For centuries October in Rockport has been cherished by artists, writers, and simply moms standing at the bus stop waiting for their children to return from school, having a blessedly quiet fifteen minutes to see the long slant of autumn light make Sandy Bay a purple plane, town glowing in the sunset like a trainset village along the bay’s rim. October in Rockport will always be known for its particular combination of autumnal quarry and seaside beauty – and the Boy Scout Haunted Hay Ride – but more recently October in Rockport has become famous for its local food.
Beginning with Spiran Hall’s Swedish Pancake Breakfast on October 5th and peaking with HarvestFest, October 18th, Rockport has become a destination for those who love a very specific kind of culinary moment. Call it real; call it authentic; call it local: Swedish pancakes, golden braids of cardamom-specked Nisu, the singular molasses and cornmeal taste of Rockport-born Anadama Bread, Grass-fed beef raised on South St. from Seaview Farms, Topdog’s award-winning fried clams, Sasquatch smoked cod. These are just some of the only-on-Cape-Ann, some only-in-Rockport, foods that will be served here in October; between Spiran Hall’s pancakes and HarvestFest’s bounty you will be able to taste the best of what’s flipped, fished, grown, and even brewed very close to home.
The people of Spiran Lodge #98, the Vasa Order of America, have been creating Scandinavian specialties for one hundred years, since the organization first served as an aid society for Scandinavian immigrants arriving on Cape Ann to work in the quarries. On October 5th, the large orange Dala horse will be placed on the sidewalk; the Spiran Hall doors will open to the public, and the coffee will begin to pour. Days in advance, just as they have been doing for years, and their mothers and aunts did for years before that, Spiran members will have started making the Swedish pancakes, Janice Ramsden’s family recipe, prepared in the special Swedish pans. A separate team, lead by Claire Franklin, will mix, braid, and bake the Nisu.
1200 pancakes will be ready starting Sunday morning at 8:00, served with lingonberries, sausage, fresh fruit, and coffee. The plump loaves of Nisu will be for sale. Arrive early; they go fast!
But the Rockport food culture faces forward, too, away from history. On October 18th, in a designated “celebration section” near the Big Tent, HarvestFest will be tastefully pouring “Pretty Things Beer,” a hugely acclaimed artisanal brew produced by Martha and Dann Paquette out of Somerville. Also, exciting for anyone who enjoys a good glass of wine with their fried clams, nationally be-ribboned Westport Rivers Winery from Westport, MA will also be pouring. Frank McClelland’s five star restaurant, L’Espalier, commissioned Westport Rivers to create its own private label, 1996 Westport Rivers, “Cuvee L’Espalier,” brut. Not just local treasures, Westport Rivers Vineyards boast gold medals at the World Wine Championships, along with real estate on some of the country’s best wine lists.
Knead Dough Bakery, the Af Klinteberg family baking business from Lanesville, is just one of the many local vendors selling homemade baked lovelies at HarvestFest. When tragedy struck the Af Klinteberg family, no one wanted to make the bread anymore. Sten Af Klinteberg lll, the youngest child of Sten and Lila AfKlinteberg, died in 2011 at 40 years old; the Knead Dough Bakery, which had been producing sweets from Finnish Nisu to Congo Bars, withered to only a few loaves of bread baked for a few church fairs.
“My grandmother started this business in the 1970’s,” granddaughter Carson explained. “My grandfather had lost his job, and my grandmother needed to feed five children. They began accepting food from the Federal Surplus Program. ‘I’ll take what no on else wants,’ Lila said,” – meaning flour, cornmeal, molasses, and margarine, “and, we’ll make Anadama Bread.” Sten, Jr., Lila’s husband, found work again, and the baking business became a way for the growing Af Klinteberg children to supplement their incomes in hard times.
When Stennie, III needed to stop fishing because of an injury, he began making Nisu beside his mother.
“The key to good Nisu is patience and attention to detail,” Carson said. “You have to love it, or else it gets sloppy and flat. – Everyone thought my grandmother made the best Nisu, but the family knew it was actually Stennie, the last of the Af Klintebergs to bake the bread.”
When Stennie was lost, Lila had no heart for baking. “It was something she did with her son, and he wasn’t there anymore,” Carson said. Lila died in 2013, and the Knead Dough business deflated to just a few loaves prepared by Sten, Jr. for the occasional church fair. This summer, the Rockport Farmers’ Market asked Sten to bake again. Even he seemed surprised at the speed with which his loaves disappeared. By 11:30 his boxes were empty.
“I sold out,” he would say, with a mystified shake of his head and a resigned crossing of arms on chest. No one had any idea how much Cape Ann missed Anadama, Onion Dill, and Nisu. After selling out three Saturdays in a row, even after doubling production, Af Klinteberg brought in the next generation to benefit from the bakery. Carson Af Klinteberg, leaving behind a job in prop design on Broadway, has returned to Lanesville to help her grandfather bake the bread. For Rockport’s HarvestFest, and for next year’s farmers markets, Carson will be bringing back the full line of Knead Dough baked goods, everything from congo bars to brownies. “It’s an honor and a joy to see Cape Ann respond once again to our bread. We’re just very proud and grateful.”
This year’s Seafood Throwdown will revive a short but golden moment in Rockport’s culinary history: for what felt like the blink of an eye, Parisian-born Fred Arnaud once stunned Pigeon Covers with the quality of his take-out dinners, sold from the refrigerator in the old Pigeon Cove Coop. This year Fred will return for the Seafood Throwdown, competing against Rosalie Harrington, chef and owner of Marblehead’s once beloved Rosalie’s Restaurant.
Pie-bakers, jam and jelly makers! – In the spirit of an agricultural fair, HarvestFest will recreate the pie, jam, and jelly contest. Bring entries to the Farmers’ Market Tent on the morning of HarvestFest; judging happens at 4:00.
Regional differences in cuisine are disappearing. Industrialized agriculture and national franchises threaten to homogenize America, leaving nothing but a museum in each town to memorialize the work people once did, the fish they caught, the breads they baked. In Rockport, people are still baking the bread and turning the pancakes, particularly in October.
This recipe is from an old Rockport church cookbook, an authentic Rockport dessert to prepare at home, in case you can’t make it to the HarvestFest or the Pancake Breakfast.
Swedish Apple Pudding Ingredients
1 cup diced bread 2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup cream
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups diced apples
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon mixed with 2 tablespoons confectionary sugar for sifting
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 8” x 8” square pan or baking dish.
2. In a medium skillet saute the bread cubes in melted butter until golden brown, about 10 minutes.
3. In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, sugar, cinnamon, cream, and flour. Stir in apples and bread cubes.
4. Pour into prepared dish, and bake for 1 hour or until custard is set.
5. Mix together cinnamon and confectionary sugar, and sift over warm pudding.