Thursday, August 27, 2009

Boston: Durgin Park

This is a giant floor to ceiling picture of the staff back during the Civil War. "You know the big picture in the lobby?" my father asked me on this trip. "Well I think the blonde gal was still a waitress when we went there when you were kids." The blonde gal?

We went to Boston recently for a Dew Tour contest and some top secret International Skateboard Federation nonsense. Those stories will appear in the various skateboard publications I write for. The part that concerns us here, however, is the rest of the trip.

My father is from Boston, so we used to visit almost ever summer when I was a kid. Specifically we’d go to Martha’s Vineyard where my grandfather built a couple of houses in the 1930s. But since I turned into a punk rock, “I’m not going to clean my room,” snot nosed skateboarder, I haven’t been back there in almost 30 years. So this was kind of an exciting trip down memory lane.

One of my earliest memories, and a recurring story that tends to come up during Thanksgiving dinner, is the first time we ate at Durgin Park. Durgin Park is an old restaurant next to Quincy Market that specializes in Yankee cuisine. “Established before you were born,” it says outside of it. My brother and I were probably around ten years old so we don’t really remember this, but my parents remember the day vividly. They each remember it completely differently, of course. I think my mother’s version is closer to the truth.

Me at table. Me eat food.

It was a very hot and muggy day in Boston and the family was shopping in Quincy market. I have always hated shopping, so I can only imagine that my brother and I were miserable, horrible little shitheads. While my mother was trying to shop, my father raced ahead through the crowded market, heedless of what his wife was doing. (I have inherited the “walk as fast as you can without regard to the rest of your party” gene from my old man.) My brother and I kept up with dad, but my mom got stuck somewhere looking at a purse or something and ultimately was separated from the family. I’m not sure why we didn’t turn around and go look for her, but I wasn’t at an age to be making executive decisions, so I remain something of an innocent bystander in this case. My father, on the other hand, made the rather baffling decision to go get lunch. “Come on! Let’s go to Durgin Park!” I’m sure he said. Again, I’m not sure what was going through the man’s head because we were obviously missing a very important part of the family, his wife. Apparently it didn’t matter, or it never occurred to him that she would probably enjoy joining us for lunch, because we went upstairs and got a table in the communal dining room and enjoyed a nice, long meal. I remember the Boston baked beans and the Indian pudding, probably because my dad made such a big deal about them, but I remember it was a fine meal. We really enjoyed it.

Tania likes to make plates of the weirdest combinations of food she can. At a buffet she's not afraid to pile some Jello on spaghetti with a side of shrimp cocktail and a blueberry muffin. But our order at Durgin Park was even a little too weird for her. We started with a pitcher of beer and a plate of raw clams. I guess you can order them steamed, but I didn't know that. This is our first meal of the day, incidentally. I thought they were delicious, but Tania wasn't feeling it so early in the day. Note how she can barely keep her hands off the clams.

Meanwhile, my mother realized she had been ditched. My mother is a very sensible lady. She does everything very neatly and in order. So her logic told her, “Well, I don’t know where they are. So I should probably remain in the last place we were together.” She was hoping, of course, that her husband would retrace his steps. (This is before cell phones.) I don’t really remember the exact place she posted up, but basically it was a spot in the hot sun in the middle of the crowded market. There were some street performers near by and she said she saw them do their entire act at least three times.

Next up, we had a bowl of clam chowder. It was good chowder, but again, Tania wasn't feeling it. Something about Durgin Park makes the Carnie men insensitive to the needs of their women.

After what must have seemed like an eternity to her, my father, with my brother and I in tow, finally returned to the scene. My mother was furious. She hadn’t eaten, she couldn’t go get any water, and she was practically having a heat stroke. My dad, on the other hand, was oblivious to her suffering. I think he even bragged about how good the meal at Durgin Park was. “You should have come,” he said. Just then the street performers were starting up again. “Oh!” my dad said surprised, “let’s watch these guys!”

GRRRRRR! My mom pretty much lost it.

Somehow my father saw the glimmer of the problem and he dimly realized that he may be the source of what was upsetting our mother. So he did what any sensible man would do and offered her an olive branch in the form of a blank check to shop with. To spite him, my mother took the offer and bought the most expensive fur coat she could find. In the middle of the summer.

And we ended the meal with a bowl of Boston baked beans. Mmmm, a pitcher of beer with raw clams, chowder, and beans. Breakfast of champions. Below is Durgin Park's recipe for Boston Baked Beans. I don't plan on making them any time soon, but the story below is kind of funny.

Boston Baked Beans
2-quart bean pot
2/3cup molasses
2 pounds beans- California pea beans preferred of York State beans
4 teaspoons salt
1 pound salt pork
½ teaspoon pepper
8 tablespoons sugar
1 medium-sized onion

Soak beans overnight. In the morning parboil them for ten minutes with a teaspoon of baking soda. Then run cold water through the beans in a colander or strainer. Dice rind of salt pork in inch squares, cut in half. Put half on bottom of bean pot with whole onion. Put beans in pot. Put the rest of the pork on top. Mix other ingredients with hot water. Pour over beans. Put in 300-degree oven for six hours. This will make ten full portions. You can’t let the pot just set in the oven” explains Edward. “You’ve got to add water as necessary to keep the beans moist. And you can’t be impatient and add too much water at a time and flood the beans.” Edward produces his Boston baked beans under the watchful eye of Albert Savage who has been the head chef at Durgin-Park for the past 35 years. Albert is probably the world’s leading specialist in Yankee cookery. He himself is an old Yankee who was born in Lithuania. He has one assistant who is a Bulgarian Yankee and another who is a Polish Yankee. “The chief difference between Yankee cooking and most other kinds of cooking is that we make our food taste like what it’s supposed to be,” says Albert. In other kinds of cooking chefs seem determined to make the food taste like something else.” Albert prepares vast quantities of the traditional baked Indian pudding. In the course of a year, if you’re found of statistics, he makes enough to float the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth and one small rowboat. The following recipe is sufficient to make one-half gallon.

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