Chinese Hand-Pulled Noodles in the Making

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.

Banjo music before bluegrass? Find out more

When Lowell’s textile mills were clacking, what parlor music was popular? Come join us for a musical journey back in time, to find out. This was a time when if you wanted to hear music, you had to play it yourself.  The  Lowell Folklife Series presents “Classic Style Banjo Concert: The Lost Art of America’s Instrument” on Saturday November 17th at 8:00 p.m. in the Visitor Center theater of Lowell National Historical Park.

Classic style banjo playing was popular in the 1830s and 40s, and became somewhat of a virtuosic tradition by the 1880s. Originally played on gut strings, this parlor music has a classical feel to it.

 

Seasoned musicians Peter LaBau (banjo) and Mitch Nelin (mandocello) will deliver an entertaining evening of music interpsersed with stories of a nearly vanished musical tradition.

The 8:00 p.m. concert is free and open to the public. For directions, click here.

 

Cambodian Kiln Fires Up!

A few months ago, we told you about a blessing ceremony  held for the building of a Cambodian wood fire kiln in Lowell, Massachusetts. We are excited to announce that the kiln is completed and will be fired up for the very first time on Saturday September 22, 2012.

As one of only three master ceramicists to survive the Khmer Rouge genocide, Yary Livan is one of only two still actively creating pottery. The other is Kang Proeung, visiting artist from Cambodia. He and Yary grew up in the same village along thet Mekong Delta and have known each other since childhood.

 

Together they have built a Cambodian-style wood fire kiln in Lowell, on the grounds of the National Park Service maintenance facility. Their hope is that this kiln, and the ware that is fired inside of it, will help insure that Cambodian ceramics can continue and flourish. It is a tradition that dates back to the Angkor Kingdom, which was at its height during the 11th century.

 

Livan, Proeung, and others will be on hand to explain the kiln’s design, the firing process, and features of the Khmer ceramic pieces that will be burning inside. For more information, click here.

 36 hours left before the kiln is lit . . .   Stopped by this afternoon to see Proeung busy glazing ware and Yary inside the kiln making measurements.

Lithuanian Summer Solstice

I’m delighted to be working with state folklorist Maggie Holtzberg in Lowell this summer.  On the summer solstice, Maggie and I went to visit Jonas Stundzia at his home in Lawrence to learn about Rasos Svente, the Dew Festival, and the ways Lithuanians celebrate the longest day of the year. He will be demonstrating how to make floral head garlands at this year’s Lowell Folk Festival. Garlands, or wreaths, are an important part of this solstice festival, also known as the festival of Saint John.

Jonas is a wealth of folklore. When we got to his house, he welcomed us with a traditional Lithuanian greeting. From a decorative ceramic pitcher, he poured water over our hands, and held out a woven Lithuanian cloth to dry them. He then offered us cucumbers dipped in honey and small cups of samagonas (rye moonshine). He said that cucumbers dipped in honey are eaten as a summer treat only in the northeast area of Lithuania.

Jonas showed us his garden blooming with plants native to Lithuania, including wild sorrel, used in making soup; ruta (rue), the national flower; wild onions; and lavender. His garden also had winter rye, used for Christmas decorations; parsley; mint; wild straw; and wild dahlia. He showed us a large oak garland he had made. Oak is considered a male tree and oak garlands are usually reserved for men. We tried it on anyway, and it was heavy! In Lithuania, garlands made of wild flowers, healing herbs, and grasses are used in the solstice festival to adorn the head, decorate the homestead, float candles on the water, and burn in the bonfire.

Jonas had made another large circular garland with linden and yellow flowers which symbolize the sun. Lithuanians consider linden a female plant; this wreath could be worn by a woman, or decorated with lit candles to be floated on the water on the evening of the Rasos Svente festival. The points of light guide the sun back home to earth. Wreaths symbolize the circle of life. Circles and wheels are important in Lithuanian mythology. In one pre-Bronze age myth the sun travels across the sky pulled by a goat. Jonas told us that Lithuanian rituals and language go back to proto Indo-European times. They still survive today because Lithuania was geographically isolated far up north on swampy land that nobody else wanted. Lithuanian is an ancient language, but still living, unlike Sanskrit or Latin.

On the summer solstice, Lithuanians give kupole staffs to friends and neighbors to protect and bless their homes. Jonas showed us a kupole staff he had made with healing herbs: nettle (good for healing arthritis and a relaxation); wormwood (good for the nerves); southern wort (a nerve relaxant used to make absinthe liquor); mountain ash (considered a male plant, used in the celebration of St. John); and belladonna (a medicinal nightshade).

Next, he showed us decorative iron saule, which means “sun.” One had a circle, which represents the sun; branches which represent the tree of life; jagged thunderbolts; curved snakes; and roots representing the earth. In Lithuania, snakes are symbols of life. Gyvate means snake; gyvas means life. The first animals to appear from Mother Earth in the spring are the toad and the snake. Thunderbolts allude to the god of thunder who creates rain, and therefore gives life.

Other saule he showed us had Christian crosses. He said that Roman Catholics had adopted and reinterpreted the form of the saule and used them in cemeteries to decorate gravestones.  In the same way, the pre-Christian kupole staff transformed into a similar, but smaller and more compact staff used on Palm Sunday. The rituals of the Rasos Svente festival also were adopted into Saint John’s Day celebrations. We look forward to hearing more of his stories at his demonstration tent at the folk festival in July.

All photos by Maggie Holtzberg.

Gateway Cities: When Neighborhoods Change

Many of Massachusetts’ de-industrialized mill and manufacturing towns are known as “gateway cities.”  Home to close-knit communities of immigrants who initially came seeking work in the state’s once thriving mill and manufacturing sectors, gateway cities have been hit hard by job loss and poverty. Average household incomes remain below the state average as do educational attainment rates.

Gateway cities are often the starting place for new immigrants, who are drawn by the affordable housing and competitive business opportunities. In cities like Lawrence, Lowell, Springfield, and Brockton, and Fall River, it is not uncommon for aging Irish, French-Canadian, Greek, and Polish populations to live alongside a new generation of newcomers, emigrating from places like Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

When it comes to the practice of faith, this globalization means that once mono-cultural parishes are now multi-cultural, with multi-lingual masses. The 2009 documentary film Scenes from a Parishis a window into this world.

The   Lowell Folklife Series invites you to a screening of this powerful  film, with special guest  James Rutenbeck, the film’s director. Shot over four years in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the film sensitively captures the ethnic working class tensions of a multi-cultural Catholic parish in a hard-pressed former mill town.

Come see this award-winning documentary and join the discussion about how communities adjust as neighborhoods change. Free and open to the public.

Date: April 11, 2012 at 7:30

Place: Visitor Center Theater, Lowell National Historical Park, 246 Market Street, Lowell, MA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afro Caribbean Workshop today!

Jorge Arce performs twice today at Lowell National Historical Park.  At 3:00 pm, Arce gives an Afro Caribbean workshop as part of the park’s Kids’ Week activities.  Tis evening at 7:00 p.m., he performs for the Lowell Folklife Series in the Visitor Center theatre.

Expect an interactive experience featuring music, dance, lore, and stories steeped in the African ancestry of Puerto Rican culture. Try your hand with a Puerto Rican percussion instrument. Learn how to move to the beats of bomba and plena. Be surprised by two carnival masqueraders wearing typcial vejigante masks of the season.

 

Ode to Fat: Schmaltz, Salt Pork, Olive Oil & Ghee

 

Home cooks around the world rely on one essential ingredient to bring out food’s flavor: fat. Late January, when it’s cold and dark, seems the perfect season to sing the praises of fat. In our next Lowell Folklife Series program, we explore four forms of fat with deep cultural associations: schmaltz, the kosher poultry fat used in Jewish cooking; salt pork, the French Canadian ingredient so critical to fresh-made pork scrap and baked beans; olive oil, the healthy staple of Greek and Italian cuisine, and ghee, the clarified butter used in South Asian cooking.

 The free public event takes place Friday January 20th at 7:00 p.m.  in the Visitor Center of Lowell National Historical Park. Joining us for a lively discussion will be Sam and Gail Poulten, both of whom grew up in Lowell’s Jewish neighborhood where schmaltz was a staple, Lucia DiDuca of Framingham, a founding member of the Ciociaro Social Club, Kurt Levasseur of Lowell’s own Cote’s Market, and Yogesh Kumar, owner of Sai Baba Market in Chelmsford.

 

Come hear these culture bearers share their take on the flavorful fats in Jewish, Franco-American, Italian, and Indian cooking. David Blackburn, Chief of Cultural Resources at Lowell National Historical Park, will moderate the panel discussion, which is sure to touch on foodways traditions, family recipes, stories, and religious associations surrounding these fundamental culinary fats.

 

 P.S. — Jane Dornbusch, correspondent to The Boston Globe attended the event and wrote a wonderful review. To see the article, click here.

Native American Woodlands Folklife Talk by Dana Benner

Curious about the Native peoples who once lived along the banks of the Merrimack River? The Lowell Folklife Series invites you to a talk by Dana Benner on Saturday, November 5 at the Event Center of the Boott Mills MuseumWhen most people think of Native peoples at or around the time of contact with Europeans, they think either of Thanksgiving or fierce warfare. Many people are unaware of the extensive social traditions, trade relations, and industrious nature of the Native nations. The area along the Merrimack River that we define as Lowell was home to the Pennacook people.  Just to the south were the Massachusett, who were direct trading partners with the Pennacook.  Mr. Dana Benner will explore the rich traditions of the Pennacook nation, leaving the audience with a greater appreciation of the people who once called this area home.

Dana Benner is of Micmac/Penobscot/Piqwacket descent and is a member of the Inter-Tribal Council of New Hampshire.  He has been studying Native history and culture his entire life and has been writing about it for over 25 years.  He holds a BA in Liberal Arts with a concentration in U.S. History and Native Culture from Granite State College and he is working on his M.Ed in Heritage Studies with a concentration in Native History and Culture from Plymouth State University.

This talk is free and open to the public.

2:00 p.m @ 2nd Floor Event Center, Boott Mills Museum

110 John Street, Lowell, MA

For more information: 978-275-1719

Event sponsored by the Lowell National Historical Park and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

 

 

 

 

Pickles, meat pies, lemon grass, and poppy seed cake . . .

A week for foodies approaches. On Thursday, September 8 at 7pm, the Lowell Folklife Series invites you to come hear museum director Beryl Rosenthal talk about New York Jewish pickle traditions. Then watch a portrayal of the legendary pickle man in a screening of the romantic drama, Crossing Delancey, starring Amy Irving. The event is free and is co-sponsored by Lowell National Historical Park and the Lowell Film Collaborative.

Then on Saturday, September 10, join our bus tour of some of Greater Lowell’s ethnic markets. We will meet at the Park’s visitor center (246 Market Street, Lowell) at 2pm and travel by bus to three local ethnic markets: Cotes Market, Pailin Supermarket, and the Fill’n’Chill in Billerica.

You will have the chance to meet with proprietors, hear family stories and local history, and buy specialty foods.

Back at the Park Visitor Center, we will be treated to a talk by author Jane Ziegelman. Her book,  97 Orchard Street, is an exploration of immigrant food traditions in New York’s Lower East Side, and will be available for purchase.  Although the tour and book talk are free, space on the bus is limited. Please make reservations by calling 978-970-5000.

Scenes from a folk festival

The Lowell Folk Festival is best known for its spectacular array of traditional music and ethnic food. Perhaps less well known is the Folk Craft & Foodways demonstrations that take place every year in the shade of Lucy Larcom Park. From watching fishing flys being tied and seeing how Abenaki baskets are woven, to handling newly constructed Puerto Rican musical instruments, it’s an area that encourages a special kind of hands-on interaction that kids especially enjoy.

Folks that stopped by the letterpress printing tent got the chance to set metal type in a composing stick and then pull an impression (i.e., print) their own name on a table top  press.

Samnang Khoeun explained the carving and casting ofan element of Cambodian ornamental design known as kbach.

Just across from the craft demonstrations was the large Foodways tent. Here, people had a chance to watch cooking demonstrations and sample noodle and pasta dishes from five different cultural cuisines.

The demonstrations started at noon with Jewish noodle kugel. Hannah Hammond Hagman and her mother Lynn Hammond, shared a recipe which has been handed down in their family for four generations.

Ronnie Mouth shared her mother’s recipe for cold Cambodian noodle salad.

Other dishes that were presented over the weekend included Italian pasta and peas by Regina Sibilia Sullivan, Polish pierogi by Dottie Flanagan and Carol Matyka, and Pennsylvania Dutch chicken corn noodle soup by Millie Rahn. In addition to the welcome shade of the tent, the crowd seemed to enjoy hearing stories about  family traditions, cooking tips, recipes. . .

. . . and those delicious samples!

All photos by Maggie Holtzberg