September 29, 2013

America's Oldest Apple Pie Recipe, Plus Some Strange Apple Stories

I'm taking a brief break from writing about the Devil and witchcraft because we are in the heart of apple season. It's been a great year for the New England orchards, and the trees are literally groaning under the weight of all those apples. Shhh! If you listen closely you can probably hear them.

Although I live in Boston my neighborhood used to be an agricultural area, and the streets near me are still lined with apple trees. There are so many apples this year they are literally rolling down the sidewalks. The Roxbury russet, the first variety of apple grown in North America, was domesticated not far from where I live now. My neighbor has a Roxbury russet tree growing in the backyard.

Apple pie is the quintessential American dessert, and I can't even begin to guess how many recipes for it exist. My mother always makes hers with a crust made from vegetable oil. The crust is really difficult to roll out, but after baking it's flaky and thin, almost like a puff pastry or phyllo dough. Delicious!

I was curious about the oldest American recipe for apple pie, so I looked at Amelia Simmons's 1796 book American Cookery. The first cookbook published in America (in Hartford, Connecticut, to be exact), American Cookery's recipes have their roots deep in New England's history. But even two centuries ago there were multiple recipes for apple pie - Simmons includes two.

The first recipe is just called "Apple Pie." Note that the "paste No. 3" Simmons references is a pastry crust recipe in her book made from flour, butter, and eggs.

Stew and strain the apples, to every three pints, grate the peal of a fresh lemon, add cinnamon, mace, rose-water and sugar to your taste--and bake in paste No. 3.

This recipe is a big change from most contemporary apple pie recipes because it involves cooking the apples first. Stewing the apples first probably sped up the baking time, which would have been helpful to cooks at that time who were baking in their fireplaces. The lemon, cinnamon and sugar are still used, but I think most people now would substitute nutmeg for mace. Mace comes from the same nut as nutmeg, but is kind of hard to find these days in supermarkets. I don't think very many people still use rose-water in their apple pie. It's just not a flavor we associate now with fall cooking.

Simmons's second recipe is perhaps a little more similar to modern recipes, but there's still a twist or two. Here's her recipe for "A Buttered Apple Pie":

Pare, quarter and core tart apples, lay in paste No. 3, cover with the same; bake half an hour, when drawn, gently raise the top crust, add sugar, butter, cinnamon, mace, wine or rose-water.

So this recipe involves putting the cut and peeled apples into a pastry crust and baking it for a while, which we still do, but strangely without any of the spices or sugar. They're are added in after the top crust is cooked enough to lift it off. Again, it seems like the recipe is designed for ovens that took a long time to cook, and it also involves rose water or wine. 

OK, those are America's two oldest apple pie recipes! I think they're kind of quirky and interesting, but if you're not a baker and want to read some really strange things about apples I'd suggest these past posts:

Enjoy apple season while you can. It's all too brief.

September 22, 2013

Places Named After the Devil in Southern New England

Last week I wrote about all the places in northern New England. I was surprised at how many there are, but when I compiled this week's devilish lists of southern New England locales I was totally flabbergasted. Here's the list; my comments are below.


Devil's Backbone, Bethlehem
Devil's Backbone, Bristol
Devil's Backbone, Cheshire
Devil's Backbone, Bristol
Devil's Belt, Long Island Sound
Devil's Den, Franklin
Devil's Den, Haddam
Devil's Den, Monroe
Devil's Den, Plainfield 
Devil's Den, Sterling
Devil's Den, Weston
Devil's Dripping Pan, Branch Brook
Devil's Footprint, Montville
Devil's Footprint, Branford
Devil's Gap, Brookfield
Devil's Glen Park, Weston
Devil's Gorge, Weston
Devil's Hopyard, East Haddam
Devil's Island, Danielson
Devil's Jump, Derby
Devil's Kitchen, Burligton
Devil's Kitchen, Thomaston
Devil's Meditation, Middlebury and Watertown
Devil's Mouth, Redding
Devil's Plunge, Morris
Devil's Pulpit, Hamden
Devil's Rock, Old Saybrook
Devil's Rock, Portland
Devil's Wharf, Deep River


Devil's Back, Hull
Devil's Basin, Newbury
Devil's Bridge, Gay Head
Devil's Brook, Sharon
Devil's Brook, Stoughton
Devils Cavern, Amherst (see also Devil's Garden)
Devil's Coffin, Sutton
Devil's Corncrib, Sutton
Devil's Den, Andover (now often called Den Rock)
Devil's Den, Aquinnah
Devil's Den, Arlington (now Menotomy Rocks Park)
Devil's Den, Ashland
Devil's Den, Goshen
Devil's Den, Newbury
Devil's Den, Hemlock Gorge, Newton
Devil's Den, Oxford
Devil's Den, Rockport
Devil's Den, Weston
Devil's Dishfull Pond, Peabody
Devil's Foot Island, Woods Hole
Devil's Football, Hadley 
Devil's Footprint, Ipswich
Devil's Footprint, Norton
Devil's Garden, Amherst (see also Devil's Cavern)
Devil's Garden, Lynnfield
Devil's Hollow, Marshfield
Devil's Hopyard, Shelburne Falls
Devil's Kitchen, Lynnfield
Devil's Landslide, Wellesley
Devil's Lane, Warren
Devil's Oven, Sherborn
Devil's Oven, Westwood
Devil's Peak, Warren
Devil Pond, Westport (now called Devol Pond because it is more family friendly)
Devil's Pond, Rehoboth (sometimes called Sabin Pond)
Devil's Pool, Pelham
Devil's Pulpit, Great Barrington
Devil's Pulpit, Housatonic
Devil's Pulpit, Leominster
Devil's Pulpit, Nahant
Devil's Pulpit, Newbury (historic, may no longer exist)
Devil's Rock, Rochester
Devil's Rock, Sharon
Devil's Rock, Swansea

An old marker for Devil's Foot Rock in North Kingstown, RI.
 Rhode Island

Devil's Foot Cemetery, North Kingstown (an archeological site)
Devil's Foot Rock, North Kingstown
Devil's Foot Road, North Kingstown

Massachusetts is clearly the most devilish state, with 43 places named after the Prince of Darkness. Many people in New England do think Massachusetts is evil, and maybe this verifies that. Connecticut has 29 devilish locations, which is still pretty sinister, but Rhode Island only has three, and they're all related to the same rock. Rhode Island needs to step up its evil game!

All kidding aside, there's probably a historical reason for the preponderance of devil names in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Those two states were the Puritan heartland in New England, and the Puritans constantly saw the Devil's actions in the world around them. Rhode Island, however, was more liberal in its approach to religion and the people there didn't see the world in such stark good-and-evil terms. That's just my guess, mind you.

As in the northern states, the Devil has plenty of dens named after him. Tony and I have visited the one in Ashland, which unfortunately was damaged during construction of a new high school playing field. The den in Plainfield, Connecticut is famous for its large size, naturally occurring staircase, and freezing cold temperatures.

In the 1800s, boys in Newbury, Massachusetts had to be initiated by their friends before they entered the Devil's Den in that town. Climbing to the top of the nearby Devil's Pulpit boulder, they would repeat certain irreverent phrases that protected from the evil that dwelt within the cave. Even after initiation they could only enter in groups; a secret name was written on the floor of the cave that would kill anyone who entered alone. The cave was also known for interesting mineral deposits of serpentine and soft, gummy chrysotile, a naturally occurring form of asbestos. The boys would often chew the chrysotile, so I hope the irreverent phrases protected them from cancer.

All three states have footprints left by the Devil. In Ipswich, Massachusetts the footprint was left when George Whitefield, a cross-eyed Methodist evangelical preacher, threw Satan off the church steeple. In Norton, Massachusetts it was made when he absconded with the body of a man who sold his soul, while in North Kingstown, Rhode Island the Devil left his track as he carried off a Native American woman who killed her lover.

That's not the only connection these devilish places have to the local Indians. The Puritans incorrectly categorized all Indian deities as demons or devils, and this is reflected in the place names. For example, the Devil's Den at Aquinnah on Martha's Vineyard is where the giant Wampanoag hero Maushop (or Moshup) sleeps, and the Devil's Bridge is actually a rock formation the mighty giant created. The Devil's Hop Yard in Haddam, Connecticut was probably originally a gathering place for local Indian shamen, but the Puritans named it after the Devil.

The Devil's Hopyard was also the location of a malt house. Hops are used to make beer, so it's name may be appropriate. A local legend claims a man named Dibble owned the malt house, and the area was really called Dibble's Hop Yard. With time, the name devolved to Devil's Hop Yard. This story, which sounds so appealing to our rational minds, is not true. The area really was named after the Devil.

Other than searching the Web, I found lots of good information in David Phipps Legendary Connecticut and Jeff Belanger's Weird Massachusetts. The fascinating information about the Devil's Den in Newbury can be found here.

September 15, 2013

Places Named After the Devil In Northern New England

A while ago I was looking through Loren Coleman's Mysterious America, and noticed that Appendix V lists places named after the Devil. He mentions a couple in New England, but I knew there were more out there. I thought, Wouldn't a list of devil-named places make a good blog post?

I was wrong.

I simply underestimated how many geographic features are named after the Evil One in this part of the country. There are a lot, so it's going to be two blog posts. This week I'm just listing those devilish places in northern New England, with my commentary at the bottom. Next week I'll write about southern New England.

And please note, this list only includes sites or locations with the word "Devil" in them. I left out all the places named after Hell, Purgatory, or Satan. I had to rein in this evil list somehow! Otherwise people would think our region is just a hissing cauldron of demonic activity.


Devil's Back Trail, Harpswell
Devil's Back, Louds Island
Devil's Bog, Skowhegan
Devil's Bog Brook, Skowhegan
Devil's Chair Trail, Waterville
Devil's Den, Andover
Devils Den, Sanford
Devil's Elbow, Bristol
Devil's Elbow, Penobscot County
Devil's Footprint Rock, Manchester
Devil's Half Acre, a former neighborhood in Bangor
Devil's Half Acre, Bar Harbor
Devil's Head, Calais
Devil's Head, Hartland
Devil's Head, John's Island
Devil's Head, St. Albans
Devil's Horseshoe, Bear
Devil's Horseshoe, Grafton
Devil's Island, Jonesport
Devil's Island, Stonington
Devil's Limb, Bristol
Devil's Snowshoe Track, Milo
Devil's Wall, a mountain peak near Mattawamkeag Lake

The Devil's Bean Pot, Mont Vernon, New Hampshire. From Wikipedia.

New Hampshire:

Devil's Bean Pot, Mont Vernon
Devil's Den, Alton
Devil's Den, Mont Vernon
Devil's Den, New Durham
Devil's Footprint, Mont Vernon
Devil's Hopyard, Groveton
Devil's Slide, Stark


Devil's Den, Bradford
Devil's Dishpan, Stevensville
Devil's Gulch, Eden
Devil's Gorge, Clarendon

Devil's Hill, Peacham
Devil's Perch Outlook, Eden
Devil's Potholes, Bolton
Devil's Rock, Lake Willoughby, Westmore
Devil's Washbowl, Northfield

Path to the Devil's Den, New Durham, New Hampshire. From Wikipedia.

First of all, Maine is the clear winner for devilish names. The Maine tourism bureau markets the state as Vacation Land, but clearly something else is hiding just under the state's placid, pine-forested surface. I always thought Steven King was writing fiction, but maybe not.

My favorite name in Maine is the Devil's Snowshoe Track, an imprint on a rock in the town of Milo. According to a local legend, the Devil and his dog were hanging around in Milo one winter. I suppose they were there to cause trouble and steal souls. Luckily, a extreme cold spell set in. Being used to warmer temperatures, the Devil hightailed it out of town to find someplace warmer, imprinting a rock with his snowshoe on the way out. Before leaving town he also blasted out a cave called Satan's Cave, thinking it would keep him warm, but it didn't work.

Did he strap the snowshoes to cloven hooves, or to human-like feet? This is probably one of the most troubling theological questions of our time. Horseshoe shaped marks, suggesting Satan indeed has hooves, are found in Bear and Grafton, Maine, but a cursed rock in Manchester, Maine that bears his footprint quite clearly shows five toes. The human-shaped footprint he left in Mont Vernon is seven feet long!

What do the names tell us about the Devil's activities? Other than lurking about in multiple dens, the Evil One seems interested in the domestic arts, since a washbowl, a dishpan, and a bean pot are all named after him. But even cooking takes an evil turn when the Devil's at the stove. According to Charles J. Smith's History of the Town of Mont Vernon (1907), the Devil disguised himself and invited the local church elders to a bean supper in the woods. Beans take a long time to cook, particularly when you're heating them in a stoney depression, so he summoned a little hellfire to cook them faster. Unfortunately for the Devil, but luckily for the elders, the heat melted the rock around his feet. As he pulled out his foot he swore like the fallen angel he truly is, and the elders fled back home. Both the bean pot and footprint can still be seen today.

I'm not sure how much washing the Devil did (or does) in the Devil's Washbowl in Northfield, Vermont, but it is associated with the mysterious Pigman who lurks around that town, who has probably not bathed in years.  

There is a theory floating around that places named after the Devil were gathering spots for Native Americans. The local Indians were the Puritans' enemies, so their Puritans named the Indian gathering places after God's enemy. In reality, the Indians were no more evil than the Puritans themselves.

Some legends say that the Devil's Den, a cave in Alton, New Hampshire was indeed used as a lookout by the local Indians, but others say it was used by bootleggers and smugglers to hide their contraband. A similar story is told about the Devil's Den in Bradford, Vermont. Oh, that delicious but devilish liquor.

Next week, I'll unearth the devilish places in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut!

September 08, 2013

Hannah Cranna, or the Witch's Funeral: A Story From Connecticut

It feels like fall is coming. It's windy and cool today, and the apple trees in my neighborhood are dropping their fruit onto the sidewalks and the paths. This weather puts me in the mood for a witch story.


After her husband of many years died, Hannah Hovey acquired the reputation for being a witch. Maybe it was because her husband, Captain Joseph Hovey, died under mysterious circumstances, being found at the bottom of a cliff with his neck broken. Maybe it was because after his death Hannah lived alone with no companion except a rooster named Old Boreas, who had the uncanny habit of crowing only at midnight. Or maybe it was just because Hannah was an irascible, demanding, cranky old woman who easily matched the stereotypical image of a witch.

Hannah used her reputation to her advantage, asking for favors and demanding food from her neighbors in Monroe, Connecticut. "If you know what's good for you, you'll give me that pie," she would threaten a farm wife who had just completed her baking. "No," she would say to a neighbor boy, "you can't fish in the stream that runs through my yard. I don't care if it is common property!"

The people of Monroe gave her the nickname "Hannah Cranna", which they thought suited her witchy personality. The educated people in town laughed at the thought of a witch living among them. After all, this was the 19th century, not the 1600s! But others whispered that the stories were true. That farm wife who refused to give Hannah a pie? She never successfully baked anything again. And the boy who fished in Hannah's stream never caught a trout again for the rest of his life.

It was also said that Hannah Cranna would help out people in need - if offered the right price. A desperate farmer once came to her house on Cragley Hill and begged for her aid. There had been a drought for weeks, and his crops were dying. Hannah agreed to bring rain, but only if he pledged his soul to her. Without hesitation the desperate farmer threw himself onto her floor and gave his soul into her aged hands. It rained that very night, and the farmer's harvest was rich and bountiful.

In early January of 1860, Old Boreas crowed his last midnight crow. Hannah wept at the loss of her beloved companion, and told her neighbors that his passing meant she would soon die too.

"When I die," she said, "this is how I must be buried. My coffin must be carried by hand to the graveyard, and I must be buried after sunset. Otherwise, evil and trouble will come to this town!"

Hannah died a few days later, and a heavy snowstorm covered Connecticut. The townspeople thought it would be easiest to transport Hannah to the graveyard by sled, so they hitched two big horses to a sled and strapped her coffin to it. As the funeral procession set off the straps ripped, and Hannah's coffin slid all the way back to her house.

Hannah Cranna's grave. Thanks Wikipedia!

Perhaps this was just a coincidence. Still ignoring her dying wish, the townspeople strapped her coffin to the sled again, this time with huge iron chains. Several men climbed on top to ensure the coffin didn't budge. The procession once again set off, but the coffin shook so violently that the men were thrown to the ground, and the chains started to burst.

Admitting defeat, and realizing Hannah was just as demanding dead as alive, the men lifted the coffin onto their shoulders and trudged through the snow to the cemetery. Because of all the delays Hannah's second dying wish was followed, and she was buried just after sunset.

As the mourners returned from the cemetery they noticed a fiery glow lighting up Cragley Hill. It was Hannah's house, which had mysteriously burst into flames. The fire burned for several days. When it finally died down the cellar hole had the reputation of being haunted. Strange moans and noises were heard there, and perhaps can still be heard there today.


Hannah Hovey was a real person, who lived from 1793 to 1860. I'm not sure how much of this legend is true, but it's a great story. It's nice to read a witch story where the witch gets everything she wants!

I think it is implied that Old Boreas is her familiar, or perhaps an aspect of her own soul externalized in an animal form. The death of this animal naturally foretells her own death, an ancient motif in myth and folklore.

Burying a witch is often problematic in folktales. Usually the witch's coffin is unnaturally heavy (perhaps because of all their accumulated sin), or must be sealed with chains to prevent the Devil from stealing the body. Hannah's story comes from a later period when witches were not viewed quite so sinisterly, but her funeral still poses problems for her neighbors.

I got this story from David E. Philips book Legendary Connecticut, but you can also read about Hannah Cranna at the Monroe Historical Society page. Damned Connecticut has a nice piece about Hannah as well, including info about a possible ghost seen lurking around her grave in Gregory's Four Corners Burial Ground.

September 02, 2013

Fort Indpendence: Edgar Allan Poe, a Skeleton, and a Sea Serpent

"The Cask of Amontillado" is one of Edgar Allan Poe's most famous stories. For those of you who need a reminder, the plot involves a man named Montresor who takes revenge upon his friend Fortunato, who has insulted him in an unspecified manner. One night during Carnival when Fortunato is drunk Montresor lures him into his basement by promising him a rare cask of Amontillado wine.

But instead of giving him wine, he chains Fortunato into a niche and then seals it with stones and mortar. Fortunato cries out, "For the love of God, Montresor!" Montresor replies, "Yes, for the love of God" as he puts in the last stone. The crime is never discovered.

Edgar Allan Poe, 1809 - 1849. 

Although Poe's 1846 story is a work of fiction, there is a local legend that it is based on fact. Confused? Read on.

In 1827 Edgar Allan Poe was serving in the military at Fort Independence on Castle Island in South Boston. Poe was a native-born Bostonian, but had acquired quite a bit of gambling debt by the time he was 18. To avoid his debtors and raise some cash he enlisted in the Army under the name of Edgar A. Perry, telling the recruiters he was 22 years old. This part of the story is true. Poe was always living on the edge.

Fort Independence on Castle Island, Boston.

While he was serving at Fort Independence, Poe noticed a gravestone in the fort's cemetery dedicated to Lt. Robert Massie, who died on Christmas Day in 1817. The other soldiers told Poe that Massie had been killed in a duel with another officer, Lt. Gutavus Drane. Drane had never been popular with the enlisted men at the fort, and what little popularity he had vanished after he killed Massie. One night when he was drunk the soldiers lured him into the basement of the fort and walled him up alive. Years later, Poe used this incident as inspiration for "The Cask of Amontillado."

A sealed door on the fort's exterior wall.
That part of the story is mostly legend, and some of the details are quite murky. Again, Poe really did serve at Fort Independence, but Gustavus Drane was not walled up alive. He was promoted, married, died of an illness, and was buried outside of Philadelphia. Alternately, some versions of the story say the entombed officer was really named Greene or Drake, and Massie's name is sometimes spelled Massey for more confusion.

There is no gravestone for Robert Massie at Fort Independence, but historian and folklorist Edward Rowe Snow claims it was moved to Fort Devens in Ayer. And perhaps the story really is true after all. Rowe also claims that when renovations were being done on the fort in 1905 workers found a skeleton entombed within a wall - and it was wearing a uniform from the early 1800s.

Tony looked but could not see a skeleton.
So there you go - fact, fiction and legend are all intertwined at Fort Independence, and it's hard to determine what's true and what isn't. It's a great story though, and sometimes that's what's most important.

Another great story from Castle Island is that a sea serpent was sighted there in 1818. Two soldiers and an officer all reported seeing the large monster swimming in the harbor. There were a lot of sea serpent seen off the coast of Massachusetts in the 19th century, so it does seem likely one was seen near Fort Independence. I'll let others determine if the sea serpent was real or not.

A good viewing spot for sea monsters.
Even if you aren't intrigued by stories of revenge, skeletons, and aquatic monsters Castle Island is still worth a visit. There have been fortifications on the island since 1634, so it's rich in history. For example, it was from Castle Island that the British attempted to bombard the American revolutionaries on Dorchester Heights. Fort Independence is the seventh fort to stand on the island,  and was built in 1801. Sadly you can't go inside it, but the views are great, there's a beach, and the island is connected to the mainland so you can walk, drive, or take the bus there.

I got most of my information from Stephanie Schorow's East of Boston: Notes from the Harbor Islands. You can find Edward Rowe Snow's version of the legend here; I believe it first appeared in Yankee Magazine in the early 1960s.