The Pierogi Queen

We first met Dorothy “Dottie” Naruszewicz Flanagan at Holy Trinity Polish Church during the “Blessing of the food” Easter Saturday. Remember those sculpted butter lambs? So we weren’t surprised to learn that Dottie is also known locally as the “Pierogi Queen.” Raised in Lowell’s Polish community, Dottie, who learned to make this pasta delicacy from her mother, aunts, and grandmother, shares this fact, “Pierogi has always been a part of our life. It’s a staple, especially at Christmas time.”

Dottie invited us to her home to watch her make pierogi along with her good friend Carol Matyka. Carol also grew up in Lowell and the Dracut area, but now lives in Boston. Her family is all of Polish extraction. When we meet, Carol tells us, “I was looking forward to coming today because Dottie is the master of making pierogi. It’s been many, many years since I’ve made them and I wanted to re-establish my roots in Polish cooking.”

Dottie and Carol have prepared the fillings ahead of time. Dottie assures us there aren’t enough hours in the day to prepare the fillings and the dough all on the same day. One filling is made with two kinds of farmer’s cheese, potato, and onion and the other is made with cabbage and sauerkraut.

Carol has mixed and kneeded the dough, which, like noodle or pasta dough, contains no yeast. She rolls it out to an eighth of an inch, then uses the top of a glass to cut out circles of dough.

Next, Dottie fills the circles of dough with filling, wetting the edge to seal the deal. She reinforces the seam by pressing the edge of a fork into it.

Carol points out that if you look at pierogi about to be boiled, “They look like Italian ravioli, Chinese pot stickers, empanadas — every culture has its version of the same thing.”

The pierogi cook for about ten minutes, or until they float. Then, using a slotted spoon,  Dottie lifts them out and gently places them into a pan of melted butter, before letting them rest on a tin-foiled pan.  And of course, it’s time for a taste. The pierogi are delicious; in the boiling process, the farmer’s cheese has melted and the dough is buttery soft. You can’t get a taste and texture like that from store-bought pierogi.

Making pierogi for a crowd is labor intensive. In addition to making large batches of pierogi for the day before Christmas, known as Wiligia, pierogi is made for other special occasions, like wedding showers and baptism receptions. It is usually a group effort, not unlike quilting bees or barn raisings used to be.  Dottie says that at Christmas time, she and Carol’s sister make about 300 pierogi. “We can’t do that alone. We had six people here cooking one day and we were able to make twelve dozen in one night . . . Ideally, you have one doing the dough and rolling it out, one doing the mixing, one taking care of the pots, one putting them in the freezer.”

Carol goes to mix up another batch of dough, adding flour as she goes, “We’re going to start with two cups of flour, but you’ll see, as I’m working the dough, I’m going to have to add more.”

“That’s another thing you get to know,” Dottie adds.  “The feel of the dough. You get to know that it actually talks to you.”

“And what does it say to you?” I ask.

“Sometimes it says, ‘I’m not ready,’ and sometimes it says, ‘O.K,'” Dottie answers, to the sound of sizzling butter in the background.

Before we leave Dottie’s kitchen, I get a chance to try my hand at making pierogi.

For more cooks’ secrets and a chance to taste some of Dottie and Carol’s pierogi, be sure to come by the Foodways Tent at 2:00 pm on Saturday, July 30 or Sunday, July 31 of the Lowell Folk Festival.

Women’s Singing Traditions: African Praise Songs to Irish Ballads

 

Join us this Saturday evening for a free concert of Irish and African music featuring two remarkable female vocalists — Aoife Clancy and Adjaratou Tapani Demba. This concert will take place on Saturday March 19, 2011 in the sanctuary of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in downtown Lowell.

Aoife Clancy brings a refreshing new voice to traditional Irish songs, ballads, and recitations. Originally from County Tipperary, Ireland, Aoife was brought up in a family steeped in music and poetry, which her father Bobby Clancy passed down to her.  She is a former member of the popular “Cherish the Ladies,” one of the most sought-after Irish American groups in history.  Now with seven recordings under her belt in the last decade, Aoife has clearly established herself as one of the divas of Irish folk music. Accompanying herself on the Irish bodhran (drum), Aoife will be joined by Shannon Heaton on flute and  All-Ireland champion stepdancer Jaclyn O’Riley.

Adjaratou Tapani Demba brings us the West African traditional art of praise singing. In her native Mali, she is known as a djeli – a kind of oral historian, peacemaker, and performer who is born into the responsibility of keeping alive and celebrating the history of the Mandé people of Mali, Guinea, and other West African countries. In addition to concerts, Tapani performs at weddings, baptisms, and other domestic ceremonies within the West African immigrant communities of Boston, New York City, and beyond. She will be accompanied by Balla Kouyaté on balaphon (forerunner of the xylophone) and Moussa Diabaté on ngoni (forerunner of the banjo).

The evening’s singing, music, and dance pay tribute to the rich musical heritage of Lowell’s Irish and African communities. The program is part of the recently launched Lowell Folklife Series sponsored by   Lowell National Historical Park.

Calling Track and Military Cadence Calls: How an African American Tradition Influenced Military Basic Training

Ever since the industrialization and mechanization of labor, there has been less need for the singing of work chants. But back in the day, a special kind of singing helped work get done, whether it was sea chanties used to raise sails, Scottish waulking songs used to work wool, or agricultural work chants to hoe cotton or cut timber. In the deep south, such work chants were common among African Americans who labored under extremely harsh conditions. A good song was like a labor saving device. Singing work chants helped coordinate movements and build on collective strength. They also ensured safety for railroad gangs working in small crews with heavyand sharp tools. And, perhaps more importantly, these chants uplifted the men’s spirits.

One man, known as the caller, would stand aside from the crew and sing verbal instructions. His commands were answered by the men’s lining bars wrapping in rhythm against the railroad track– in a call and response manner. I came to know this tradition (or what remained of it in the minds of retired railroad workers) first hand while doing field research for the Alabama State Council on the Arts in the late 1980s. We interviewed half a dozen former track laborers and eventually produced the film Gandy Dancers, which tells the story of African American railroad workers who made their living building and maintaining the railroad lines that crisscross the American South.

I recently uncovered a connection between the southern African American tradition of call-and-response works songs and  military cadence calls used in drill training, popularly known as “Jody calls.” Anyone who has gone through basic training is familiar with these military cadence calls. A drill instructor, whose job it is to keep recruits in step while training, calls out marching orders. Cadence calls motivate, while ensuring unit cohesion and promoting military discipline. Safety is a factor as well, especially while marching or running in close formation. Similar to the railroad workers’ calls, military cadence calls are also a way to take one’s mind off strenuous tasks, vent dissatisfaction, mock one’s superiors, or build morale by boasting, poking  fun, or talking dirty. As verbal art forms, both have a rich tradition.

Popular legend holds that that Private Willie Lee Duckworth Sr. (1924-2004) made up “Sound Off”, a.k.a., the “Duckworth Chant,” which is used to this day in the U.S.Army and other branches of the military.  The year was 1944 and Duckworth was stationed at Fort Slocum, New York as one of eight “Colored Infantrymen.”

Duckworth, who was born in 1924 in Washington County, Georgia, would have been familiar with the use of work chants sung for all kinds of agricultural work. He was also the same generation of the gandy dancers who used chants to line track. At the time he was drafted to serve in WW II, Duckworth was working in a sawmill. He was sent to a provisional training center in Fort Slocum, N.Y., in March 1944. As the story goes, Duckwork, on orders from a non-commissioned officer, improvised his own drill for the soldiers in his unit. Soon after, all the ranks were buzzing and keeping rhythm. Col. Bernard Lentz, who was the base commander at the Fort, approached Duckworth and asked where he developed his unique chant. “I told him it came from calling hogs back home,” Duckworth said. “I was scared, and that was the only thing I could think of to say.”

Colonel Bernard Lentz was so convinced of the cadence calls’ effectiveness that he made them standard at Fort Slocum and went on to write a drill instruction manual.  The “Duckworth Chant” was popularized in 1945 when the US government included it with other popular music of the day on a  V-disc (12 inch vinyl 78 recording) for distribution to US military personnel overseas. The chant later gained fame as “Sound Off” and remains one of the most popular marching cadences in Army history.

Join us at a free public program on February 27 at Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center. In addition to screening the documentary Gandy Dancers, we will play the original recording of the “Duckworth Chant,” screen contemporary examples of cadence calls, and present a live demonstration by a military drill sergeant.

Mexican Chocolate Traditions in Massachusetts

Back in November, we introduced you to Taza Chocolate and promised you more info on an upcoming public program at Lowell National Historical Park.  Well that day has come. Tomorrow, in the Park’s Visitor Center, we are presenting on Mexican chocolate traditions here in Massachusetts.

Alex Whitmore, co-founder of Taza Chocolate, will talk about his Mexican-inspired, stone ground chocolate company located in Somerville. Taza manufactures minimally processed chocolate made from fair trade organic cacao beans. Rotary stone mills imported from Oaxaca are used to grind the roasted beans. Each one is hand chiseled with a pattern specifically designed for grinding chocolate.

Ricardo and Maria Candiani, owners of Mr. Jalapeno in downtown Lowell, grew up in Hermosillo, Mexico. They will share recipes and traditions passed down within their respective families. These include mole, a sauce made from finely ground ingredients, including chocolate. Delectable samples will be available at this free program, which is sponsored by Lowell National Historical Park. Saturday, February 12, 2011 at 4:00 p.m. at the Visitor Center, 246 Market Street.

Come join us to hear stories and taste samples of Mexican style chocolate and chicken mole. This free program takes place Saturday, February 12, 2011 at 4:00 p.m. at the Visitor Center, 246 Market Street.

Click here to watch the program.

 

World of Food at the Lowell Folk Festival

 

The 24th Lowell Folk Festival will feature cooking demonstrations in the Folk Craft and Foodways area of Lucy Larcom Park and a chance to buy a variety of ethnic cuisine at three performance stage areas.

This year “Foodways” looks at how beans are prepared in several cultures. Often called the “poor man’s meat,” beans are rich in protein and have long been the traditional Saturday night supper in New England. Native Americans introduced slowly cooked beans to early settlers, and like many foodways, recipes were adopted and transformed by immigrants who added their own traditions and ingredients. Folklorists Millie Rahn and Maggie Holtzberg have connected with five cultural representatives, who will share their insights with the audience. Festival visitors are invited to sit down and watch how this simple legume can take on such different flavors. Ask questions. And be sure to sample the beans made by our various cooks —

 12:00  Faith Izevbijie, Nigerian beans

1:00    Guida Ponte, Portuguese beans

2:00    Sellou Diaite, Senegalese bean fritters

3:00    Jeanette Rodriquez-Cumpiano, Puerto Rican beans

4:00    Kurt Levasseur, Franco-American beans

In the Community: Music and Franco-American Food

 

Sometimes, a concert’s setting can make all the difference. When Lowell National Historical Park first thought of partnering with the Franco-American Day Committee to help celebrate Franco-American Week in Lowell, we planned on presenting a Franco-American/Irish concert on Park grounds. But after much thought and discussion, we all realized that the better idea was to pair the Park-sponsored concert with a community event — the traditional ham and bean supper, which is typically held in a French Church Hall. This year, the supper was served in the Immaculate Conception School Hall. When we arrived around 4:45 p.m., the hall was full of people, many of whom had grown up in Lowell and the surrounding communities. Although there were some children about, the average age was about 75. French was being spoken and the aroma was heavenly. Home baked hams and plenty of Cote’s beans, both the light and the dark, were being served.

 

People socialized and ate from 4:30 to 6:30. Music was scheduled to start at 7:30. Several hours before members of the “Irish-French Connection” took the stage, they rehearsed in the Park’s Visitor Center conference room.

The leaders of this band – John Whelan and Donna Hébert –are icons in their Irish and Franco-American musical communities. Each brings 40 years of performing, teaching, and recording experience to the newly formed band.

 

The tunes and songs they performed during the evening concert were once commonly played and danced to in Irish and French-Canadian immigrant communities throughout the Northeast, where both groups migrated in the 1880s to work in the textile mills. Indeed, when we asked the 135 audience members how many had relatives who had worked in the Lowell textile mills, about half of the hands went up.

Seated at one of the many tables was Lowellian Raymond Breault, who throughout the evening played his wooden spoons and clogged his tap-soled shoes in time to the music. On more than one occasion, he made his way to the front of the hall to demonstrate his rhythmic feet. This delighted the musicians. As Donna remarked from the stage, “There is no better compliment to a fiddler than to have someone who is moved to  get up and dance.”

Foodways Lectures, Film at Lowell National Historical Park

It’s not every day that someone’s kitchen becomes a museum exhibit. But then again, Julia Child is not your every day cook.  When she relocated from Cambrdige to California, her kitchen – the cabinets, appliances, utensils, pots, and pans – found a new home at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. The exhibit remains popular with visitors since it opened in 2002.  

 

To explore the kitchen’s journey to the Smithsonian, join us on Friday April 30 for a talk by Dr. Rayna Green, folklorist and Smithsonian’s curator of Julia Child’s kitchen. She will also touch upon the French Chef’s impact on the home cook in the 1960s and 70s through her cookbooks and her legendary television show produced by Boston’s PBS station, WGBH. The program is free and will be offered in the auditorium of the Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center, 246 Market Street,  at 7:30 pm.

In case you missed it, consider joining us on Tuesday, April 27 for Julie and Julia. The feature film (2009) is a comedy-drama written and directed by Nora Ephron. The film depicts events in the life of Julia Child in the early years in her culinary career, contrasting her life with Julie Powell who aspires to cook all 524 recipes from Child’s cookbook during a single year, a challenge she described on her popular blog that would make her a published author. Being screened in partnership with the Lowell Film Collaborative, the film will be shown at the Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center,246 Market Street, at 6:30 pm. The film is free.

Native American Foodways in New England, May 1

On May 1, Dr. Rayna Green will give a presentation on Native American foodways of New England. She will provide a broad overview of Native foodways in New England (coastal cultures versus inland, seasonal food, agriculture, etc.) and talk about the impact of Native American foodways on what some would define as “traditional” New England cuisine. This free presentation will be offered at 1:30 pm in the Boott Event Center located on the second floor of the Boott Cotton Museum at Lowell National Historical Park, 115 John Street.

 

This trio of events inaugurates a new series of foodways programming at Lowell National Historical Park.

Balla goes to Washington

Last time we heard balafon master Balla Kouyaté performing it was at a baby shower in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

From the domestic to the national scene, Balla and his band, World Vision, are being presented by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress April 28 as part of their noontime “Homegrown Concert Series”. We will be there with him, introducing this virtuoso balafon player to a DC audience. If you are in the vicinity, come on by. And if you miss the 12:00 o’clock performance, you can catch them at the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage from 6:00-7:00 p.m.

Changes Afoot …

  

As the Folk Arts and Heritage Program begins its 12th year at the Massachusetts Cultural Council, we are excited to tell you about some changes. Through a unique partnership with Lowell National Historical Park (LNHP), state folklorist Maggie Holtzberg has been temporarily assigned to the Park to support the development and expansion of traditional arts programming serving the public. We will continue our work in running a vital state folk arts program — doing field research, maintaining an archive, database, and website, and providing grants to individual artists. This new endeavor is an exciting opportunity to explore cross-cultural understanding within in the context of a National Park based on ethnic heritage, occupational folklore, immigration, and industrial history.  

  

The goal is to engage visitors and more of the region’s immigrant and ethnic populations by offering a robust variety of culturally-relevant public programs at the Park year-round. Though the MCC Folk Arts and Heritage Program has worked with the Lowell Folk Festival for over a decade (providing potential crafts artists and musicians, emceeing on stages, etc.) we will be more actively involved in the planning and presentation of folk arts than ever before. This summer, look for “Folk Craft and Foodways” in Lucy Larcom Park where we will showcase some of the extra-musical aspects of traditional folk culture.

The plan is to build on the energy of the festival — the high-quality, traditional arts performances that are the hallmark of the Lowell Folk Festival — and offer similar experiences throughout the year. Special exhibits and interactive presentations of craft, foodways, performing, and expressive traditions will be developed based on both previous and new folklife field research within the region’s many diverse communities. There is even the possibility of re-establishing a folklife center at the Park.

 Keep your eye on this blog for further postings from Lowell . . .

Local Brick Making and Pottery Industries, circa 1800

Brick making and utilitarian pottery was once a thriving industry in Massachusetts. Come hear Rich Hamelin of Pied Potter Hamelin Redware talk about the people, language, history, materials, and development of brick and pottery making in America from the early Colonial days through the 1930s. Special focus on a who’s who in Massachusetts and Medford (such as the Tufts family) clay working industries. The Program will take place February 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the Medford Historical Society headquarters located at 10 Governors Ave. in Medford.