Opinion: The Best Brown Bread In The Boston Burbs
Longstanding traditions give the region its character.
If I learned one thing over the weekend about Lynnfield, it's that the town historical society makes one exquisite ham and bean dinner, even if it's to go.
Checking out the society's country store fundraising event Saturday in the Old Meeting House, I decided to buy one of the pre-cooked and packaged ham and bean dinners, figuring I could bring it to my Aunt Pat's house the next night for a Sunday dinner.
It turned out to be a great dinner for both of us, a pleasant surprise, and a reminder from some of my previous experiences in journalism.
The ham glaze and the baked beans were both perfect, and the cole slaw was terrific as well. However, what really capped the meal was the New England brown bread, with its molasses and raisins. I'm not sure who made that brown bread, but their recipe should be declared a town treasure and stored in some secret vault in the Old Meeting House or something.
The funny thing is that I tried brown bread for the first time only a couple of weeks ago, only to find myself a short time later raving about it in a light opinion column on Patch.
However, it wasn't just the great food that got me thinking and writing this column. It was also where I got it from - in a 300-year-old historic structure amid other generations-old New England traditions while getting to make a modest donation to some fellow history lovers. It doesn't get much more New England than that, and it also serves as an example of the many combined experiences over the years that have made me love working in journalism.
New England Traditions Live On
Earlier this decade, I spent three years as a news editor for a newspaper in Central New Hampshire. The region included many small towns that continue to honor time-tested traditions like bean hole suppers, Old Home Day and the Boston Post Cane tradition.
Region Boasts a Quirky Past
For the unfamiliar, more than a century ago the former Boston Post newspaper sent out canes to all the towns in New England, which came to be held by the oldest member of any given community. Over time, many of these canes were lost, or the tradition fell into disuse in some places. Some seniors would refuse the cane, seeing a rather morbid angle to the whole thing - it's not like the holder tends to keep it a very long time after all.
To this day, I'm sure my former newspaper in Laconia, New Hampshire occasionally receives a press release or photo announcing another Boston Post Cane ceremony.
The other New England tradition I cite, Old Home Day, dates back to the time when large numbers of people began to leave the region to settle in newly-opened territories like Ohio. Many New England towns, especially more rural and agricultural ones, would have "Old Home Day" celebrations, a set period of time, perhaps a week or two, in the summer when settlers would come back to visit their home towns and friends and families would be back together again.
Even the town common itself is deeply rooted in New England tradition, evolving from the place where town militias trained into a public gathering place.
Reminded of Time in New Hampshire
New England has countless traditions that help make it a unique and special place. This weekend reminded me very much of the time I spent in New Hampshire - an area that holds more than its share of bean suppers and which is far enough north to also host sled dog racing championships and a major ice fishing derby in the winter.
Classic Start to the Season
For this particular weekend, the ready-made ham and bean suppers were part of the historical society's major annual fundraiser, with proceeds going to support upkeep of the Old Meeting House. If anything though, $10 was a bargain for such an exceptional and tasty meal.
Every part of the country has certain local and annual traditions. In New England, these traditions have molded an entire region into one of the most historic and accomplished in the nation.