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The Insider’s Guide to the 603: Part 2–How’s Your Grinder? April 18, 2011

Posted by J. in Domesticity, FYI, Genius.
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I’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of things.  I’ve eaten in truck stops and five-star gourmet restaurants, roadside clam shacks and artisan bakeries.  When you ask me what I remember about the places I’ve been, I might not recall names and faces or where I saw the world’s largest ball of string, but I can tell you what the place tasted like.

I’ve tangled with Louisiana po’boys and dished the hot dish in Minnesota.  I’ve handled handmade tamales in Arizona and licked Kansas City barbeque off my elbows.  I’ve kissed Flo’s grits in Alabama, but when it comes to Rocky Mountain oysters, Poops does have limits to what she’ll put in her mouth.

Of course we live in a fantastic time when I can have Memphis barbeque delivered to my house by lunchtime tomorrow if I really want it.  The local is less “exotic” than it once was, for sure.  I mean, I’m sitting here noshing on a couple of digestive biscuits with my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee because I fell in love with the damn things in Hong Kong.  Now I can get them in my local grocery store, which is a pretty damned awesome development, if you ask me.

Still and all, there are things that will always taste like home, no matter where home is for you.  In fact, even more than familiar sights and sounds, I’d go so far as to say that food is the number one thing that makes me feel like I’m really home.

New Hampshire cuisine is really New England’s cuisine.  We’re a coastal state so fresh Atlantic seafood is easy to come by.  We’re also a colder climate with a short growing season, so root veggies rule the day most of the year and perishables like strawberries and fresh tomatoes are brief, seasonal luxuries.  Real NH maple syrup is expensive but it’s worth every penny to have it dripping down a stack of pancakes on a cold Spring day like this one, and there’s nothing quite like the taste of that first, crisp apple picked right off the tree in the Fall.

So get yourself a nice seat by the window and take a menu.  Your waitress will be right with you.

New England hot dog rolls. Accept no substitutes.

Clam Roll

Fried clam rolls are a northern New England tradition, and we have a very specific way of making them.  The first thing is the clam.  Not clam strips, but whole belly clams are lightly breaded and deep fried until they’re just golden.   Personally, I don’t even need the roll at this point.  Just throw those bad boys into a paper dish and let me at them.

But the roll is important.  First, it has to be a proper New England hot dog roll, without which you’re already off the rails.  Buttered and grilled until crispy and brown on both sides, the roll is spread as wide as a Fall River prostitute and filled to overflowing with the hot, crispy fried clams.

You may go into an establishment offering clam rolls with a piece of lettuce in the roll.  They are probably flatlandahs who opened a restaurant up here and don’t know any better.  Shun them. 

Chowdah

Let’s get this out of the way right now, shall we?

New England Clam Chowder is thick, white and creamy and has clams, chunks of potato, and onions in it.

It doesn’t matter what Manhattan Clam Chowder has in it because it is just stupid.  There.  I’ve said it.  It’s fucking soup.  Or stew.  Or something.  Whatever it is, it’s most decidedly NOT chowder.

Chowdah is always milk and/or cream-based.  If you see a dairy-free chowder on the menu, you’ve stumbled into yet another flatlandah establishment and again, you should make with the shunning.  Maybe throw rocks.

And while clam is far and away the most popular chowder, around here corn chowder is also really popular.  It’s also milk and cream based, as chowder must be, but it’s made with smoky bacon and sweet corn in place of the clams.

Seriously.  Corn and bacon.  What’s not to like?

They may look like something from a nightmare, but if you can get past their scrotal qualities, they are quite good.

Steamahs

Steamers are simply steamed littleneck clams.  Well, I say littleneck, but some places use other varieties of clam.  Up here we tend to prefer the littleneck because they’re sweet and tender.

There are few things easier to cook with such a decadent end result.  You just soak the live clams in fresh water, scrub the shells to get any sand off of them, toss out any that are broken or open and then put them in the clam pot.  Add a bit of water (or liquid…some use wine and I like mine steamed in beer, but to each his own) and bring it to a boil.  When the clams open up, they’re done.  Dump them into a big bowl and serve them with an empty bowl on the side for shells, a small dish of the liquid you steamed them in to rinse them, a small dish of melted butter to dip, and a shitload of napkins.  They pull right out of the shells and then you use your fingernail to grab the bit of skin at the neck and peel it off.  Swish it in the hot water for a rinse and then plop it in the butter.  Slurp them down. 

American Chop Suey

If you’re not from around he-ah, you might call this something else.  But I have no idea what. I posted the recipe the way I make it here, but it’s one of those combinations of ingredients that everyone puts their own spin on.  But the basics are the same: elbow macaroni, cheap ground beef, and canned tomatoes.

Here’s an interesting side note for you: we will often refer to ground beef not as hamburger, but just hamburg.  As in “Pick up a pound of hamburg at the store.”  I have no idea why.

ACS was made famous during one of the Presidential primaries when a reporter ordered American Chop Suey from a diner in Manchester and loved it so much he had to have the recipe. He wrote about it and sang its praises.  Then Guy “I’m a Total Tool” Fieri from The Food Network did a bit for his show “Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives” from Manchester and featured this “famous” American Chop Suey as a New England delicacy.

And we all laughed because it’s just poor people food.  Fucking flatlandahs.

Boiled Dinner

Speaking of poor people food, if you’re a person of Irish-American descent, you’ve probably had this and called it Corned Beef and Cabbage.  All of New England smells like someone wiped his ass with a sweaty gym sock the day after St. Patrick’s Day, and this dish is why.

You put a corned beef or a smoked ham shoulder in a big pot of water and you boil it for hours and hours.  You toss in some cabbage, carrots, turnips, potatoes, and onions and when it’s all soft and falling apart, you eat it.   It’s salty, earthy, hearty, funky, and just generally delicious.  Put a crusty loaf of bread on the side and it’s a wee bit o’ heaven.

Your farts, on the other hand, will smell like someone is burning garbage inside a manure-filled tire for a minimum of 12 hours after consumption.

I could eat the hell out of a grindah right now. With a frappe. Damn.

Grinder

A grindah is very simply a sandwich made on a long, soft Italian roll. It’s called a “sub” or a “hoagie” in other places.

You usually get the best grinders in NH in a pizza place.  You can get just about anything on them and they’re served either hot or cold.

Soda

A soft drink. You’ll never hear a native call any soft drink “pop” or “tonic”. If it’s not a soda, it’s called by the brand name.

Tourtiere

French meat pie.  Like so many of those French-Canadian words, how it’s pronounced varies from family to family and region to region. We say it like “tood-care” in my family. It’s made from ground beef and pork, fried and seasoned with salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, and cloves, and then mashed together with boiled potatoes and baked in a pie crust. It’s kickass served with gravy, but everyone who eats it has their own preferred method of dressing it.

One thing we all agree on is that if you don’t taste it every time you burp for two days afterward, you didn’t get a good one.

Fried dough like you get it at the fair, served piping hot as to guarantee a third-degree burn to the roof of your mouth on the first bite, and on a flimsy paper plate that lets the grease and sugary butter get all over your hands. And of course the napkins must be thin and inadequate as well for the true experience.

Fried Dough

Fried dough is one of those things you eat at The Fair, after you’ve had your mandatory Italian sausage grindah with grilled peppahs and onions and some of those big-ass beer-battered onion rings.

It’s just a piece of bread dough stretched out flat and deep fried so that it’s crispy on the outside and soft and chewy inside.  We don’t “do” funnel cakes as a rule, so this is our version of the fried bread treat.

There’s lots of ways to eat it.  They’ll slather it with melted butter for you when you order it and you can sprinkle it with your choice of cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar, and I’ve seen some places that offer maple syrup as well.  Then there’s this new trend at some of your high-falutin’ “festivals” where you can get all kinds of toppings for it like *gasp* fruit or Nutella, but we all know that’s the flatlandah’s at work again, don’t we?

Jimmies

Jimmies are those little tiny candy pieces you sprinkle on ice cream or sundaes or a frosted donut.  They used to just come in chocolate or rainbow varieties, but now you can buy them in all kinds of color combinations to suit your needs.  Outside New Hampshire they’re sometimes called “sprinkles” or “shots”, but up here they’re jimmies and always will be.

Admit it: you just licked your monitor.

Whoopie Pies

Maine is currently trying to get the whoopie pie named the official state snack, which is cheesing off the folks in Pennsylvania who say it started in the Amish community and should be the official Pennsylvania state snack.  I think they call them “gobs” down there, but I can’t find an official source to confirm this.  Go figure.  Turns out there’s a whole big Whoopie War going on right under my nose.

I’m not entirely sure why states even need official snacks, but leave it to Massafuckingchusetts to take the Boston Creme Pie, the Boston Creme Donut, the Toll House Cookie and corn fucking muffins just for good measure.

So while the whoopie will certainly never be the official NH state snack by any stretch, it’s one of those things that is famous all over the region.  It’s just two soft chocolate cake-like cookies with a big dollop of frosting-type cream filling, but they’re hard to get just exactly right.  The cakes should be soft and moist but need to be firm and cookie-ish enough to hold together.  The frosting has to be light and fluffy with just the right amount of stickiness to hold the cakes together but without making them crumble or split.

Yes, I could give you my recipe for them, but then I’d have to kill you.

Frappe

First, it rhymes with “map.”   It’s not a “frap-pay.”

It is a delicious concoction of milk, ice cream, and syrup blended and sucked through a straw.   If that sounds like what you call a milkshake or a thick shake (which are both different than frappes in NH), you’d have the right idea.  If you think that sounds like a “cabinet”, please give my regards to your fellow Rhode Islanders, won’t you?

Well hells bells, that’s been a fun morning of culinary excitement.  Now I’m hungry.  Who wants grindahs?

Be sure to tune in on June 6 for my third and final installment in The Insider’s Guide when our round-table topic will be “You know you’re from New Hampshire when…”

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Comments»

1. Aquarianshoes - April 18, 2011

I am so hungry for a grinder right now!!! Here in the upper Midwest, NONE of the above-mentioned foods exist in any form. A grinder and a sub are just not the same. There is something about the delicious oil/vinegar/salt/pepper/ shredded lettuce mix which does not really exist outside New England. The same goes for friend dough. We sometimes used to eat it with a side of tomato sauce, but that’s because we grew up Italian. And don’t get me started on the quality of the seafood, although the sushi is surprisingly good and fresh. Whenever I go back to CT or RI all I do is eat. And eat some more. *Sigh*

2. Trillian42 - April 18, 2011

My Maine-born father still pines for New England hot dog buns. He recently found a place in Vegas that imports them (from RI, I think) and was SO thrilled. He also taught my brother and I to call them jimmies, which they will always be, no matter where I live.

I COMPLETELY AGREE on the chowder. If it’s noth thick and creamy, it’s not frigging chowder. I have a wonderful (if odd-sounding) recipe for cheeseburger chowder, if you’re ever interested.

And I’ve never heard whoopie pies called gobs in my native Pittsburgh, maybe it’s a Philly thing. They’re weird over there. 😉

3. Pippa Posey Peanut Butter Pants - April 18, 2011

Well thanks alot Poops, now I’m so friggin’ hungry I could die…and I just finished lunch. But here’s the good news, ACS for dinnah – deelux version!

4. Jenn in RI - April 18, 2011

For some reason, I only call them jimmies if they are chocolate, the muti-colored ones are sprinkles. Is that a CT thing, anyone? I am hugely enjoying your French-Canadian references too, I feel those memories. 😀

5. Shelly - April 20, 2011

Trillian42, I’m a Maine girl in exile. Do you know where your dad is originally from?

Poops, I love these posts. They feel like home every time.

Also, something is wrong with the whoopie pie in that pic. The filling is too shiny. 😉 I also have a “secret” recipe which is a mashup of my stepmom’s cookies and her best friend’s filling. Best of both worlds.

And I can’t find a friggin’ proper hot dog bun in Ohio to save my life. Or a chocolate jimmie. Argh.

6. Zonda - April 20, 2011

OMG! You are so killing me!! This is a trip down memory lane! Sniff!! I totally agree, those are the ONLY hot dog buns. (will be in ME in June, I’m stuffing my face full and then some!) We used to find similar ones here…not anymore. I’d almost sell my firstborn for your whoopie pie recipe…I used to rock my Mom’s but not so much lately..we found out, it may have been the cocoa..anyhow! My family loves ACS 😉

Another Mainer in Exile…for a few more years!

7. mamabearme - April 21, 2011

Rhode Islanders call a milkshake a cabinet???

I’ve had this mixed up memory of my grandpa for years and years now – he was from Rhode Island.

Someone from back home sent him some coffee flavored syrup, and he used to mix it with milk. I remember him calling it a cabinet, a china cabinet to be exact.

For years and years I’ve just thought the memory was all tangled up with something else!!

Great blog by the way!!!


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