely chopped
2 cups chopped onions
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled, and diced
into 1/2-inch cubes
4 1/2 cups clam broth
3 cups fish stock
2 cups light cream
Clean the clams and place them in a large pot along with the garlic and water. Steam the clams just until opened, about 6 to 10 minutes, depending
upon their size. Drain and shell the clams, reserving the broth. Mince the clam flesh, and set aside.
Filter the clam broth either through coffee filters or cheesecloth and set aside.
In a large, heavy pot slowly render the salt pork. Remove the cracklings and set them aside. Slowly cook the onions in the fat for about 6 minutes, stirring frequently, or until cooked through but not browned. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the reserved clam broth and fish stock, and whisk to remove any flour lumps. Bring the liquid to a boil, add the potatoes, lower the heat, and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through, about 15 minutes.
Stir in the reserved clams, salt-pork cracklings and light cream. Heat the chowder until it is the temperature you prefer. Serve in large soup bowls with oyster crackers on the side.
3/4 cup oyster crackers
2 tsp unsalted butter
1 tsp fine-chopped onions
1 tsp minced fresh parsley
1/2 tsp dried thyme or Herbes de Provence
4 x (7 to 8 oz.) scrod fillets, each about 1 inch thick
1/4 cup real mayonnaise
2 tsp fresh-grated parmesan cheese
crumb mixture: In a food processor fitted with metal blade, process crackers.
You want a crumb somewhere between medium coarse and medium fine; set aside.
In a medium skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat.
Saute onions about 2 minutes, or until translucent.
Do not brown. Add remaining butter, and when melted remove from heat and stir in reserved crumbs, parsley and thyme or Herbes de Provence.
Mix well and refrigerate until ready to use.
(Crumbs will need some stirring before use as butter will have solidified mixture a bit.)
Scrod: Preheat oven to 425 F.
Lightly oil a baking dish just large enough to hold fillets in a single layer and place fillets in it.
Stir mayonnaise and parmesan cheese together well.
Spread 1/4 of mayonnaise mixture evenly over top of each fillet.
Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons crumb mixture over each and press tops lightly so crumbs adhere to mayonnaise.
Bake in center of oven 12 to 14 minutes, or until fillets are just cooked through and topping is golden brown.
Legal used to sell a T-shirt that said “I got scrod at Legal Seafoods.”
Finally, here is a variation on bread pudding that is very popular in New England.
Grape Nuts Pudding
1 quart milk, scalded
1 cup Grape-Nuts cereal
4 large eggs
scant 1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (approx.)
Heat oven to 350°. In a medium-size bowl, pour scalded milk over Grape-Nuts and let sit 5 minutes. In a second medium-size bowl, beat eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add egg mixture to milk and Grape-Nuts and stir well. Pour into a buttered 2-quart casserole dish. Generously grate nutmeg over the top. Place the casserole into a deep roasting pan. Place in the oven and pour water into the roasting pan, enough to reach halfway up the side of the casserole. Bake 45 to 60 minutes, until almost set in the center (very slight jiggle).
Grape Nuts are really popular in New England for some reason. People even put them on ice cream.
So that’s my offering of vintage Yankee New England recipes–all great for a chilly fall day. Enjoy! You are invited to share your own recipes in the comments.