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New England set the table for great food when the Pilgrims arrived in Provincetown on Cape Cod—and we’ve been celebrating that meal ever since. In fact, New Englanders have given America some of our most iconic dishes through the years (we’re looking at you, New England clam chowder and Maine lobster rolls!) There are also plenty of old-fashioned dishes and sips you may not be as familiar with that are still easy to find next throughout the region. Read on for 13 of the best and most beloved New England dishes and drinks.
Kitty Broihier, registered dietitian and Nutrition Advisor to the Wild Blueberry Association of North America, says wild blueberry pie is found throughout New England on menus, at potlucks, and BBQs, especially in the summer—but also throughout the year, since most of the crop is frozen.
“It’s a simple pie that spotlights the intense flavor and color of the wild blueberries,” says Broihier. “Of course, nobody eats dessert for its nutritional benefits, but it’s nice to know that wild blueberries are packed with purple-blue pigments called anthocyanins, which science shows are linked to health benefits for the brain/cognition, heart, eyes, and more.”
In the cobbler family, a buckle is an old-fashioned New England favorite, says Kathy Kingsley of Flavor-feed. “It is generally made with berries that are folded into a tender, yellow batter and topped with sweet, crunchy crumbs.” Blueberries are often the chosen fruit. Buckle up for this versatile treat—for breakfast or dessert.
Ployes are a New England thing, as well as Canadian. It’s an Acadian dish made of buckwheat flour pancakes typically finished with butter and maple syrup. Think of it as a cross between a pancake and a crumpet with lots of holes on top. They are also served for dinner sometimes, rolled up with baked beans or other savory fillings. New England native Jesse Souza, executive chef at Front & Main in Waterville, Maine, applauds sourcing local ingredients for his ployes. The buckwheat flour is sourced from Maine Grains of Skowhegan, Maine, and the syrup is produced by Battleridge Syrup in Clinton, Maine. Souza also adds caramelized apples and sweet whipped ricotta. Yum.
This ice cream beverage with the quirky name is a Rhode Island treat that dates back to the World War II era. Its ingredient list is pretty simple: coffee syrup, ice cream, and milk (think: milkshake). The origins of the popular beverage and its name are unclear.
According to NPR, the coffee cabinet was probably the lucky creation of happenstance: Simply put, Rhode Island had plenty of dairy farms’ milk and plenty of coffee syrup-loving Italian-Americans.
These days, coffee cabinets remain a favorite treat in Rhode Island. An especially popular spot to get them is the old-fashioned soda fountain at Delekta’s Pharmacy in Warren.
But why is it called a cabinet? One theory: Apparently the machine used to blend the ingredients was kept inside a wooden box or a cabinet.
While we’re on the topic of coffee syrup, Rhode Island was once home to several coffee syrup manufacturers, including Autocrat, which still has its headquarters in the Ocean State, according to NPR.
Today, coffee milk—just coffee syrup and milk—is Rhode Island’s official state beverage, a title it received in 1993.
The Parker House Hotel in downtown Boston has bragging rights as the place where Boston cream pie was invented in 1856. It’s technically not a pie, but a yellow butter cake or sponge cake with a sweet rich custard and thick chocolate glaze.
According to Historic Hotels of America, the popular dessert was known as Chocolate Cream Pie, and became a Betty Crocker boxed mix in 1958. It is still a sought-out fave on menus in Boston and throughout New England. In fact, in 1996 the Boston cream pie was declared the official state dessert of Massachusetts.
Believed to have been introduced at the turn of the 20th century in Connecticut, when immigrants from Naples, Italy, settled in the area, this pizza (similar to New York-style thin-crust pizza) is famously known for its “char, chewiness, shape and toppings,” according to native New Englander Lyndsay Crescenti of The Purposely Lost. The white clam apizza first appeared at the famed Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven. “The signature oblong apizza crust is topped with littleneck clams, garlic, oregano, grated pecorino cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil,” Crescenti says.
Originally produced in colonial Medford, Massachusetts, this rum has been a New England tradition since 1715, according to Boston-based GrandTen Distilling.
In fact, it is said that on his famed midnight ride during the rum-fueled Revolution, Paul Revere swung by Medford for a wee dram of the spirit to fuel his mission.
The rum features pure blackstrap molasses and a blend of wild New England yeast that is sent through an all-copper, small-batch still, then matured in charred American white oak barrels. It has a rich brown sugar and butterscotch nose which lands with a pleasant warmth and a bourbon-like character.
“Medford Rum is a true heirloom spirit at the forefront of the new wave of New England-style rums,” says a spokesperson for GrandTen, “a category that is picking up steam and garnering national attention.”
According to “50 Chowders” by Jasper White, the oldest known fish chowder recipe in print appeared in the Boston Evening Post on September 23, 1751.
New England clam chowder is thick and creamy or thin and milky, with lots of tender clams, and served with oyster crackers. Manhattan and Rhode Island clam chowders are not milk or cream-based—instead, Manhattan is always made with tomatoes and Rhode Island is either a clear broth or red (courtesy of stewed tomatoes).
Seventy years ago, Legal Sea Foods opened as a fish market in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has since cast a wider net—now operating 23 restaurants on the East Coast. The menu features a variety of quintessential New England cuisines, including the famous New England Clam Chowder, which has been served at nearly every Presidential Inauguration since 1981.
For over 400 years, lobster fishing has been a prominent industry in New England’s coastal waters. Now a culinary delicacy, these crustaceans were once dirt cheap due to their abundance along the coast, especially in Maine. Man, have times changed—today, lobster is typically one of the priciest items on any menu in New England (or anywhere, for that matter!).
Lobster rolls are the new kid on the block, relatively speaking. According to New England Today, Perry’s in Milford, Connecticut, introduced the hot buttered lobster served on a grilled, flat-sided, split frankfurter roll in 1929. Maine lobster rolls are prepared with cold lobster meat smothered in mayo, and also served on a buttered hot dog-style roll.
My mom grew up in South Boston, where brown bread was a ritual Saturday night suppah. Traditionally, the dense bread of molasses is steamed in a coffee can and served with baked beans and franks. The bakeries in Southie and elsewhere in Boston always sold it on Saturdays. “You walked into the bakery and the smell was wonderful,” says Mom. Today, you can purchase cans of B & M Brown Bread in grocery stores and markets or make it at home.
Fried clams are believed to have been invented in Essex, Massachusetts, in 1916, and are still served in the same location at Woodman’s Restaurant.
Their popularity made its way through Boston, and eventually, all of New England (and beyond). Today, fried clams—whole with bellies or clam strips without—are served up at almost every New England seafood shack.
“Nothing quite beats a paper plate loaded with freshly-harvested, fried New England clams and a pile of french fries on a summer day,” says Samantha Hamilton of New England Wonderlust.
The tart little red berry is feted in New England in jams, jellies, and muffins, and is a rock star in the Cape Codder, the signature sip of Massachusetts—aka, vodka with cranberry juice. Cape Cod locals and tourists have been ordering what’s locally known as a Cape Codder for decades.
The history of the popular sip is linked to Ocean Spray, which first marketed the cocktail that was made with cranberry juice, vodka, and lime as a Red Devil in the 1940s.