Those who live in and near New England know that the Northeastern part of the country is steeped in tradition. With a bountiful coastline and land that is lush and verdant, New England is home to some of the country's greatest food sources. The region is best known for its seafood, dairy products, and classic American produce, like blueberries and cranberries.
The first shared Thanksgiving feast between colonists and natives took place in New England in 1621. Though it is doubtful any turkey or pumpkin pie were consumed, the dishes that are synonymous with the holiday all have roots in New England soil. One might even argue the mighty hamburger as we know it today was born in New England. It was a small roadside restaurant in New Haven called Louis' Lunch, established in 1895, where the beef patty became sandwiched in-between two slices of toasted white bread. The same burger is served exactly the same way today.
It is no wonder therefore, that such renown chefs as Julia Child, Jacques Pepin and Todd English to name a few chose to live in the region. Fanny Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook Book standardized recipes and gave household hints. It is still in print. As palates of Americans become more sophisticated - after all, everyone is a "foodie" these days (a word, truth be told, that makes me cringe) - New England now boasts some of the very finest restaurants around. Yet, many of New England's greatest and most traditional dishes can be find at small and casual eateries. They can also be made and enjoyed at home, such as the Toll House Cookie, created by Ruth Graves Wakefield who owned the Toll House Inn, in Whitman, Massachusetts. Below I share with you some quintessential New England foods, some of which you'll have to come visit to taste, but most can be enjoyed no matter where you live.
The Maine Lobster, or the "Lobsta," depending on who you're talking to might be New England's greatest gift. Fresh from the icy cold Atlantic waters, the Maine lobster, is one of the sweetest juiciest around. The best time of year to enjoy these crustaceans is from Mid Summer through Mid Fall. While delicious year-round, lobsters actually shed their hard shells, and those with softer ones yield a sweeter more tender meat. For more read here.
From the Lobster comes the lobster roll, a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Many will sample as many varieties as possible when they come up to visit. Although now popular and readily available at many restaurants nation-wide, there's something about biting into one of these sandwiches in New England that makes it even tastier. Lobster rolls can be served 2 ways, warm with clarified butter on a toasted bun, or chilled with mayonnaise, herbs and celery. Both can be excellent and yet both can easily go awry quickly by adding too much mayo or butter. Ideally you want just enough to bind the meat, but not so much that the lobster is drowned out. Typically these decadent sandwiches are served with potato chips or French fries and cole slaw. (Potatoes are also abundant in New England soil.)
Lobster boils a part of a new England Summer lifestyle. These are best, and generally enjoyed outdoors, with a large group of friends or family. They feed a lot of people and very little prep work of cooking time is involved. Typically, in a boil one finds corn, clams, mussels, potatoes, and onions. Sausage, shrimp and or lobster are used as well. Don't forget to pre-order your lobsters! Epicurious has a recipe.
A Clam bake isn't altogether different from a lobster boil, though traditionally it begins with a gathering of seaweed. It's really just a matter of what you prefer to call it. Williams-Sonoma has a great recipe.
And the there is Clam "Chowda." Although there are numerous varieties, from New England to Manhattan, to those from the Pacific Northwest, this soup as defined by the Webster Dictionary is "a soup or stew of seafood (as clams or fish) usually made with milk or tomatoes, salt pork, onions, and other vegetables." It is thought to have originated as a fisherman's stew, comprised mostly of local area fish and tomatoes, in a clear clam broth. Rhode Island, as opposed to the rest of the New England area, is known for the broth-like base. For more on the various types of chowders, head on over to the Eater.
Fried Clams aren't exactly a dieter's best friend, but when fresh and freshly fried and topped with a healthy amount of lemon and then dipped in tartar "ta-tah" sauce, it might seem as though all the stars have aligned. Don't worry, there's so much to see and do in New England you'll likely walk those calories right off!
Quahogs are larger clams. Stuffed Quahogs are practically a delicacy. Mixed with breadcrumbs and often sausage such as andouille or chorizo, these rich, meat-filled shells are popular among tourists and locals alike.
Not all New England food is heavy and laden with calories. Steamers are a delicious and light alternative to enjoy what local waters have to offer. Broth, white wine, garlic, and green onions give these mollusks a healthy dose of flavor. Grab ahold of some good crusty bread to sop up some of the wonderful juices.
You say "erster" and I say oyster - but let's not call the whole thing off! Grilled oysters, if you've never had them, are phenomenal, and a lot healthier than their fried counterparts. Bon Appetit has a great guide to prepping and grilling them so that you can enjoy them no matter where you are... Aw, shucks! (Sorry, couldn't help myself!)
Oysters on the half shell. Give me a dozen, please! New England waters yield the most tender, sweetest oysters. You really don't need to put anything on them, though I happen to love cocktail sauce and horseradish on mine!
Here's an Oyster Guide to help explain the best New England Has to Offer
Deep cups, with a fruity, almost berry-like finish. The Indian name means “fast water.”
White to brown in coloring, with medium cups and light and clean brininess; somewhat sweet.
Medium to large size; silky-smooth meat, with a clean and lingering ocean essence.
Glidden Point (Maine):
Big boys from the Damariscotta River, with a slightly briny, crisp, and clean ocean flavor.
Island Creek (Massachusetts):
Large shells with small meat; sweet and slightly nutty in flavor.
Moonstone (Rhode Island):
Often power washed to produce pearl-white shells; silky-smooth meat with a full-bodied, rich saltiness.
Very plump, with a crisp, cold-water richness.
Deep cups filled with plump meats; mild saltiness and a sweet finish.
Ninigret (Rhode Island):
Medium size, with a creamy, nutlike taste at first and a clean, briny finish.
Wild samples vary from very good to excellent; deep cups brimming with strong brininess and a sweet seaweed flavor. Farmed Wellfleets are also consistently good, with a similar sweet and briny taste and a coppery finish.
Description provided by B+G Oysters, Boston, MA
Del's is really a Rhode Island "thing" but all new Englanders know about it, and this icy lemony treat, which has recently expanded its list to include many flavors, is now becoming widely available across the country with thanks to the newfound popularity of food trucks. Del's, after all, might be the original. The tell-tale green and yellow truck can be found parked at events, along beaches and on the side of the road was always a welcome sight on a hot summer day. Lemon, the original flavor, will always be my favorite with watermelon taking a close second. So while you might be able to get Del's in LA, there's something about sipping out of the specially shaped straw, in Rhode Island, that somehow makes it all taste better.
July and August are blueberry season in New England. Nobody does blueberries like Maine. The wild Maine blueberry is sweet, and much smaller and firmer than those found elsewhere. Eat them on their own by the handful. Or make jam, pie, muffins, smoothies, smoothies, top your flapjacks, yogurt, even salads with them!
Think New England in the fall and what comes to mind is the fiery foliage, pumpkins and of course the cranberry. There are two ways in which cranberries are harvested, dry and wet. Dry harvesting uses walk-behind machines to comb the berries off the vines into burlap bags. Berries are then removed from the bogs by either bog vehicles or helicopters. The fruit is delivered to fresh fruit receiving stations where it is graded and screened based on color and ability to bounce (soft berries will not bounce). Dry harvested cranberries are used to supply the fresh fruit market. These cranberries are most often used for cooking and baking.
Wet Harvested Cranberries have pockets of air inside the fruit which make them buoyant. Bogs can be flooded to aid in removal of fruit from the vines and cranberries are dislodged and float to the surface of the water. Wooden or plastic “booms” are used to round up the berries, which are then lifted by conveyor or pumped into a truck to take them to the receiving station for cleaning. More than 90% of the crop is wet harvested. Wet harvested cranberries are used for juices, sauces, sweetened dried cranberries, ingredients in other processed foods or in nutraceutical products.
Although the New England growing season is very limited, the region yields some of the best produce around, from melons, to squash, lettuces, berries, corn, tomatoes, pepper, beans, beets and more. An abundance of farms, many still small and family owned, supply local area restaurants so when dining locally do opt for those restaurants who serve locally grown produce. A visit to a farm stand or a farmer's market is a must.
Maple Syrup is another New England must have. Stock up while you're in the region. A breakfast of Johnny Cakes, made with corn meal in lieu of flour, a cousin to the pancake, blueberries and fresh maple syrup and you've got a classic New England Breakfast. Here's a recipe for Johnny Cakes.
The Whoopie Pie, said to originate in Maine is the state's official "treat," lest we not confuse this title with the official state dessert, which would be, of course, the blueberry pie. Two chocolate spongecake-like cookies sandwich a fluffy, creamy vanilla center. Nowadays you can get Whoopie Pies throughout the country and in a slew of different flavor combinations. Traditionalists still prefer the chocolate vanilla varieties. They're fun to make at home if you can't make it up to the area. Martha Stewart has a great recipe.
Boston Baked Beans are practically a New England Delicacy. Beans typically cooked with brown sugar, molasses, mustard and bacon. Serve them at your next barbeque with your hot dogs. Truthfully, I have never been a fan, but maybe that's because I never had them homemade ... and admittedly they look divine. Here's a recipe from The New York Times in case you want to try your hand at this.
Coffee Milk. It is exactly what it sounds like. I'd say it's the original Latte but sweeter... very sweet - What took everyone else so long to catch on? But really, it's a sibling to Chocolate Milk. Autocrat, a Rhode Island, company is a brand that is synonymous with this beverage. You'll find coffee milk all over the place in the Ocean State, from grocery stores to convenience stores.
Not sure about Coffee Milk? Why not have a frappe on a hot day. But DO NOT order a milkshake! I was so disappointed when, as a Freshman in college, new to the Boston area, I ordered a milkshake and got a glass of shaken milk! When in Rhode Island, however, you'll want to order a Cabinet! Oh, these crazy New Englanders!
The cake that's called a pie with its tell-tale shiny chocolate topping, and custard filling sandwiched in between two pieces of cake. It is said that this dessert can be traced back to the mid 1800s and the Parker House Hotel in Boston. Created by Armenian-French chef M. Sanzian, "Parker House Chocolate Cream Pie" consisted of two layers of French butter sponge cake filled with crème pâtissière, brushed with a rum syrup, its side coated with crème pâtissière overlain with toasted sliced almonds, and the top coated with chocolate fondant. The Omni|Parker House still serves it very much the same way.