What could be a better guarantee that your name will never be forgotten than having a food named after you? Here, in no particular order, are 10 eponymous New England classic foods and the people who inspired them. (Plus a couple extras.)
Hubbard Squash. Captain Knott Martin was a master mariner from Marblehead, Mass. On returning from one of his voyages in 1854 he introduced his neighbor, Elizabeth Hubbard, to a strange, foreign vegetable. It was a squash. Elizabeth began extolling its virtues to a seed merchant, James Gregory, and he decided to produce seeds from the vegetable to market. Since no one could tell him the name of the vegetable, he dubbed it the Hubbard Squash. It can grow to 45 pounds and last in the pantry for months, making it a valuable addition to any garden. There are competing theories as to how the squash got its name, but we’re sticking with this one.
Real New England Classic Foods
Mary Janes. You’ve probably eaten a Mary Jane. They’re a molasses and peanut butter flavored little taffy style block sold in a yellow wrapper with a picture of a little girl on them. That’s Mary Jane. Charles Miller of the Charles N. Miller Candy Company said he named them (but maybe Robert O. Lord did). His company was actually located in Paul Revere’s house. The products were popular on the penny candy scene since their inception in 1914. Miller told the story that he named the candies after a favorite aunt. Others have suggested it was just a popular name in that era. NECCO subsequently bought Mary Janes, but went bankrupt. The Atkinson Candy Co. now makes them under a licensing agreement with Spangler.
The Baldwin Apple. The Baldwin apple made its debut on the farm of John Ball of Wilmington, Mass., in 1740. A random hybrid, it only grew for about 40 years in and around Wilmington. But it got its name from Loammi Baldwin, a farmer and hero of the American Revolution. Baldwin promoted the variety aggressively. Firm, bright red and a reliable and abundant crop, the Baldwin was for many years the most popular apple in New England and New York.
Soup and Cake
Rumford’s Soup. One of Loammi Baldwin’s good friends was Benjamin Thompson, who would be made a German count in 1791 for his assistance to the German government. Count Rumford was a prolific inventor and not shy about attaching his name to things. His Rumford stoves are still in use. Concord, N.H., was at one point named Rumford after him. Working in Germany, Rumford researched nutrition and developed a soup, Rumford’s Soup, as a nutritious food staple that could be served widely in the military, workhouses and poorhouses. The barley-pea soup became a basic military ration in Europe for much of the 1800s and into the 1900s. Germans still trot out the classic recipe at Oktoberfest.
German Chocolate Cake. Though it may sound improbable, German chocolate cake is not German. It gets its name from Samuel German who worked for Dorchester’s Baker’s Chocolate Company. The company produced its dark “German’s Chocolate” bearing Samuel German’s name. It was adapted as the standard chocolate brand to be used in making a German chocolate cake, the chocolate layer cake with pecans, coconut and cherries on top that became wildly popular in the 1950s. German Chocolate Cake day is June 11, which is as good an excuse as any to bake one of these delicious dessert treats.
An Accident and Connoisseurs
Parker House Rolls. Mainer H.D. Parker established the Boston Parker House Hotel in 1855. He ran it until he died in 1884. Sometime during the 1870s the roll that bears his name got started. The soft, white rolls are slightly sweet and have several legends about their creation. The stories feature a baker growing furious and throwing dough into the oven, only to accidentally produce the hotel’s signature rolls. A local favorite from the start, Fannie Farmer made them famous when she included them in her 1896 Boston Cooking School Cook Book.
Bartlett Pear. The most common pear in America, the Bartlett Pear, is names for Enoch Bartlett, a Dorchester, Mass., farmer. Bartlett bought his farm from James Carter, who planted his land with Bartletts around 1799. To connoisseurs, the flavor of the Bartlett epitomizes the pearishness they seek in the fruit. Carter had imported the pear trees from Europe, where they are known as Williams pears. Farmer Bartlett apparently did not know what to call them, and so when he began marketing them he named them after himself. The name stuck. By the time people identified the Bartlett as being the same as the Williams pear, it was wildly popular in North America and kept its new name.
Health Food Nut
Graham Crackers. Connecticut’s Rev. Sylvester Graham was born in 1794 in Suffield, Conn., to an aging father and mentally ill mother. Raised by relatives, he developed a fierce ideology that he carried with him into the pulpit when he took up the family trade of ministering. He hated waste and unhealthy food almost as much as he hated alcohol, and so he preached that people should eat a simple vegetarian diet of minimally processed foods. In his sermons around the county, he advocated for people using Graham flour and Graham crackers, made of unrefined whole wheat. Though he earned no money from the products he advocated, he did earn fame because the name stuck. We have Graham crackers in American pantries to this day.
More New England Classic Foods
Needhams. The Needham candy, a chocolate-covered coconut and potato sweet that is popular in Maine, was actually invented in the candy kitchens of John Seavey in Auburn, Maine, around 1872. But the modest Mr. Seavey chose not to name them after himself or his employee who dreamed them up. Rather, he named them after George Needham, a well known minister of the day who had settled in Boston from his native England. Needham’s remarkable life had very little to do with the candy that keeps his name alive today.
Joe Froggers. In Marblehead, Mass., Joe Frogger cookies have been a prized sweet for generations. They are large ginger cookies first baked by a man known as Old Black Joe Brown and his wife Lucretia, known as Aunty Crese. Joe served as a soldier in the American Revolution. After the war, he and his wife ran a tavern on Gingerbread Hill near a small pond filled with frogs. Hence the name ‘Joe Frogger.’ The cookies kept for a long time, and sailors and fishermen took barrels of Joe Froggers with them on their voyages.
Burbank Plum and Burbank Potato. Luther Burbank of Lancaster, Mass., headed west to California in the 1870s and spent a lifetime developing new strains of plants. He created dozens of varieties of flowers and vegetables, including two that bear his name. The Burbank Plum and the Burbank Russet Potato. The Burbank Russet, which Luther developed in Massachusetts and used to pay for his westward migration, is the most widely grown potato in the United States today. It appears in, among other preparations, McDonald’s French fries.
This story about New England classic foods was updated in 2022.