At the wonderful website for travelers who read–Packabook-- you can sign up for a newsletter “book club” and read a book, as Packabook provides analysis and background information, then find out what it would be like to travel to that country. Recently Packabook’s newsletter focused on Luxembourg in Chris Pavone’s book, Expats.
You may have read my review of Expats (“Sex, Lies and Living Abroad”) here, so I wanted to share this little bit of the travelogue published as part of Packabook’s newsletter, which focused on the question of whether Luxembourg is boring. Certainly not this spooky castle–a world heritage site. It was built by the French in the 16th century and contains miles of subterranean tunnels.
Books: From the Hearth: Recipes from the World of 18th Century Louisbourg by Hope Dunton
Ás an Abhainn Mhóir: English-Gaelic Recipes from Pictou County
As winds from the Atlantic roared outside, we ducked into the shelter of the L’épée Restaurant in the Fortress Louisbourg. Seating us at a wooden table with two strangers, the waitress, dressed in homespun with a cap on her head, handed us a large spoon and warned us “This is your spoon. Do not to lose it. It is the only utensil you get.” She then handed over an enormous napkin and instructed us to tuck it into the collar like a bib.
We warmed up over bowls of vegetable soup that had been prepared in a brick fireplace, with bread baked in ovens at the on-site bakery at the Fortress of Louisbourg. We poured water from a common pitcher in the middle of the table where we were seated with strangers, and drank strong tea from pewter mugs.
On my recent road trip through Nova Scotia, I stuffed myself with the fresh seafood available everywhere. I also plunged into the cultures that predominated in that Canadian province. Those cultures include strong influences on what people eat, and here in Louisbourg, we were getting a taste of a 18th century French settlement.
Of course I looked for books to document the experience! And luckily, I found two cookbooks I could bring home to remind me of how I “ate the culture” of Nova Scotia, one French colonial and one Gaelic.
The French and English contended for control for decades. Ultimately, the English won and expelled the French, sending the French Acadians scurrying to safer places–including the Cajun home in Louisiana–but that did not mean that all of Nova Scotia automatically took on an English tone. Many pockets of Acadian culture remain, as some of the French Acadians returned years after the expulsion and settled in places like Cheticamp.
This National Historic Park turns back the clock with a living history museum in the rebuilt French fortified town of Louisbourg. You can visit with the soldiers, the tavern keeper, the workmen and the wealthy merchants as you wander around this beautifully rebuilt fortified town.
Next door to the Louisbourg restaurant, in the gift shop, I looked over the collection of books–some novels set in the historic Fortress of Louisbourg, children’s books, and cook books. The one that caught my eye, From the Hearth, by Hope Dunton with A. J. B. Johnston, provides recipes that would have been used in the 18th-century at Fortress Louisbourg.
This book is solidly researched. In the introduction, the author explains that although there are no surviving individual recipes from Louisbourg, we know what ingredients they had available (lots of dried peas and lots of cod, but no tomatoes or potatoes yet) and what cook books they might have brought from France.
There are some delicious sounding recipes here–beet fritters, cucumbers farcie (stuffed with veal and mushrooms), gâteau de savoie (a lemon flavored cake), or doughnuts. Plenty of sauces, as one might expect with French cooking. The book simplifies the old directions, but sometimes includes them for information. For instance, the original doughnut recipes says, “Place fourteen eggs on a scale and on the other side an equal weight of fine sugar; take off the sugar and put flour in its place to the weight of seven eggs.” The modern translation is
14 medium eggs
4 cups extra fine sugar
2 cups cake flour
A few days before our visit to Fortress Louisbourg, we visited Pictou where the ship Hector, known as the Scottish Mayflower, landed with the first boatload of Scottish settlers in 1773. There I spent the morning at the McCullough Heritage Center and the home of an amazing early settler.
The Heritage Center is dedicated to preserving the history and culture of the Scottish settlers on Nova Scotia, and in their small gift shop, I found a cookbook with recipes in English on one side and in Gaelic on the facing page. Ás an Abhainn Mhóir (English-Gaelic Recipes from Pictou County), 2011is a spiral-bound cookbook assembled by The Pictou County Cookbook Committee. I do not know where it is available, but you could contact the gift shop of the McCullough Heritage Center if you are interested.
Like most community spiral bound cookbooks, the contents are uneven, but I’m eager to try some of the authentic recipes that we enjoyed in Nova Scotia, particularly oatcakes. While this cookbook does not contain the historic detail about food and cooking that the Louisbourg cookbook offers, the committee avoided throwing in modern casseroles and jello desserts. The recipes do appear to be traditional. I love the stories, sayings, poems and song lyrics scattered through the book, because we learn even more there about the way of life of the Scottish settlers in North America.
” ‘S math an còcaire an t-acras!” “Hunger is a good Cook”
“Chan fhiach cuirm gun a còmhradh.” “A Feast is no use without good talk.”
Sometimes I read books and then go somewhere. Sometimes I find books along the way. These cookbooks will ensure that memories of my visits to Fortress Louisbourg and to Hector will remain for a long time.
On a recent trip to Concord, I went to the Minute Man National Historic Park. Members of my family were visiting sites connected to our relatives, and we had several ancestors who fought in the Battles of Concord and other Revolutionary War battles. I wrote about Jeduthan Stone, Minute man, at my other site, Ancestors in Aprons and it was wonderful to walk the same road he had walked in 1775.
But the bookworm in me was most interested to realize that The Old Manse, a house with a strong literary history, stood on a knoll just above the Concord’s North Bridge. In fact, the inhabitants at the time–the family of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grandfather– could have looked down and watched the battle from the second story window.
Much later, the house was home to Ralph Waldo Emerson for a while, and the beautiful wooded hills and meadows around helped inspire his thoughts in the book of essays that he composed at this desk, Nature (1836). Nature is called the foundation of Transcendentalism with its emphasis on using nature as a guide to living.
As newlyweds, Nathanial Hawthorne and his bride, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, an artist, rented the Old Manse and lived there from 1842 to 1845. At the time, he was a struggling writer, seemingly unsuccessful and was supported by his wife’s painting. Thoreau, who lived nearby, dined with the Hawthornes.
While they lived there, he wrote a collection of short stories, Mosses from an Old Manse (1846) which is now waiting on my Kindle, and his wife etched a poem on the window of the room where Hawthorne’s small desk stands beside the fireplace.
There is something magical about seeing the actual desk on which masterpieces were composed–imagining the now famous master, bent over the paper, struggling to find the right word.
Amazingly, the house, built in 1769, retained its Colonial look and most of its original furniture. Among the things you can see on a guided tour is wallpaper restored to look identical to the original, and an enormous bookcase stuffed with antique books.
Also amazing to anyone who has ever stood on a busy street and tried to picture life 200 years ago, this corner of Massachusetts allows you to step back in time. It has been protected by the Minute Man Historic Park, State Park Reserves and other measures that allow you to appreciate the natural beauty that inspired the Transcendentalists and the landscape that saw colonists hiding behind trees to fire at formally arrayed British soldiers.
There are regular events at the Old Manse (see the website linked above.) My grandson and I followed a young man through the house. Since we were the only two on the tour, he tailored his remarks to our interests, and amazed us with his knowledge. At the beginning and end of the tour, you pass through the gift shop. This is no ordinary gift shop. Yes, you can buy postcards. But you can also choose from a large collection of writings by the great American writers who lived here.
Whether it is historic roots or literary roots you want to explore, I urge you to visit Concord. Don’t miss the Old Manse.
Note: I could not visit the only house Hawthorne ever owned, The Wayside, because it was under reconstruction. I had previously visited the home of Little Women, Orchard House, and the Ralph Waldo Emerson home. But what a feast for you when you visit. Seeing where these authors lived and worked really brings American literature alive.
Photos are all my own, and I would appreciate no reuse without permission. The photos of the writer’s desks were taken with special permission, because photography is not permitted inside the Old Manse.
The house stands within the Minute Man National Historic Park, however it is maintained by the Trustees of Reservations that protects 100 cultural, historic and environmental treasures in Massachusetts. Check the website for days of guided tours. Prices range from $5 for children to $9 for adults.
Note: There are links to Amazon in this post, because I want to make it easy for you to purchase copies of these books in either print or electronic editions. I am an Amazon affiliate, so any purchases you make through my links will help support A Travelers Library. Thank you.