Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Taunton Inn

Make sure you like where you drink.  You never know if your favorite watering hole might become your nursing home.

This has happened to my grandmother's friends.  As young men and women they drank at The Herring Run or had dinner in the Haitian Room, both part of the Taunton Inn in Taunton, Massachusetts.  They ate special dinners or attended wedding receptions at the Taunton Inn.  Now elderly, they live there.

Why is that?  Today, the building once known as the Taunton Inn is Marion Manor, a skilled care center.  The property has been a nursing home since 1962.

The Taunton Inn that my grandmother and her friends knew in the 1950s featured a ball room, the Haitian Room, and a bar and restaurant called The Herring Run.  I should note that The Herring Run was an air-conditioned bar and restaurant. Many old postcards and advertisements highlight this very special feature.

The Herring Run called to mind the annual migration of herring in Taunton. Every spring the fish traveled from the ocean towards freshwater spawning grounds. The herring swelled the Taunton River and its tributaries, and local men with seines swept them out of the water. The Herring Run looked rustic, but, in one man's recollection, it was "the classiest" of all the bars in Taunton.

You might think it would be incredibly depressing to spend your last days in the transformed spaces of your youth. One day you're raising a glass with friends at a favorite hot spot.  Then, before you know it, you're back there again. Only this time, you're on the wrong side of ninety and someone's raising a glass to your mouth because you can't anymore.

I cannot deny that sounds awful. Yet even in a nursing home not all days are like that.

My grandmother's friend, we'll call her L., loved living at Marion Manor precisely because she thought she was at the Taunton Inn.

I won't lie. L. had dementia and was no longer totally in control of her own thoughts. Yet because she lived where she had spent so many happy times, L. approached everyday as though a waiter were about to appear with another round of drinks. She believed that whatever cup was in her hand was a Manhattan.

And why not? She was at the Taunton Inn. What else would she be drinking?

Friday, April 27, 2012


Me: "Look, there's a recipe for cookies called Hindus."

E.: "That's not racist or anything."

There's no use sugar coating it.  Someone named these cookies "Hindus" because they contain both chocolate and molasses and are, if you will, dark-complexioned cookies.

Oh the hilarity.

The recipe comes from the Rumford Common Sense Cook Book, compiled by Lily Haxworth Wallace.  The 64-page book is undated, but various folks on the web think that it was published in about 1930.  Based in Rumford, Rhode Island, the Rumford Chemical Works produced the cookbook in order to promote its Rumford Baking Power.

(The Clabber Girl Corporation continues to make Rumford Baking Powder, although not in Rhode Island.  Before I get a disgruntled note from the Clabber Girl and her legal team, let's make it clear that there is absolutely no reason to think that the company promotes racist cookie recipes or endorses any racist uses for baking powder today.)

If this book does in fact date to 1930, it might be that the "Hindus" are reflective of 1920s-era American attitudes towards people from India. Not only was the Indian independence movement in the news, so too was U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind, a 1923 Supreme Court decision that excluded Indians from U.S. citizenship due to reasons of race.

Historically, U.S. citizenship had a lot to do with race.  The 1790 Naturalization Act limited U.S. citizenship to free, white persons. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildalgo not only ended the Mexican-American War, it also declared that Mexicans could be U.S. citizens.  That was true even if by the early twentieth century many "Anglos" in the Southwest tried to get around the fact that Mexican-Americans were not just citizens but also legally white.  The Fourteenth Amendment rendered Americans of African descent U.S. citizens.  The 1870 Naturalization Act allowed African aliens to become citizens.  Yet it also opened the possibility that all Asians could be excluded from U.S. citizenship.  Later, in 1882, the U.S. Congress barred all but a small segment of the Chinese from entering the United States, and it renewed that restriction in 1892 and 1902. Not until 1943 were Chinese persons allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship.

If you're wondering, Native Americans did not receive full U.S. citizenship rights until 1924. 

But if in 1923 blacks, whites, and Mexicans were eligible for U.S. citizenship, and the Chinese ineligible, what did that mean for Asians from places such as India?  Were they barred from becoming naturalized citizens?

In 1923, Bhagat Singh Thind, a Punjabi Sikh who lived in Oregon, put that question to a test.  He didn't challenge the racism underlying citizenship law.  Instead, Thind claimed that he was eligibile for U.S. citizenship because he was, indeed, white.  He was white, because he was from Northern India, a region settled by "Aryans."  If he was "Aryan," Thind argued, he was white and, therefore, eligible for U.S. citizenship.  The Supreme Court disagreed: Asian Indians were neither white nor permitted to become U.S. citizens. 

Is it a coincidence that less than a decade after the Thind decision there appeared a recipe for dark-colored, decidedly non-white cookies called "Hindus"?

I'm not shocked to find that one of my great-grandmother's old cookbooks has a racist recipe.  What surprises me is that the author correctly spelled Hindus. You'd think she would have gone with "Hindoos," which is far more derogatory.  It's almost as though she was trying not to be racist.

Was she?  We could also imagine that, while the cookies are racist because they are a play on skin color, they were inspired by the Indian independence movement of the 1920s.  Gandhi, a Hindu, gained world-wide fame in the 1920s for his commitment to non-violence and his leadership in the fight to end British rule in India.

These are some very serious cookies.

But not everything in the 1920s was so sternly different from today. The Rumford Common Sense Cook Book contains other, humorous, non-racist gems.  For example, it would be a terrible shame if I fail to make the Corn Flake Cookies.

Then there is the fantastic advice on school lunches.  What kid wouldn't want mashed baked beans with mayonnaise or chili sauce?  Of course, I used to eat chow mein sandwiches, so what do I know?  I certainly was unaware that: "Boys like plain folding lunch boxes, girls prefer daintiness of equipment."

Feel free to study this page yourselves.

For the record, I assume that the Spanish Meat Loaf is racism-free.  It contains pimientos, which are Spanish.  That one's legit.  Although, only someone lacking common sense would ask for this meatloaf in Spain.

Even if these recipes are probably not something you'd likely Google in preparation for your next meal, they might be worth trying. The "Hindus" were delicious. No, they were the best cookies I've ever made.

The batter was light and fluffy.  Forget about baking, I could have served it in a tall glass and called it dessert.  It was like a fine mousse.  So, seeing as I'm not going to serve "Hindus" to my friends, I've decided to change the name from "Hindus" to Mousse Melts.

E. agreed with me.  "That's far less racist," he said.

Less?  I was going for not racist at all.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Grumpkies, Galumpkis, Gowumpkies, Gołąbki, or Something Like That

What is this recipe called? My great-grandmother wrote it and she or one of her daughters tucked it within the pages of her 1908 Lowney's Cook Book.  I think it is or it is supposed to be Grumpkies. Maybe Gumpkies. Something like that.

A while back, I posted this recipe to my facebook page in hopes that someone would know of it. Susan, a childhood friend who now makes beautiful cakes for a living, recognized it as galumpkis. She wrote that her sister often makes them.

At that point, I figured my great-grandmother just couldn't spell galumpkis. But after talking to my mother, I think she was trying to spell grumpkies. Maybe.

In February, I was sitting in a car at a traffic light with my mother when she mentioned that she's had really good "grumpkies" at Patti's Pierogies, a restaurant in Fall River, Massachusetts. 

"Grumpkies?" I asked my mother.

"Grumpkies," she said.  "It's hamburg wrapped in cabbage."

"I thought it was galumpkis."

She gave me a puzzled look.

"I say grumpkies," she informed me.  (She hates it when she suspects that I'm challenging her Taunton accent.)

"I think I have your grandmother's recipe for grumpkies."

"Oh, yes, my grandmother made great grumpkies." 

Mystery solved. If my mother calls it grumpkies, then my great-grandmother probably did the same. But then I did a little more digging.

The newspaper article in the link on Patti's indicates that the staff there pronounces it gowumpky or gowumpkies. Is my great-grandmother's recipe supposed to be titled gumpkies? It looks kind of like gumpkies. Maybe I need a Polish language class. 

However you say it, after seeing this video about Patti's pierogies, I think I need to make a trip to Fall River. This restaurant looks like a lot of fun. Mom's been holding out on me. 

Some of you might know galumpkis or grumpkies in the Polish form, gołąbki. You can find recipes for galumpkies or gołąbki on the internet, including ones from celebrity chefs Tyler Florence (who also can't pronounce the dish) and (Fall River's own) Emeril Lagasse

Grumpkies is a bit more obscure, or it least that's how it looks from a Google search. I found that at least two people have posted their recipes for grumpkies. I don't know if this word is specific to the Northeast, but my mother is clearly not the only one who uses it. A woman named Cara writing on the web posted her recipe on facebook and discovered that her friends had the same names and more for these little pockets of cabbage, beef, and rice. 

Whether you say galumpkis, grumpkies, gowumpkies, or gołąbki, I think we're all talking about basically the same dish.

Then I wondered how my Irish-American great-grandmother came to make "great grumpkies."

From what I could piece together from my mother, it has something to do with the Polish population of Taunton, Massachusetts. As a kid my mother had lots of Polish classmates and ate grumpkies at their homes after school quite often. She wasn't the only one with Polish pals. I don't know if my great-grandmother had Polish friends, but her daughter, my great-aunt, used to attend the "quick mass" at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church on Bay St. in Taunton, which had loyal Polish-American parishioners. She also loved Holy Rosary's annual Polish festival with the wonderful food made by the Polish-American women of the parish. Grumpkies was one of their dishes.

Perhaps my great-grandmother was inspired by these women to make grumpkies for her own family.
Holy Rosary is not far from what was my great-grandmother's more Irish-American parish, St. Mary's, located near Broadway in St. Mary's Square. So, perhaps she visited the festival. Or, maybe her daughter went to the festival and begged her mother to make grumpkies. It could have been that some of the older women making food at the festival were my great-grandmother's friends, as members of both parishes probably lived in the overlapping neighborhoods around Broadway and Bay Street. Hard to say, but I think the short distance between St. Mary's Church and Holy Rosary had something to do with her acquiring this recipe.

The festival used to take place at a pavilion in "Cabbage Hill," which later became the site of the former Pepper Pot restaurant. Cabbage Hill was the name of the Polish neighborhood, but my mother remembers that the wooded area around the pavilion was called Cabbage Hill and that members of Holy Rosary and others would gather there to polka and to eat Polish food during the festival.

It's really nice to be able to put this recipe into some local contexts.  It also reminds me of something that I recently learned about how people from the South Coast region of Massachusetts, including myself, talk about ground beef. I recently picked up a great cookbook by Brooke Dojny called New England Home Cooking. It references a May 1997 South Coast Insider article that notes South Coasters' tendencies to refer to ground beef not as "hamburger" but as "hamburg." My great-grandmother did the same in the recipe.  Not all of Taunton is part of the South Coast, but close enough. 

I'd never thought about it before, but I rarely use the word hamburger.  "I'll have a hamburg." "Pick up some hamburg for dinner." My mother and I speak the same language after all. 

Pass the pierogies, folks, because I haven't even wrapped the hamburg in cabbage yet. This post's a long one.  

So, I after I made the rice, I started by prepping the cabbage head.  I parboiled it, cooled it, and peeled off leaves one by one.  Then it was time to cut pieces of salt pork and to create the hamburg, rice, onion, and egg mixture.
With everything ready, I filled each leaf with about a quarter cup or so of the hamburg mixture and a piece of salt pork.  (The salt pork in the photo is probably twice larger than necessary.) I folded the leaf over the mixture, making sure to tuck in the bits of leaf from the sides.

All told I put about 19 pieces in the oven.

The results were excellent. Next time, however, I will cover the dish in the oven with foil to prevent the leaves from drying out. I was surprised that I didn't have to add pepper or another spice. The salt pork was enough.  

We ate out little cabbage pockets with sour cream, although most have them with a tomato sauce.  My great-grandmother really did make great grumpkies . . . or galumpkis, or gowumpkies, or gołąbki.  Something like that.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Among the family recipes that I have gathered is one for brownies included in a note written to my Great-Aunt Barbara. 

46 Oak Street 
Taunton, Mass.
June 24th

Dear Barbara -
   Congratulations and all that sort of thing! I hope you will have the best of summers.
   I can not thank you for being such a trump the day of the fashion show! Please let this "baseline" help me.

Martha Foster


Baseline? Maybe that's a play on baste line? Fashion show humor. You had to be there. (Or maybe someone out there can transcribe that line better than I did.)

Thanks to good ol' retro-stalker (, I was able to determine that Martha Foster lived at 46 Oak Street in 1933 and 1934, when Barbara was fifteen or sixteen years old. Born in New Hampshire in 1902, Martha Foster worked as a teacher at Taunton High School.  In 1938 she married her colleague, Walter Bowman, and thereafter she was known as Martha F. Bowman. The couple lived in Taunton and finally settled in or near Mattapoisett, Massachusetts.

I doubt that Barbara and Martha were close friends. Martha Foster was born about 16 years before my great-aunt.  Barbara attended St. Mary's, not Taunton High, so it's unlikely that the two had a student-teacher relationship either. Nevertheless, even as a teenager Barbara was probably a godsend at a fashion show. She was always at her sewing machine.

It's just a nice little thank-you note and someone in the family probably saved it for the sake of keeping the recipe. Maybe Martha's brownies were the culinary hit of the show, and Barbara just had to make them herself. My great-aunt was a wonderful cook.

Well, the fashion show may be long over, but we can still judge the recipe. The brownies are chewy and moist and not too difficult to make. They're a little sweet though. Maybe baking chocolate has a bit more sugar now.

You'll need a small pan. Keep in mind that it was the 1930s. Waste not, want not and all that sort of thing.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Irish Date Bread

I found this recipe in my great-aunt's desk, which, it turns out, is another treasure trove of recipes clipped from newspapers or cobbled together from friends. It's not in my great-aunt's handwriting, so I assume someone gave it to her.

This one's a puzzler. There is nothing inherently Irish about this recipe. Dates? Ireland? Turkey or Israel, maybe, but not Ireland.

The ingredients do not resemble that of either Irish or Irish-American soda bread, so it's not an offshoot of those cousin concoctions. Irish-American soda bread, scone-like and full of raisins and caraway seeds, is nothing like the very bread-like Irish soda bread. The Irish-American version, to state the obvious, is an American adaptation. Both are quite good and I make loaves and loaves of both versions around St. Patrick's Day. This bread is like neither of them.

But what's the fun in being Irish-American if you can't call all that you do "Irish"? My mother labels everything from an angry outburst ("He really got my 'Irish' up") to someone's tendency to keep family secrets ("That's the 'Irish' in him, you know") to a child's inability to keep said family secrets ("He has the 'Irish' whisper") as "Irish."

If someone thinks that a date-nut bread can be "Irish," who am I to question?

And so, in the spirit of adaption and benign ethno-centrism, I trust that somewhere in time or in some Irish-American's imagination this recipe was most Irish.

The first part of the recipe is very, very sweet. If you've ever been to Ireland you know that the Irish are a people with a sweet tooth. So, sure, it's Irish! I boiled the sugar, dates, water, and butter, and I could have eaten that mixture on its own. But I showed enough restraint to proceed with the recipe.

All in all, it turned out great. Who couldn't use another Irish recipe? I get a little tired of being the fifth person to bring an Irish soda bread to the St. Patrick's Day celebration. It's also always nice to have something new to eat when I watch Darby O'Gill and the Little People and that crazy, endless donnybrook scene from The Quiet Man. Or, if you're a bit classier than I am, maybe you just need something to nibble on after church. However you celebrate, try this recipe if you're looking for something different to make for March 17th.

If people ask you if the bread is Irish, just say, "Sure. It said so on the Internet, so it must be true." Say it with a funny accent.

I won't tell. That's the Irish in me, you know.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I grew up eating hermits all the time, because my father really likes them. No one else I knew ever ate these spiced raisin cookies though. They're still around, but they are by no means something that I see everyday. This recipe was one of the many my great-aunt collected or received from friends. Perhaps a friend named Helen Alexander gave it to her.

They're simple treats, and yet it seems that no one really has them figured out. Many believe that hermits probably originated in the New England region. One interested blogger out of Boston named Lady Gouda thinks of them as bars rather than as cookies. I can see that. Another notes that they were especially popular during the Great Depression. That makes sense, since molasses would have been cheaper than sugar.

My father didn't grow up during the Depression, but both of his parents served as social workers helping people to make it through that hard time in the city of Fall River, Massachusetts. I may not know where hermits come from exactly, but I do know that my grandfather introduced them to my father.

Or maybe their living in New England predisposed them to this molasses cookie. According to the authors of America's Founding Food: The Story of New England Cooking, beginning in the late nineteenth century and continuing through the first decades of the twentieth century, New England cooks overwhelming preferred molasses to sugar regardless of costs. Sensing that Yankee identity and New England's influence in the nation were waning, female cooks and cookbook writers looked to molasses and its historical ties to New England as a means to managing the blows to their identity. Perhaps molasses helped to foster the popularity of hermits in region.

I guess the Yankee identity crisis had subsided by the time my great aunt received this recipe, because it does not contain molasses. The hermits that my father and I have enjoyed were much darker in color than than the ones that I made from my great aunt's recipe. That's probably due to the lack of molasses and to the fact that I only had light brown sugar on hand.

Most recipes for hermits require molasses, and some, but not all, list brown sugar as an ingredient. So, this recipe is unique or unusual in that it calls only for brown sugar. Coffee is also not a standard ingredient, but there are many hermits recipes out there, including one that claims to be Pennsylvania Dutch in origin, that use coffee.

New England. Pennsylvania. No one knows where these simple, little cookies or bars began.

Nevertheless, the person who penned "delicious" on the recipe before putting it through the ditto machine was right. These hermits are really good. They may not have molasses, but even with the first bite there was no mistaking Helen Alexander's recipe for anything other than hermits.

And who was Helen Alexander? Well, what I know about her makes my knowledge of hermits look encyclopedic.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Lost (Doughnuts)

I had been looking forward to making these doughnuts, although the thought of figuring out how to fry them seemed very daunting. Inexperience + boiling oil = fear. That's an easy recipe.

Just when I got the guts to do it, I noticed that this recipe for doughnuts does not include flour. Is it even possible to make flourless donuts? Even if you don't use flour, surely there has got to be something to hold the batter together. The lack of an egg or two on that front seems problematic as well.

I read this recipe and I envision a big milky ball of sugar with a bit of butter. It just can't be right.

Perhaps my great-grandmother thought flour and eggs were such obvious ingredients that she didn't need to write them down.

It's at times like this that I want to break out the photo albums and label every grammar school friend, fourth cousin, and step-uncle just so that 75 years from now some grandchild or great-grandchild of mine isn't cursing me for assuming that what I know will be immediately intelligible to those around long after I am gone.

On that note, I present these pictures of people who were so obvious to my great-grandmother that she didn't bother to write down their names.

We'll call these folks The Flour:

And these, The Eggs: