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By March 30, 2021 Read More →

Back in time for dinner with the Alcotts

 

 

Have you ever imagined meeting someone from the past?

Our resident culinarian, Lorraine, shares the stories of famous people who have visited the Monadnock Region and imagines what it would be like to make dinner for them.

One part history and one part imagination topped off with some period recipes makes Back in Time for Dinner a tasty trip into the region’s past.

Enjoy this ten-part series on the Monadnock Center’s blog, Facebook, and Instagram. New posts can be found every Sunday through June 6.

Back in time for dinner with the Alcotts…

A friend of mine has served for many years as a docent at Orchard House in Concord, MA, home to Louisa May Alcott’s family. She has told me many wonderful stories about the Alcott family, including some about the times the Alcotts visited and later lived in Walpole, NH. That got me thinking: what if, on one of their trips to Walpole, the Alcott family passed through Peterborough and I got a chance to meet them?

Here’s what we know…

Due to financial difficulties, the Alcotts lived in many different homes over the years, including in Walpole. In 1847 the family stayed in the town for an extended visit with Lizzie Wells, cousin to Louisa’s mother, Abigail. Louisa was 14 at that time. Then in 1855, Louisa’s uncle, Benjamin Willis, offered the family a home for two years, rent free.  The home was a duplex on High Street, near the center of the town.  The house is still standing and is known today as the Alcott Apartments.

Some of the family’s experiences while living in Walpole would later be reflected in Louisa’s 1868 book Little Women. In Li

Louisa May Alcott

ttle Women, Beth receives a piano from their elderly neighbor Mr. Laurence. During their stay in Walpole, the Alcott’s developed a friendship with Dr. Henry Bellows, a New York City minister who summered in the town. Bellows was taken with the quiet ways of daughter Lizzie (the inspiration for Beth) and offered his piano for her to use when he returned to the city for the winter. The piano is now in the collection of the Walpole Historical Society.

It’s well known that the Alcott daughters enjoyed creating theatrical performances for family and friends and amateur theatricals are a favorite pastime of the girls in Little Women. While living in Walpole the two oldest sisters, Anna and Louisa, performed several times with a local, semi-professional, theatrical group. While Anna was cast in the romantic roles, Louisa was more comfortable playing the character or comedic parts.

But not all of the family’s Walpole experiences were fun and games. Though the Alcotts barely had enough money to get by, Abigail and her daughters would often go to homes of families who were in need of help. One such visit, to a family whose children were suffering from scarlet fever, resulted in all the Alcotts contracting the disease. Everyone survived with no ill effects except the third daughter, Lizzie, who died not long after le

aving Walpole in 1857. Again finding the family in financial trouble, less than a year after her arrival in Walpole, Louisa went back to Boston to try to sell some of her works.

Here’s what I imagine…

Now let’s imagine that on one of their drives from Massachusetts to Walpole, the Alcotts have carriage problems and end up outside my home. Of course I would invite them in for something to eat while their carriage is being repaired.

What would I serve this family, knowing that Bronson Alcott is a serious vegetarian? His strong views on diet and strange eating habits were well known. He even once shocked his dinner host by putting cranberries in his mashed potatoes.

Luckily, knowing how hard working the ladies of the family were, I’m sure they would gladly jump in to help pull a meal together and would appreciate anything they are served. I’m imagining Louisa’s mother, Abigail, would spot my apples and suggest she and Anna pull together her favorite apple slump dessert.

Meanwhile the rest of the girls and I could create a gourd soup. When everything was ready, we would all sit down for some hot soup and good conversation. It’s quite possible the lively discussion around the table would cover topics such as abolitionism, women’s suffrage, and social reform. And if there was still time after we eat Abigail’s apple slump, I would encourage the daughters to put on a little after-dinner theatrical performance for us before they climbed back into their carriage to finish their trip.

 

Here’s what we’d eat…

Abigail Alcott’s Apple Slump

Gourd Soup

(Click for the recipes!)

Next week, we will be Back in Time for Dinner with Bette Davis!

 

Lorraine, the Monadnock Center's Resident Culinarian  

Lorraine Walker is the Monadnock Center’s resident culinarian. When she isn’t serving up tasty treats from the Phoenix Mill House hearth, she can be found poring over historic cookbooks and local history documents in the archives.