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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Haunted Quaboag - Fact or Fiction?

The celebration of Halloween and tales of haunting seem to go hand- in-hand. Whether you believe in restless spirits or alternate dimensions, lingering legends perpetuated over the years oftentimes stemmed from brutal acts or major calamitous events that normally give rise to ghost stories.

Here in my backyard, which is also known as the Quaboag Plantation in New England, it seems spirits find it so peaceful they come to rest and not linger on this plane, or do they? You be the judge.

It was a beautiful and elegant hotel in its day when it sat perched on the corner of Grove and Common Streets in Barre, Massachusetts. In 1980, artist, Frank Bly, captured the Barre Hotel’s grandeur in a charming winter scene. Ten years later the grand old building had burned to the ground and all that remained were the memories, and according to locals, Bly rendered a new painting of the hotel, but this time it had ghosts and spirits pouring out of its windows. Whether Bly actually saw those specters or interpreted the hotel’s demise in the language of an artist is left to conjecture and imagination.

Other stories of a thought provoking nature that reflect the early days of the Plantation during King Philip’s War provide no evidence of haunting by restless spirits even after the brutal ambush of the original settlers of Foster Hill, or the gruesome tale of William Pritchard’s son, Samuel, who on the same day his father was killed at “Wheeler’s Surprise,” met with his own dark fate - death and beheading. The story of this heinous act, Samuel’s head tossed and kicked about like a football for all to see, including his mother, certainly should provide tales of restless spirits, but none seem to exist, nor are they ever spoken about.
Then there is the Brookfield tale of Bathsheba Ruggles Spooner, the first woman in America to be sentenced to death for her involvement, with that of her young lover and two accomplices, in the beating and murder of her brutish husband, whose body was stuffed down a well in an effort to hide the deed. Spooner pleaded for clemency as she claimed she was pregnant but it was to no avail and she was sent to the gallows, along with her lover and their two accomplices on July 2, 1778. A subsequent autopsy performed on Spooner’s body revealed that she was indeed “quickened” with child, and despite the shocking nature of the story, no haunting prevails.

Another true tale that took place in 1874, the abduction of four-year-old Charley Ross (a Philadelphia Main Line youngster) gave rise to possible haunting stories concerning Charley’s summer home in Brookfield, Massachusetts. The Ross kidnapping/ransom case was the first of its kind to garner national media attention, and on a local level was cause for continuous gossip. The summer vacation residence, which belonged to Charley’s aunt, was a grand, but brooding and dark-looking Victorian home. After Charley’s disappearance, the “Lewis Mansion”, as it was known, suddenly was left abandoned by the family, with all its furnishings and personal belongings intact. It was as if the entire family had simply vanished. Some said the kidnappers had killed Charley and buried his body in the basement of the home. As late as the mid 1940’s, before the property was raised and converted into a recreation park, children often prowled the abandoned house mostly scaring themselves with their own footsteps. Charley Ross was never found; the Lewis family never returned to claim their belongings and no one ever reported seeing a ghost – ever.

In North Brookfield, Massachusetts, just off Slab City Road, sits an enormous dam that was once was the site of Woolcott’s Mill, which was established in 1717 as a sawmill. For years, the mill site carried a stigma of misfortune each time the property changed hands – everything from an owner’s disappearance to an accidental tragic shooting of a child by his brother, and even one poor soul loosing his arm in an industrial accident at the site. In an effort to explain the odd and sometime ghoulish happenings, local residents blamed it on an unknown woman who simply was referred to as “Aunt Hepsie.”
To this day, no one has ever seen or even knows who Aunt Hepsie was and why she was singled out for infamy. So, no ghost there, but indeed an odd series of occurrences, which cannot be explained.

Our last tale concerns the murder of a young bride-to-be, “Elsie,” who was savagely beheaded by her intended on their wedding day. She is said to wander the Evergreen Cemetery in New Braintree, Massachusetts. Folks don’t seem to know her last name, nor where in this slip of land that she is buried, but without doubt, ask any local, and in hushed tones they will talk about the spirit in a diaphanous gown that haunts not on Halloween, but every 18th of April on Paul Revere Day. Writer/artist Stephanie Benoit captured the legend in verse that begins with, “A mournful, fragile vapor rises from Evergreen where spent souls lie, where great stonewalls hold back the darkness that oozes from the woods nearby.” The poem continues with the story and concludes: “Skeptics say it’s purely fiction, Elsie’s ghostly truth denied - ‘A reluctant corpse,’ say the believers, Death’s pointed finger she defied. To romantics it’s just charming folklore, of death embalmed in mystery, and Elsie’s grave and stern decorum is now New Braintree’s history.” I’ve not seen Elsie yet… but I’ll let you know when I do.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Autumn Leaves

Come walk with me among the falling leaves
and share the final moments of many lives
well lived beneath the full and ripened sun.
We will bid farewell, and mark the passing
of each precious and glorious life.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It’s Apple pickin’ time: The definitive guide to pick-your-own apples nationwide Conclusion with recipe

Once you bring your apples home from the orchard, there are numerous recipes and uses for them - everything from pies and dumplings, to confections.

The following is one of the more unique choices that will bring back thoughts of summer on a cold and snowy day.


3 pounds of apples should yield about 4-1/2 cups chopped
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup raisins
1 package powdered pectin
5 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 to 3 drops red food coloring (optional) or a bit of cinnamon for taste and mild color (also optional)
Clean and core apples, leaving skin on. Chop or dice apples to about ¼ to ½ inch pieces to equal 4-1/2 cups. Combine chopped apples, water, lemon juice, and raisins in a large kettle. Add pectin stirring well. Place over high heat. Stirring constantly, bring quickly to a full boil with bubbles over the entire surface. Add sugar; continue stirring, and bring to a full bubbling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add walnuts. (Add red food coloring if desired.) Remove from heat and pour immediately into hot, sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Seal jars and process for 5 minutes in boiling-water bath. Makes 6 to 7 half-pint jars. Awesome with warm buttered toast and English muffins or as a relish to poultry, or boiled beef. ENJOY!

What about you, what’s your favorite recipe for apples? Please feel free to share!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It’s Apple pickin’ time: The definitive guide to pick-your-own apples nationwide Part 3- The Who, What, Where When and How of Apple Picking

Most pick-your-own orchards provide containers but it’s always a good idea to ask if you need to bring your own, and if there is a minimum harvest required along with method of payment. is a great resource for finding the nearest location nationwide for pick-your-own apples They also cover international locations such as: Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and many other countries.

In planning your excursion, be sure to check out availability of specific apple varieties, as ripening and harvest times will vary.

Also, ask about unique features that many of the orchards offer such as baked goods, jellies and apple specialty items, as many maintain gift shops in addition to family friendly children’s activities.

Dress in layers as fall weather can be unpredictable and wear comfortable walking shoes.

When picking apples, gently pull and twist simultaneously. If you get two apples next to each other on the same branch, gently pull both at the same time but twist each in the opposite direction.

When you bring your harvest home, remember that apples do best stored in a cool (35 to 45 degrees) dry place, with lower light, but if they need to ripen, room temperature is the answer.

- HAPPY PICKIN’- Check back tomorrow for a special recipe for your harvest.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It’s Apple pickin’ time: The definitive guide to pick-your-own apples nationwide Part 2 – What’s Your Favorite Variety?

Always remember, the best variety of apple is the one that appeals to your individual taste.

The following is a list of apples and their characteristics. Just click on the name of the apple variety for a picture.

Arkansas Black: Harvested later in the season; dark purple to almost black in color; medium to large size fruit with hard texture; stores well and is great for baking.

Braeburn: Another later seasoned fruit; yellow base color with orange/red blush and red stripes; originated in New Zealand in 1952; medium to large fruit with cream colored crisp, juicy, slightly tart flesh that stores well.

Cortland: Sept. through early October harvest; a purple hued dull red apple with white soft flesh; it is a McIntosh cross with less aromatic properties; keeps well and is excellent in salads.

Empire: Another McIntosh hybrid crossed with Red Delicious; originally introduced in New York State in 1966; dark red with creamy white flesh that is juicy with a slight acidity; most enjoyable eaten when fresh but keeps well for a long period of time; also great for desserts and cider; often available starting in October.

Gala: An early season harvest originally developed in New Zealand; a heart-shaped fruit with yellow and red stripes; aromatic and sweet tasting; small to medium in size fruit; makes wonderful applesauce, good in salads, and eating fresh picked.

Golden Delicious: An old-time favorite introduced in West Virginia in 1900; generally mid to late Sept. harvest; large yellow-gold fruit with tender skin; has crisp, firm sweet and flavorful flesh; works well in salads and blended in applesauce; requires careful picking as it can easily bruise.

Honeycrisp: A medium to large sized, red over light greenish/yellow apple sometimes covered with flecks of reddish/brown; juicy, sweet, aromatic, and crisp; harvested mostly in Sept. it was first introduced in Minnesota and makes excellent eating and apple juice.

Jonathan: A medium sized fruit with a tart yet sweet taste; developed in New York State in 1896; tougher red over greenish/yellow skin; one of the first apples in the fall and a long-time favorite for eating and cooking.

Jonagold: A cross between Golden Delicious and Jonathan developed in 1968; a large red over yellow apple with crackling, firm slightly tart full flavor; stores well under refrigeration; harvested mid to late Sept.; works well for pies, salads, baking, sauce and snacks.

Liberty: A highly disease-resistant McIntosh-type apple developed in New York State in 1962; a large fruit, red over yellow; great for eating, sauce salads and desserts; flavor heightens when stored.

Macoun: Was developed in 1909 but not introduced to the general market until 1950; size and shape similar to McIntosh but with deeper red coloring and more strip variations; a very sweet, aromatic and firm fleshed fruit known as the New England Dessert apple but also great for eating, salads and sauces; harvest begins in Sept.

McIntosh: An old-time American favorite since 1811; mild and sweet flavor that’s great for eating, salads and as an applesauce blend; harvested at the beginning of Sept. to Oct.

Mutsu: A sweet crisp, greenish-yellow apple, similar to the Golden Delicious it was developed in Japan in 1930; it’s great for fresh eating and applesauce and is generally available the beginning of October.

Paula Red: A tart-tasting apple with creamy light flesh; one of the first-of-the-season varieties to be harvested; small to medium in size, it developed as a mutation of the McIntosh; bright red fruit over yellow with a dusty-sheen appearance; not overly sweet or tart suitable for eating and cooking when softness is desired.

Red Delicious: For years was the most popular apple in the world; great for eating, salads and applesauce; bright to deep dark crimson skin with fine-grained white flesh; sweet simple flavor with refreshing slight acidity; harvested in mid to late Sept. and excellent for eating, salads and applesauce; harvested later in the season.

Suncrisp: Harvested mid to late Oct; a Golden Delicious-type; red over orange colored, hard fruit that keeps well and best for baking.

Vista Bella: A medium sized, dark red over yellowish-green skin; light and juicy flesh akin in flavor to early raspberries; fine eating apple.

Come back tomorrow for the “who, what, where, when and how” of apple picking.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It’s Apple pickin’ time: The definitive guide to pick-your-own apples nationwide Part 1- A Little Bit of History

Long before 1792, when John Chapman (also known as “Johnny Appleseed”) left his Leominster, Massachusetts home to make his way westward planting apple orchards, the fruit had arrived with the settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The history of the apple, a member of the rose family, stretches its origins even further to an area somewhere between the Caspian and the Black Sea more than 6500 years ago.

Historically it was considered a favorite fruit by the ancient Greeks and Romans and today there are at least 7500 varieties grown worldwide, with some 2500 varieties available in the United States alone.

One of the most healthful of all foods, the apple is fat, sodium, and cholesterol free as well as a great source of the fiber, and only about 80 calories for a medium sized fruit.

Now that it’s harvest time, there are many varieties of apple that are available at orchards and farms nationwide, which are beckoning for folks to “pick your own.”

Come back and visit tomorrow as I highlight some fairly common and unusual varieties.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The top 11 things I will never eat (or have eaten and will never do it again!) Part 4 (Two exceptions that will surprise.)

I’m a b-a-a-a-d blogger – it occurred to me today that I left you all hanging with my final installment of this article. The last entry in this series of posts was on August 10, 2009 (just in case you want to refresh your memories.) Anyway, here are two items that I have eaten, which are often considered quite gross by most folk’s standards, but I have enjoyed them immensely. What’s your take on these two delicacies?

Just click on this first link to see if you know what it actually is. If you need a hint, try this link.

Yep, it’s cow tongue, but it’s not just “cow tongue” if it is prepared properly, and IMHO that requires boiling, slicing it in such a way that it no longer resembles tongue, and serving it with a delicious sweet and sour raisin sauce. Mm, Mm good!!! And, if prepared this way you will think it is the finest, most tender and flavorful cut of beef you’ve ever eaten. Plus it will look like this.

The next unusual delicacy that I’ve really enjoyed, I was introduced to as a child at a restaurant that was known for this specialty, Phil Schmidt & Sons, which unfortunately (two years ago) closed its doors after 97 years in business.

Can you guess what it is from the “before” picture or the "after."

If you’re still not sure, check out the video below. Now, what about you - care to share anymore? Bon App├ętit'!