Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pilgrims, Witches, Patriots and Transcendentalists, oh my!

This week we head up the Atlantic Coast a short ways from “The Old Line State” of Maryland to the land of pilgrims, witches,   patriots, and transcendentalists in Massachusetts.  Out of all the states so far, hands down, Massachusetts is steeped in the most history.  In fact, I will admit that I was more than a little overwhelmed when I started my research on “The Bay State” to determine what exactly to tell the kiddos about.  There is so much to cover!  So bear with me this week as I try my best to hit as many highlights as possible in the state that gave us four presidents, the chocolate chip cookie and one heck of a (tea) party!

We’ll start at the very beginning (a very good place to start!) when before the state of Massachusetts was even a distant dream, a group of 102 hopeful settlers later to be known as pilgrims  boarded the Mayflower and left England to establish a new home where they could practice their religion freely.  In 1620 they landed on what is now known as Plymouth Rock (after traveling up and down the coast for nearly a month before debarking) to set up Plymouth Colony (in what would become present day Plymouth, Massachusetts) .   The settlors struggled through their first winter (nearly half died) and were later helped by the local Native Americans, who they then shared the bounty of their 1621 harvest with in what would later become known as the First Thanksgiving.

Life continued on in colonial Massachusetts and many permanent establishments were set up in “the New World” including the town of Salem.  Salem has become synonymous with one of the darkest periods of American history when during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 and 1693 twenty residents of Salem were accused and executed for the (supposed) practice of witchcraft.  “The episode is one of the nation's most notorious cases of mass hysteria and has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations and lapses in due process.”  (http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/salem/asa_lett.htm)

And the history doesn’t stop there!  Massachusetts played a key role in many events and battles of the Revolutionary War.  In 1773 the Sons of Liberty, in response to the Tea Act and in protest to being taxed without representation, snuck onto ships docked in Boston Harbor and threw chests of tea into the bay during what would later become known as The Boston Tea Party.  Not only did it cause to the British closing Boston Harbor but also sped up the timeline for the American Revolution.   Another key event that took place in Massachusetts leading up to the revolution (in 1770, before the Tea Party) was the Boston Massacre where members of the occupying British army fired into a crowd gathered on King Street, without orders, instantly killing three people instantly (two more later died from their wounds) and wounding at least six others.  The event furthered tensions between the British and the colonists.  Many key battles of the Revolution would also take place on Massachusetts soil.  The most famous that I shared with the kiddos tonight were the Battles of Lexington and Concord (which were among the very first) and The Battle of Bunker Hill which is most famously known for  being when the revolutionary army was given the instructions “Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”

Massachusetts and the rest of the colonies did eventually win their freedom and the United States of America was born.  Massachusetts became the sixth state to ratify the constitution on February 6, 1788.  There are way too many key historical figures from Massachusetts to even begin to cover them all, (and at four and six I can only keep the kiddos interest along this line for so long…) so tonight I told the kiddos about the four presidents hailing from Massachusetts; John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John Fitzgerald Kennedy and George Herbert Walker Bush.  What I found most interesting was not only are all four of these men from Massachusetts – they’re all from the same County!  Norfolk County has the distinction of being the birthplace of four American presidents and is known as “The County of Presidents”

There are also too many ‘firsts’ from Massachusetts to begin to hope to hit them all, so I picked and chose what I thought was most important (and most likely to interest my dynamic duo tonight!).   We talked about the oldest institution of higher education in the U.S., Harvard University (and I tried to explain to them the Boston accent with asking them to “park the car in Harvard yard” and the results of them attempting the same got us off course for a little bit).  Then I told them about Boston Common and how it is the oldest City Park in the United States and also the location for “Make Way For Ducklings” which we’ll of course be reading later this week.  Boston Latin School was established in 1635 by Puritan settlors and is the first public and oldest existing school in the United States.  And if all those firsts weren’t enough, Boston also plays home to the first multi-page newspaper (Publick Occurrences both Foreign and Domestic in 1690) and the first American newspaper, the New-England Courant which was penned by James Franklin, the younger brother of Maryland born (though more often linked to Pennsylvania) Benjamin Franklin.

I had a feeling by this point that all the history was beginning to make the kiddos heads spin, so I switched it up to an always popular topic around here – sports!  Massachusetts is home to The New England Patriots, the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Celtics.  It also play host every year to The Boston MarathonThe Marathon began in 1897 after the success of the first modern day marathon that was part of the 1896 Summer Olympics (the first of the modern Olympics) and is the world’s oldest annual marathon.  Massachusetts is also the birthplace of two often played modern sports; basketball and volleyball.  Invented by James Naismith in 1891 at Springfield College the original game was actually played with soccer balls and fruit baskets!  The objective of the game was to throw the basketball, into the fruit baskets nailed to the lower railing of the gym balcony and in this version the game was stopped every time a basket was made so someone could climb a ladder to get the ball back.  Eventually the bottom of the baskets were removed so the ball could fall through but it wasn’t until 1906 that the more modern version with metal hoops, nets and back boards introduced.  Volleyball, or “Minonette” as it was originally termed by creator William G. Morgan, was introduced in Holyoke, Massachusetts in 1895 as a combination of tennis and handball.  The game was originally meant to be played indoors, though many different variations of it has been created since its inception, including beach volleyball.

My American literature loving heart couldn’t discuss Maryland with the kiddos without at least trying to explain to them the importance of the Transcendentalist movement.  Massachusetts is the e\birthplace of such important American authors as Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  While not born in Massachusetts, one of my personal favorites, Louisa May Alcott moved to Boston when she was young and her most famous novel “Little Women”, is set at her family home of Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts and is said to be based on her relationship with her three sisters.  And just for my favorite twosome, I had to tell them that one of their heroes, Theodor Geisel, or as he is perhaps better known, Dr. Seuss was born and spent his young life in Springfield, where he made Mulberry Street famous with his book “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street”.

After all that I felt like I should throw the kiddos a bone or perhaps a cookie. A chocolate chip cookie to be exact.  Around 1938 Massachusetts born Ruth Graves Wakefield invented the iconic cookie purely by accident as the story goes.  Owner of the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Wakefield one day ran out of regular baker's chocolate and substituted broken pieces of semi-sweet chocolate from Nestlé thinking that they would melt and mix into the batter.  When they did not the chocolate chip cookie was born!  The cookie also just happens to be the official state cookie of Massachusetts.  Don’t worry; they’re on the menu this week!  As is the official state dessert the Boston Cream Pie. 

So now can you see why I was just a tad overwhelmed by teaching the kiddos about Massachusetts?  I have no doubt that I’ve missed quite a bit, but I think we hit quite a few highlights!  Plus this week is a tad squished as Memorial Day was yesterday, I’m off to the last PTA meeting of the year tomorrow, and we have “Dads & Dogs” on Thursday – so look for us to carry some of our usual state happenings into the weekend.

I decided to start the culinary side of our Massachusetts journey with the dishes most often associated with it; clam chowder and Boston cream pie!  I made authentic New England Style Clam Chowder (the white kind.  Manhattan is the red kind) and of course my Bean was in seventh heaven.  I’ve made a few different clam chowders before (think it actually turned up twice during last year’s  food project.  We really liked this recipe as well) but this one was simple, quick and a definite hit for dinner tonight.  I paired it with the official state muffin (who knew such a thing existed!) the Massachusetts Corn Muffin.  If you like cornbread – try these.  They are sweeter and don’t crumble nearly as much as the more traditional style.  Once we finished those up, it was time to dig into dessert.  Created at Boston’s Parker House Hotel in 1856, the Boston Cream Pie is really a cake that is layered with a vanilla custard or cream in between the layers and then topped with a chocolate glaze.  Yum, right?  My crew thought so – but for what it’s worth, I personally would not recommend using this particular recipe for it.  First the recipe says to use one 8 inch pan – I would have less mess in my oven this morning if I had gone with my instincts and actually split it into to 8 inch pans or just made the whole thing in one 9 inch pan.  It was all good, though and the actually cake part did turn out yummy.  I also thought the chocolate glaze was a little too thin for my personal liking.  I have another recipe in a Hershey’s cookbook that I’ve made before and if you really want to try your hand at a Boston Cream Pie, let me know and I’ll send you that one instead J

Not sure what we’re up to tomorrow during the day, but like I said, I’m off to the last PTA meeting of the year tomorrow night.  I think Grant and the kids are going to do the “We’ve Been There State” and may a little “Make Way for Ducklings” might be in order.  So until then….

Massachusetts Fun Fact of the Day:  The Boston Terrier was the first purebred dog developed in America (1869); a cross between an English bulldog and an English terrier 
(For Grandma Bevens :) ) 

Mikayla still passed out at 8:30 this morning - think she had fun this weekend?

But the princess is soon ready for her day

The Massachusetts wall is up!

Assembling the Boston Cream Pie

Massachusetts Corn Muffin - Noah particularly LOVED these

Due to the pan mishap earlier today wasn't the prettiest of cakes

(But it is supposed to drizzle and drip over the sides)

New England Clam Chowder

Noah declared this to be his 'favorite state dessert besides the King Cake.  That was just epic, Mom'

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