If there’s anyone in New Hampshire who knows about regional foods, it’s Edie Clark. Clark was senior editor for 10 years and senior writer and fiction editor for 14 years at Yankee Magazine and is the author of a number of books, including Saturday Beans & Sunday Suppers: Kitchen Stories from Mary’s Farm and her newest book, What There Was Not to Tell: A Story of Love and War.
Clark’s lecture series, “Baked Beans and Fried Clams: How Food Defines a Region,” presented through the New Hampshire Humanities Council, focuses on three cooks who made big impacts on New England cooking: Julia Child, Haydn S. Pearson — a native of Greenfield and the son of a Hancock minister who wrote columns for New Hampshire profiles about food — and Fanny Farmer, who wrote the first cookbook in America during the late 19th century.
“She basically gave us our measurements, instead of approximations like a pinch,” Clark said.
The Hippo talked to Clark about food.
What is your favorite New England dish?
I kind of love them all. Unfortunately, I’m allergic to clams — I was not always, maybe I ate too much of them. I love all of [the New England dishes]: baked beans, Indian pudding, pot roast. The flavors are unique. … A lot of people haven’t [heard of Indian pudding], but at a certain time — maybe in the ‘50s and ‘60s — it was on every menu.
Could you define the traditional, or perhaps the ideal church supper?
Many of them always have the beans. Our pastor here, she’s in her 90s now and I don’t think she makes them now, but she used to make them. … Ham is very common. We always did meatballs. And a salad, many do coleslaw. … Occasionally, you get roast beef or something like that. … Gotta have pie, at least five or six or seven or eight different pies. … If you’re on a diet you don’t want to go to church supper.
Do you think the church supper model is going extinct?
I do think it’s on its way to extinction. Our church here in town has a bean supper that’s been kind of famous for a lot of years. We’ve seen this all around the state in almost every department because our whole world has shifted. … Now, people may live in that town, but they work elsewhere and don’t have the time. … The church supper is endangered — I’d say that much.
What would you recommend to create the perfect ham and bean supper?
It’s all about community. You get this great feeling that it’s something bigger than yourself. … Ham and beans, I think that’s a good combination. It’s very tasty and satisfying.
Programs from the New Hampshire Humanities Council are often based in subjects like history or the arts. How do you see food fitting into the council’s scope?
I have to admit I’ve had on occasion people come to my talks and they expect to get food. … I fashion this talk on regional food. … As I say in the talk, food is a landscape, just the way a landscape brings you back again. … Then I got thinking about the specific New Englanders that have fashioned our food.
The program with the NH Humanities Council is based on your book Saturday Beans & Sunday Suppers: Kitchen Stories from Mary’s Farm. Do you have a particular story or recipe from that book that is pervasive to you in terms of defining the region in a culinary way?
I actually love the piece on church suppers that is in there. It’s a pretty broad book — I call it a food memoir. It involved my life, learning to cook, which started very poorly because my mother hated to cook and I spent a lot of time with her sister, who loved to cook. … I think the book is about basically how we find our way through life through styles of eating.
Is there a New England dish that you would like to see make a comeback?
It could be Indian pudding. One of the things I talk about in my talk is fried cornmeal mush. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of or thought of anything more repulsive. ... In Haydn Pearson’s book, he was passionate about cornmeal mush, so I thought I would try it, and it is absolutely delicious. … It’s the same as polenta … we didn’t change the name, it’s an Italian dish, but it’s the same.