Spiran Lodge, a regional division of the Swedish American fraternal organization “Vasa,” is as much a part of Rockport’s history as quarries and Motif #1, and the Spiran Lodge Pancake Breakfast has become as much a sign of spring as the window boxes in town freshly planted in pansies.
There is a Pancake Breakfast in the fall, too, but in March that bright orange Dahala horse standing squarely on the corner of School St. and Broadway Ave. cheers like the first fat tulips in Harvey Park. The spring arrangements on the tables inside, the hum of Rockporters meeting over slices of Nisu and coffee, and those soft coins of pancakes dolloped with lingonberries feel that much more special after months closed in by winter.
Founded 110 years ago by Leonard Persson as an aid society for the many Swedes immigrating to Rockport to work in the quarries, Spiran Lodge began as a center for this strapping tribe, ready and able to break stone, but unable to speak English. These arriving Swedes needed assistance with housing, banking, and health care. Later in the 20th century Spiran allowed English to be spoken behind the Lodge doors. And later, as the Rockport Swedes and their families integrated, and no longer needed such a secure sanctuary, Spiran voted to include other Scandinavians, which opened membership to the Finns who had settled in the Lanesville area of Gloucester.
Today, the Spiran Lodge monthly meetings reflect the long roots of Rockport’s Swedish heritage as the grandchildren of those first immigrants reminisce about growing up in households where only Swedish was spoken at the kitchen table. Finns and Swedes tease each other amicably, referring to the now dissolved prejudices they witnessed between Lanesville and Rockport Scandinavians. But the meetings also reflect a new face of Rockport. Eva Korpi moved to Cape Ann after growing up in Sweden, and then living all over the world, including Hawaii. Eva has re-energized the Spiran Lodge singers; monthly meeting begins with not just the Swedish national anthem, but the Finnish, and the Icelandic. Asgeir Benedicktssen, a specialist in old world fish processing like smoking and salting, moved to Rockport with his family a few years ago from Iceland, to manage the Whole Foods fish smoking process. (Now Benedicktssen works for the fish processor Mazzetta.) He and his family are active new members of Spiran Lodge, and the Icelandic anthem, lead by Asgeir, is sung with pride. The Bennedictseen’s teenage daughter (along with mine!) participated in this year’s St. Lucia pageant.
As a non-Scandinavian but a Rockporter interested in the town’s authenticity, I belong to Spiran Lodge, too. Spiran lodge now opens its membership to non-Scandinavians, people like me who are interested in braiding Nisu, flipping Swedish Pancakes, and participating in events like Julfest that began as ways for an immigrant community to remember their departed land, but which have become distinctively important Rockport traditions.
The Spiran Lodge Pancake Breakfast is Sunday, March 20th from 8:00 to 11:00. An army of volunteers begin their mission mixing dough, braiding loaves, and turning the delicate pancakes (more like a crepe than a pancake) on Friday, a complicated set of tasks directed by Claire Franklin.
It has been noted at meetings this past winter that while some Vasa organizations are struggling to stay relevant and retain members, the Rockport order is not just thriving but growing, with new members joining every year. And they are adapting, willing and open to asking what will be the organization’s purpose heading into the 21st century.
That cheerful Dahala horse has been re-papier-mached and painted by Spiran member Jeff Rask and his daughter Erika. If you haven’t noticed, the Spiran Lodge clapboards have received a fresh coat of white paint. Jeff Rask also replaced the old Spiran Lodge sign, as faded as its Swedish aid society history, with two brightly painted ones, one for each side of the buildings corner. Spiran Lodge is ready to be a fresh face of Rockport culture.
If you can’t make time to attend the Spiran Lodge Pancake Breakfast, make time to make Lodge member Muriel Lovasco’s Swedish Apple Pie, published first in the Spiran Lodge monthly newsletter. Basically a “crumble,” this makes an emphatically crunchy, nutty topping to a pie dish layered with sweet, soft apples.
Muriel Lovasco’s Swedish Apple Pie
About 5 Cortland apples, peeled, cored and sliced (about 3 cups)
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped nuts
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Layer apple slices cylindrically into a buttered 10” pie plate. In a small bowl mix cinnamon, butter, sugar, flour, egg, nuts, and salt. Crumble over apples. Bake for 45 minutes or until the top is well browned.