Archive for the ‘Foodways’ Category

Customized fruit carver comes to the Lowell Folk Festival

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Earlier this spring I was searching for someone who specializes in the tradition of carving fruits and vegetables to demonstrate at the folk craft area of the Lowell Folk Festival.  This year the theme is carving traditions. After following up on a few leads, all within the Asian community, I eventually gave up on trying to find someone to demonstrate this culinary skill.

Then, just six weeks shy of the festival, I received an email from Craig Gates of the Lowell Festival Foundation. He’d been contacted by Ruben Arroco inquiring whether he could demonstrate fruit carving at the festival this summer. Serendipity? As it turns out, Ruben recently demonstrated fruit carving at the Rock ‘N Ribfest in Merrimac, New Hampshire. When someone came up to him to ask if he would be at the Lowell Folk Festival this July, he thought to himself, “Why not?” Hence, his inquiry. Craig passed him on to me, with the thought that it was probably too late and that I could “let him down gently.” Instead, I was thrilled to learn of this local chef who had trained in the Philippines, has been an executive chef for 30 years, and now specializes in customized fruit and vegetable carvings.

So last week, Phil Lupsiewicz and I drove over to the Highlands neighborhood of Lowell to interview Ruben Arroco. Ruben, his wife, and daughter live in a newly built enclave of condominiums tucked into some lush foliage just off a busy street. Ruben welcomed us in, offering us freshly brewed coffee and slices of tiramisu cake. Presentation was done with the utmost care; the cake was served on white porcelain plates decorated with mango carved to look like roses. Amazed at the trouble he had gone to and delighted in sitting down to this unexpected afternoon treat, Phil and I readied our recording equipment.

Ruben placed a round watermelon on a rotating board, securing its base with a rolled dishtowel. Then he picked up a very sharp tool and began to work. “I just start by looking for a nice surface and just make a little peel. I peel that until I see a little red color. Like so. . .  I’m going to make the center petals of the flower. Most of the time they use a knife to make a circle – but I just use a cookie cutter to make a round shape. This is how it’s started. See, I love that color right there, it’s coming out, the red color. Then you start making the petals. . . ”

 

Ruben makes most of his own carving tools out of specialized stainless steel. I ask if fruit carving is a relatively rare skill to have. “It is. This is actually a 700-hundred year old art that originated in Thailand.”

Ruben learned to carve fruit during his training as a hotel chef in the Philippines. “There is a place in the Philippines — Paete, Laguna — where people there make a living out of carving wood. Some of those guys, I was lucky enough to work with in the hotel. . . If you see a chef doing this, most of the time, if you ask, ‘Are you from [Laguna]’ the answer is yes. If you can carve wood, you can carve this — so I kind of learned it from them.”

Ruben picks up a specialized tool he made which creates V-cuts in one movement. “Even just making simple V-cuts transforms it and gives it that nicer look. You go around making these V-cuts, like that. Separation of the petals from the part that you carved, that’s very important. The part that is removed, they call that the negative side in the carving world. If you don’t remove that, you won’t see what you just carved.”

I wonder aloud  if there is something hard about making art which is so ephemeral. It can take from seven to ten hours to create, yet it’s there to be consumed. Ruben says, “Even though it takes a long time to make, the best part of it is when we bring it to the party and everybody likes it. Even though it took me seven hours to make, it always feels like it only took me a half hour when everybody likes it.”

“Most of the time, we bring it to the party and then they call me back say, ‘We have a problem.’ ‘What? Why, what happened.?’  ‘Nobody wants to touch it!’  So I tell them to find a kid and tell him or her it’s for them. They won’t care; they’ll just start eating it.”

Come to the Lowell Folk Festival this July 27 and 28 to watch Ruben and 15 other traditional artists demonstrate their remarkable carving skills.

 

 

 

 

Carving Traditions on Display

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Come to this summer’s Lowell Folk Festival next weekend and seek out the Folk Craft & Foodways area, which is located in Lucy Larcom Park, not far from Boarding House Park. Under the shade of big tents, you will discover 16 traditional artists who spend their days carving in a variety of media (wood, stone, clay, plaster, & fruit). Like ornamental woodcarver David Calvo . . .

stonecarver Jesse Marsolais . . .

and Chinese seal script carver Wen-hao Tien.

The majority of the carvers demonstrating their skills on Saturday and Sunday (July 27 – 28)  work with hand tools — gouges, chisels, knives, and rasps. One carves with the help of an electric powered lathe. You will see whimsical carvings revealing dazzling skill, religious figures to aid worship, ornamental elements to enhance architectural trim (and hide joints) and figurative carving depicting wildlife, logging traditions, and more.

As you visit the craft area, see if you can discern the place of origin for each of these carving traditions whose techniques and styles originated in Italy, Greece, Japan, French Canada, Puerto Rico, England, Cambodia, and China. Ask questions. What role does design and drawing play in producing carved art? How are these individual artists able to sustain their craft in today’s globalized, mass-produced marketplace?

 

 

Fried dough, anyone?

Friday, June 21st, 2013

Bread may be the staff of life, but fried dough is its treat. Fried dough is often associated with summer fairs and carnivals, where it’s made in vats of hot oil. But this seemingly generic food has roots in many cultures. Varieties of fried dough made in local home kitchens are part of the foodways of cooks with African-American, Greek, Italian, Polish, and Portuguese roots.

Fried breads are made with yeast dough or flour, which is shaped and transformed by frying.  Frequently the small, often bite-sized confection is finished off by being rolled in toppings such as honey, sugar, cinnamon, or the sweeteners are sprinkled on top. There’s no such thing as leftovers where fried dough is served!

Come to Foodways Tent this July’s Lowell Folk Festival and you’ll have a chance to see and taste five different versions of fried dough.

COOKING DEMONSTRATIONS:

12:00 p.m.  Eleni Zoldi, Greek loukamathes

1:00 p.m.    Lucia DiDuca, pizza fritta

2:00 p.m.    Natalia Cardosa, Portuguese filhoses & malassadas

3:00 p.m.    Lilly Morales, African American hoe cakes and hush puppies

4:00 p.m.    Mary Matyka with Helen Dubuc, chrusciki

Return of the Lowell Folklife Series

Friday, January 25th, 2013

We’re delighted to announce the 2013 Winter/Spring season of the Lowell Folklife Series. These free public events featuring craft, music, dance, & foodways traditions are presented by Lowell Lowell National Historical Park in partnership with the Massachusetts Cultural Council. See full schedule here.

Noodling: The Art of Chinese Hand-Pulled Noodles with Chef Gene Wu (watch video)
Place: Event Center @ Boott Cotton Mill, 115 John Street, Lowell, MA
Monday January 28, 2013 @ 7:30 p.m.

 

 

 

 

Latin Dance Night with Alexander Faria & el Quinteto: Dance lesson @ 7:00; live music @ 8:00
Counting House @ Boott Cotton Mill, 115 John St., Lowell, MA
Saturday February 23, 2013 @ 7:00 p.m.

 

 

 

Women’s Singing Traditions: Veronica Robles & her Mariachi

Visitor Center Theater, 246 Market Street, Lowell, MA
Saturday March 23, 2013 @ 7:30 p.m.

 

 

 

Model Making: Ship Models & Pipe Organs with Harold A. Burnham, Erik Ronnberg, Jr., & Greg Bover

Visitor Center Theater, 246 Market Street, Lowell, MA
Sunday April 21, 2013 @ 3:00 p.m.

 

 

All in the Family: Learning from Master Musicians with Balla and Sekou Kouyate on West African Balafons & Sixto “Tito” Ayala and Estefany Navarro on Puerto Rican Congas

Visitor Center Theater, 246 Market Street, Lowell, MA 01852
Sunday, May 19, 2013 @ 2:30 p.m.

For more information click here
Questions? Call Maggie at 978-275-1719

Chinese Hand-Pulled Noodles in the Making

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Gene Wu hand-pulling noodles in his restaurant kitchen

 It’s just a few weeks before Chinese New Year’s, which falls on February 10th this year. In anticipation, the Lowell Folklife Series presents “Noodling: The Art of Chinese Hand-Pulled Noodles.” This cooking demonstration on Monday, January 28th will be presented by Chef Gene Wu, owner of  Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe in Chelmsford, MA.

Wu will share his knowledge and skill in making and serving hand-pulled noodles. Known as “biang, biang mian,” these broad noodles are made from dough that is cut, rolled out, and stretched.  It’s a dramatic thing to see, as Gene pulls the dough, flings it in the air, slaps it down on the counter several times, and then throws it into a pot of boiling water.

Gene Wu grew up in Xi’an, the capital of central China’s Shaaxi Province, a region noted for its noodle soups and flatbread. Menu items at Gene’s restaurant are mostly derived from his grandfather’s recipes.

In addition to talking about Chinese noodle traditions, Wu will demonstrate how to hand-pull noodles. He will then attempt to teach someone from the audience how to do it.

Date:   Monday January 28, 2013

Time:  7:30 p.m.

Place:  Event Center, Boott Cotton Mills Museum, 115 John Street, Lowell, MA 01852

More information

Questions? Call Maggie at 978-275-1719.
No reservations are necessary.

PS  Thanks to Jen Meyers who attended Wu’s demonstration and posted this  — nice photos of several audience members trying their hands at pulling noodles.

Blaze destroys Central Market

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Our hearts go out to the Arsenault family whose Portuguese Market was destroyed in a four-alarm fire yesterday in Lowell’s Back Central neighborhood. Maria Arsenault lost her father, who was upstairs doing repair work in an apartment when the blaze started.

It was just about a month ago that a busload of people visited Maria’s Central Market as part of our Lowell Folklife Series‘ ethnic market tour. Maria welcomed us in the to three-room store and served Portuguese sweet bread and hard cheese, as we asked questions, toured the market, and purchased Portuguese delicacies.

Below are a few photos taken earlier this fall.

 

Ethnic Market Tour II

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

The Lowell Folkife Series is going on the road. Consider joining us this Saturday for a tour of some of Greater Lowell’s ethnic markets. We will meet at 2:00 p.m. at Lowell National Historical Park’s Visitor Center (246 Market Street) and travel by the Park’s hybrid bus to three local markets specializing in Portuguese, Indian, and African foods.

Meet Maria Arsenault, owner of the Central Market in Lowell’s Portuguese Back Central neighborhood, Leela Shah, owner of East West Foods (Indian) in Lowell’s Middlesex Village, and Martha Tanyi, owner of A F & M African Market in Lowell neighborhood known as the Acre. 

  

There will be plenty of opportunities to ask questions, learn about culturally specific ingredients, taste free samples, and do some shopping.

Reservations are required, as space on the bus is limited: 978-275-1719.

Lowell Folk Festival Highlights

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

We had great fun at this year’s Lowell Folk Festival, where artisans demonstrated the folk art of head and foot gear. Who knew there were so many ways to adorn the head and protect the feet?

 

Luidgi Felix and Nicole Scott from the Trinidad and Tobago Social Club brought several Caribbean Carnival headdresses to show. These handmade costumes are worn by dancers in Boston’s annual Caribbean Carnival.

Here Nicole Scott shows off one of their creations. Months of work go into constructing these costumes made of wire, steel, feathers, sequins, and glitter.

Jonas Stundzia brought the tradition of Lithuanian Midsummer celebration to Lowell. Under a huge double-horsehead gate, to the sound of Lithuanian folk songs, he created head garlands out of oak leaves and wild flowers. Visitors joined in, making garlands for themselves. 

Angel Sánchez Ortiz  brought his Puerto Rican vejigante masks used for carnival celebrations.  His striking, fantastical masks of boldly painted papier mâché depict animals, legendary people, and sometimes spirits and monsters that are imbued with cultural meaning.

Qamaria Amatul-Wudud designs and sews fashionable clothing for Islamic women who choose to dress modestly. She brought some of her elegant dresses and showed visitors how to wrap headscarves.

 

Eniko Farkas brought her Hungarian beaded maiden crowns worn by unmarried girls after confirmation. Before marriage, they would ritually replace them with a married woman’s headdress. Eniko also talked with visitors about the traditional Hungarian art of embroidery.

Our own J. Arthur Poitras from Lowell seemed to have brought his entire cobbler’s shop with him. There were pliers, knives, creams, and even a hanging shoe last.

 

The infamous “Hat Ladies” of Gloucester, Amy and Robyn Clayton amazed people with their whimsical hats. Here, Amy hands out pamphlets about the Saint Peter’s Fiesta next to their handmade statue of Saint Peter. 

The “Hat Ladies” make a new hat every year for the Saint Peter’s Fiesta, featuring local sights in miniature. For the Lowell Folk Festival, they even brought a life-size cut out of Saint Peter for visitors to pose with.

Theodore Green entranced visitors as he constructed hand built shoes out of leather. If you looked down, you may have noticed his own glittering gold shoes!

Samuel Brown and his custom made hats were a big hit. It was all he could do to keep the ladies from walking off with his hats on their heads.

Faith Izevbijie demonstrated how to tie gele, Nigerian headwraps.

 

And, last but not least, there were tomatoes, lots of tomatoes. Eleni Zohdi was one of five cooks demonstrating recipes using tomatoes. Here she explains how to make a Greek dish called Kayiana, with Lowell NHP Chief of Cultural Resoruces David Blackburn looking on.

We all had a good time and hope you did too. If you missed it, there’s always next year!

Photos and blog by Lesley Ham

 

Festival Food a Family Tradition

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Music isn’t the only draw of the Lowell Folk Festival. Unique to the festival are the ethnic food booths run by local churches, temples, and non-profit organizations. Festival-goers come to sample the variety of international food, handmade by volunteers. These food booths are often family affairs, with young children and teenagers working side by side with their parents.

During the festival, ethnic food booths line French Street behind Boarding House Park. Near the corner of Kirk and French, the Filipino food booth is always one of the most popular, with infamously long lines every weekend. Profits benefit Iskwelahang Pilipino, a cultural and language school in Bedford, and many families who attend the school volunteer to help cook and run the booth. Small children play in the alley behind the tents, young girls serve fried rice and noodles, men barbeque beef, and women roll turon (banana fritters).

Although he’s only 18, Joseph Umali has been volunteering for ten years. “I used to be one of the kids hanging out back,” he said. He started out by serving food, and now is in charge of the cash register and running beef from the truck to the grill. Last year he was one of three young volunteers awarded scholarships from the Lowell Festival Foundation for their service at the various food booths. Working at the festival is something he looks forward to every year, calling it “such a blast.” People from different food booths help each other. “It’s all one big community,” he said.

Both his parents are originally from the Manila area and his family is actively involved in the school and the festival. According to their website, one of goals of Iskwelahang Pilipino is to “develop in Filipino-American children a strong positive ethnic identity and instill pride in the students’ cultural heritage.” Joseph hopes to visit the Philippines either as an exchange student or after graduating from college.

Several booths down from the Filipino booth, facing Boarding House Park, the Parekh family is busy serving Jamaican beef patties, Indian vegetable curry and samosas. Edith Parekh first ran a food booth for the 1986 Regatta Festival to benefit the Celebration of Life non-profit organization, now called Seed. Along with her husband Nalin, and later her four children, Anissa, Natasha, Noah, and Naomi, she has participated in every Lowell Festival. Former Lowell State Senator Dan Leahy, whom Edith calls the “spirit of the organization,”  founded Celebration of Life to help benefit the Mustard Seed orphanages in Jamaica after he saw the plight of poor children in Kingston. There he met Father Gregory Ramkissoon, a priest from India, who founded the orphanages 1978. Naomi spent one year in Jamaica as a Fulbright scholar working with Father Gregory helping orphans stigmatized by HIV. This year’s profits from the Seed booth will go to help both Lowell charities as well as Jamaican orphanages. Any leftovers will be donated to a homeless shelter.

Edith’s mother immigrated from Jamaica to Canada as a young girl. Nalim came to the U.S. from India for university. Together they prepare both Jamaican and Indian food for the festival.  Before the festival, they chopped 15 pounds of red peppers and175 pounds of boneless chicken and cooked a couple of 100 pound bags of rice. The Jamaican beef patties, wrapped in pastry, sell out every year. This year Naomi added her own recipe for rum cupcakes.

For Edith “the real essence of the festival is the last few hours of the festival when vendors all start eating each other’s food.” The Filipinos eat watermelon from the Seed stand, Naomi eats beef on a stick from the Filipino right in front of her mother’s food booth. “Ethnic camaraderie what it’s all about” said Edith.

Next to them, Emma Phachansiry serves fried noodles at the booth benefiting Wat Lao temple in Lowell while Suvana Phomma makes spicy papaya salad with fish sauce, chili pepper, shrimp paste, lime, and tomatoes. Nearby in Boarding House Park, Nana and Dan Dunn from Gloucester enjoy plates of Filipino beef barbeque, fried rice, and spring rolls while waiting for the music to start. They have come to almost every festival since 1988 and come as much for the food as for the music and art. “It’s wonderful to see real people making food,” said Nana, noting that the festival is a major fundraiser for the ethnic groups. She said the food is “prepared with love,” and represents the diversity of cultures. Nana said at the festival you can find out about cultures you don’t know about and “food adds a dimension to that experience.”

Photos and blog by Lesley Ham

Polish rosettes for a crowd

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Early on the morning of July 25, just days before this year’s Lowell Folk Festival, members and friends of the Lowell Polish Cultural Committee were at the Dom Polski  hall on Lakeview Avenue busy preparing rosettes, deep fried cookies in the shape of flowers. At five cooking stations, volunteers stood over electric fry pans, dipping hot irons covered in sweet batter into hot, 420 degree, oil. The Polish group plans to make 700 cookies before the weekend.

This is the fourth year Marcia (Kosik) McGrail has helped. She’s the official batter maker, joking that when she first started frying, “maybe I wasn’t doing it right, and I don’t mind doing batter, next thing I know, I was put on batter.” The rosettes are made from eggs, milk, flour, sugar, and salt, with a touch of rum. Marcia said that when her grandmother made them, she used brandy instead of rum. 

Frank Makarewicz, a relative newcomer, got advice from the “master rosette maker,” Eva Kalish. His crumpled soggy rosettes were soon replaced by perfectly formed crispy brown cookies. “I need a rhythm,” he commented. He will be in charge of making kielbasa sandwiches at this weekend’s festival.

 

Rosettes only take a few seconds of frying on each side before they’re done. When the iron covered in batter is first dipped into the hot oil, the cookies explode into flowers. 

 The volunteers used two shapes of irons for a variety of rosettes.

Jane (Markiewicz) Duffley has cooked for a festival every year but one since 1974, first for the Regatta Festival, then the Lowell Folk Festival. She even worked two weeks before her wedding. Both her sisters are helping with the festival this year. I’m “older than Moses” doing this, she said, as she scurried around, picking up the fresh, crispy cookies from each station and carefully lining them row by row into large boxes.

 

The Polish group expected to sell out of rosettes as usual this year. The money raised from the festival will help fund Dom Polski scholarships and other worthy causes.

photos and blog by Lesley Ham

 


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