Today’s article on things to do in Boston and beyond comes from travel writer Ella Buchan, currently making her way along the US1 Highway on a trip called #DriveUS1. What started out as a musing on things to do in Boston evolved into a discussion on a subject that first came across my path years ago at school: the story of The Crucible and The Salem witch trials in Massachusetts.
But Ella found something else unusual amid this historic American state: the untold beauty of a raspberry-ripple cranberry bog.
Time to hand over to Ella…
I’m a little obsessed with cranberries since visiting Massachusetts.
The tart, bouncy little rounds are the official state berries, growing in bogs that dye the landscape with ruby pools around harvest time.
Perhaps this northeastern state is just like a cranberry – bursting with flavour and juicy history, from the very first settlers in the 17th century to first whispers of revolution against British rule.
Or perhaps I’ve had a little too much cranberry wine…
Massachusetts doesn’t shy away from the sourer aspects of its history, either. Rather it embraces its past, with all the complexity and injustices – from the destruction of Native American people, cultures and traditions to the infamous Witch Trials in Salem.
Arriving in the seaport town, just north of Boston, I head to the Salem Witch Trials Memorial.
Each stone is engraved with the name and cause of death of a victim of the 1692-3 trials, in which 20 innocent people were executed for ‘witchcraft’. Rebecca Nurse, hanged. Giles Corey, pressed to death.
Their names etched in my mind, I join others in the dark at the Salem Witch Museum. A disembodied voice recounts victims’ stories, as 3D scenes illuminate in recesses around the room. I hear about the bizarre concept of spectral evidence – testimony about dreams and visions, admissible in court, and often delivered by hysterical young girls.
Today’s Salem is a blend of museums and monuments to this strange and paranoid period, peppered with other ‘witchy’ attractions including a statue dedicated to Samantha from the TV show Bewitched, tarot reading and shops selling potions and herbs.
At Red’s Sandwich Shop, I join locals at the counter and order the fried haddock sandwich – flaky fish in a cloud of batter, so huge I eat it with a knife and fork.
The low-key diner is housed in the 1700s Old London Coffee House where, they say, the first whisperings of revolution against British rule were spoken as rebel groups met here.
Chucking tea into the Boston Harbour might seem a little unpatriotic for Brits – but it is pretty fun. How must it have felt for those rebels and revolutionaries back in 1773, casting off what they saw as repressive British rule along with the leaves?
At the Tea Party Ships and Museum, visitors can empty the ‘tea’ (really just plastic blocks attached to ropes) from the deck of a replica ship.
History lessons in Boston are interactive, punctuated with many a ‘huzzah!’ (basically, ‘hooray!’) and often delivered by actors in costume.
Guide Lydia draws me in with her enthusiasm on a tour of the Boston Freedom Trail, run by the Freedom Trail Foundation. The route, marked by red-brick path, runs 2.5 miles and takes in sites from meeting houses to graveyards of significant figures in America’s independence from us Brits.
I pause for lunch at the Union Oyster House – with more history on the menu.
My head spins as executive chef, Rico DiFronzo, takes me through a labyrinth of rooms, delivering nuggets of information as he goes. Established in 1826, this is America’s oldest restaurant in continuous service. In 1796, the exiled future king of France Louis Philippe lived in this building, eking out a living teaching French to Boston’s fashionable young ladies.
The oldest newspaper in the US, The Massachusetts Spy, was printed here.
“And this is where the toothpick was first used in the US,” adds Chef DiFronzo.
He leads me to the coveted ‘Kennedy Booth’ – where JFK, as a congressman, dined every Sunday. And I’m almost too full of facts to work through my lunch of oysters and lobster ravioli.
Later I head to the trendy Seaport District, once a neglected no-man’s land in Boston Harbor, for dinner at equally-hip Asian restaurant, Empire. Chinese hanging lamps and lavish patterns combine with slick decor, the same blend of traditional and modern reflected on the menu.
I sample the tuna tartare, livened with miso and tangy pickles, black cod with baby bok choy and the chef’s twist on steak frites, the fries dusted with sansho or Szechwan spice.
An hour south, Plymouth is where New England was established. Brits landed here in 1620, having decided against Cape Cod’s Provincetown due to the lack of water and abundance of angry arrows from the native population.
A replica ship, the Mayflower II, now stands where they docked, while a tiny rock claims to mark where they first stepped on American soil.
Costumed actors stroll elegantly through Plimoth Plantation’s 17th century English village, waxing lyrical about how they came to this land – and suggesting I flirt with some soldiers down the hill.
I am more intrigued by the Wampanoag Homesite, giving voice to an often neglected side of America’s history.
Those who work here are not actors, but members of the Wampanoag and other native tribes committed to challenging stereotypes and reclaiming their culture and language.
Abenaki Dan Shears realised the importance of his culture when his grandmother, who taught him about the tribe, passed away. Now his daughter wants to learn the Abenaki language.
“Most people don’t think we exist out here. Unfortunately there is a lot of our culture that has gone and there’s no getting it back,” he tells me.
“We try to reclaim as much as we can.”
Wampanoags harvested wild cranberries for 12,000 years, often drying them to make pemmican, mixing the berries with dried meat and animal fat for a snack that could last for months. They were also used to treat fever, swelling and sickness.
Now, they’re a tourist attraction.
Before arriving in Massachusetts, I expected to learn about pilgrims and ‘witches’. But bogs?
The state is one of the world’s biggest producers of cranberries, harvesting between mid-October and early November.
The colourful spectacle draws people from around the world. True devotees can don waders and join in at some bogs.
I track down a harvest at an AD Makepeace bog on (where else?) Cranberry Road, Carver.
Parking up, I’m distracted by a labradoodle, fixing me with curious hazel eyes. Forges belongs to Andy, a production manager at the bog.
Fortunately, he loves cranberries. “He’d roll about in those bogs all day if he could,” says Andy.
The fruit grows in low bogs, which are flooded to loosen the berries from the vines. Once they bob to the surface, helped along with water reels or ‘eggbeaters’, they are pumped on to a truck.
The swirl of garnet and the lemon chiffon of semi-ripe berries brings back childhood memories of raspberry ripple ice cream.
I’m with Forges on this one. Who wouldn’t want to dive in?
Disclosure: Ella travelled through Massachusetts as part of the #DriveUS1 Captivate campaign with Visit Massachusetts. She kept the right to write what she liked – and sought out things I thought would be interesting and a good fit for this blog. I think she succeeded ;-)