Popping for Nearly a Century

Nick’s Nest

By Sara Pokorny, Photos by Dominic Perri

Nick Malfas struck buttery yellow gold when he began peddling popcorn from a cart on the streets of Holyoke in 1921. What began as a one-snack operation grew into a brick-and-mortar establishment on Northampton Street. The menu also expanded, offering everything from potato salad to soft serve to bacon cheese fries to loaded hot dogs, all alongside the still-enduring popcorn.

With its red and yellow awning, counter-style window seating dotted with jukeboxes, and 1950 Chicago Coins bandbox, Nick’s Nest is a haven for nostalgia. It’s also a family business, having stayed in the Malfas family for three generations until 2005, when Jenn and Kevin Chateauneuf bought it. Despite the last name change, the family vibe is there, extending outward from the kitchen to the customers. There’s a good chance that at least one person eating at Nick’s at any given moment has been going there since they were a child.

Jeff Ferreira of Chicopee is one such guy. On a busy Saturday morning, when the line is already out the door an hour after opening, he sits at the counter eating lunch. He’s come to Nick’s since he was a kid and can remember the smaller menu. Though the hot dogs are his favorite, he’s tried everything Nick’s has to offer and has never been disappointed.

“They’ve got everything here, and it’s all good,” he says. “Also, they’ve always been really good people, so it’s easy to come back.”

Malfas added hot dogs to his cart in 1922, and that other All-American food would prove to be an even bigger draw than the popcorn. In 1927, he opened a stand on Route 5, and in 1948 he moved into the location Nick’s occupies today. His son Nick took over, and then his grandson Charlie, before the Chateauneufs.

“We added to the menu gradually to bring in a fresh change,” Jenn says, “but at the same time not take away from the hot dogs.” The hot dog recipe remains: They’re steamed and sit in a light brown secret sauce until served. Mustard and relish were once the only topping options (as evidenced by a placard affixed to the counter), but now diners can get onions, cheese, ketchup, and more.

The popcorn is as simply made as the dogs. The modern kettle is tucked away into an older-style cabinet to keep a vintage air. Popcorn packs are roughly the size of a half sheet of paper, dual-sided with one half containing butter-flavored coconut oil and the other kernels lightly dusted in spices. One pack yields approximately three large buckets and, of course, there is butter to spare. Kept in a small metal pitcher near the kettle, the “extra butter” is a fan favorite.

Abby Griffin, an employee at Nick’s for 14 years and a customer since she was a kid, is all too familiar with the buttery appeal.

“One customer we had, I would know by the weight of the container it had enough butter in it for him.”

Built on kernels and dogs slung from a cart, Nick’s has thrived over the years thanks to this familiar food, and customers’ need to find comfort in it. Nick’s, as a place, has become just as comforting, and Jenn understands this.

“Our customers love us because it’s a ma and pa place. In the world of corporate, people appreciate that there are still small places like ours around.”

nicksnestholyoke.com

New Bakery, Traditional Breads

Rise Above

By Marykate Smith Despres, Photos by Dominic Perri

When people think of rye bread, they often think of deli rye. The deli rye I grew up with, even when bought bagged from the grocery store, yielded rounded, half-moon, gray-brown slices that stood (a bit stiffly) in stark contrast to the floppy, bleached white squares of typical sandwich bread. The bread I remember likely had very little actual rye flour, but what it did have—and what kept me from eating it—was caraway seeds.

Brian Meunier, head baker and owner of Rise Above bakery, which opened in downtown Greenfield this June, uses a lot of rye flour, which, he says “adds a slight nuance” of flavor to breads and pastries. It’s caraway, not rye, Meunier says, that “has ruined rye for most people.”

“I’m trying to set that straight. I want people to know that rye and caraway are not the same thing. If you don’t like caraway,” he says, “you can still like rye.”

In the absence of caraway seeds, it’s color (Meunier describes it as a “deep brown or reddish hue”) that signals a bread with a lot of rye flour. Another clue can be weight, as in a dense Roggenbrot—one of many Eastern European rye breads you’ll find at Rise Above-one of many breads with a story.

“People who grew up with this bread, it really means something special to them,” Meunier says. He’s seen it in the way people’s faces light up when they see these traditional breads on the rack at the bakery, the recognition upon feeling the weight of a full kilo of bread in hand. The remembering that happens, and the ways in which that remembering becomes stories shared over a loaf of bread—a Latvian woman at a record store in Somerville transported back to her childhood, a man returning to the bakery with an armful of German and Austrian cookbooks and an offer to translate, a woman sharing her experience learning to bake Roggenbrot under master baker Jeffery Hamelman in Brattleboro in the ’80s—becomes what Meunier describes as “a religious experience.”

“I love that I can connect with people in ways beyond that it tastes good,” he says. “I fell in love with the bread and then fell in love with all these people’s connection to it.”

Rye isn’t the only way Meunier connects with the community. He bakes other well-loved staple breads including baguette, brioche, and challah, plus bagels, muffins, cookies, and a host of pastries that often feature fruits from local farms like Clarkdale just down the road in Deerfield.

And while patrons sit and enjoy local coffee (or kombucha) with their baked goods and their little ones pop in and out of the puppet theater, the bakers work in an open kitchen with café-facing ovens so that people can “see it, hear it, smell it.”

“We’re back there making a mess, flour all over. We make noise. We listen to rock ’n’ roll,” Meunier says. He doesn’t want to hide or separate the process from the product, or from the people tearing pieces and taking bites of that product straight from the bag. “I want you to know that everything’s happening right here.”

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Telling the Story of Sourdough

Hungry Ghost Bread

By Marykate Smith Despres, Photos by Dominic Perri

It’s not an art,” Jonathan Stevens says of baking bread, rolling his eyes. “It’s a craft.” Stevens has been baking bread for 25 years, 15 at Hungry Ghost Bread in Northampton with partner and co-owner Cheryl Maffei. “Craft is an expression of material and tradition. Art is an expression of the artist. [You need to have] a sense of humility in the face of 10,000 years of bread baking.”

But by that definition, Stevens’ impassioned explanations and interpretations of the process and of bread itself put him somewhere in between artisan and artist, into the realm of storyteller. “There are different ways to understand bread,” says Stevens, the son of a chemist and a psychologist. “Scientifically—that’s just not my thing.”

The story of bread has become, quite literally, ingrained in him, finding its way into song lyrics and poems penned on the back of bread schedules, into the annual Bread Festival puppet-and-brass-band parade through town, into the ways in which he thinks about the history of civilization—from Persephone (the goddess of harvest), to cats in ancient Egypt (whose sacredness came from their ability to guard the grain), to the agricultural industrial revolution—and the ways in which bakeries serve and sustain their communities. Clearly, unscientific does not mean uninformed.

Hungry Ghost breads are sourdough, meaning each loaf begins as a live, fermented culture. Stevens believes that often, a sensitivity to gluten is actually a sensitivity to unfermented gluten. “People need gluten to be fermented,” he says. “The body can’t access the vitamins and minerals [in unfermented wheat]. It can see them, but it can’t access them.”

The crust on a loaf of bread, more specifically, the way the scoring creates sharp ridges and yawning crests, is what Stevens calls “a photograph of perfect fermentation.”

“It’s the last gasp of wild yeast. If you get it right, they die with their arms over their heads,” he says. “It’s a Vesuvian death. You want people buried mid-party.” Stevens dances around to demonstrate, throws his hands over his head and yells, “Yay!”, freezing mid-cheer in mock joy. He’s right—it’s not a scientific explanation. But it certainly makes for a better story.

Hungry Ghost Bread’s 15th annual “Wonder Not!” Bread Festival is on Sunday, September 22, 11am–5pm. The festival is free and includes a giant puppet parade through town with the Expandable Brass Band, wheat planting in the garden, live music, vendors, and lots of bread!

hungryghostbread.com

This Loaf for President

This bread does not boast

This bread does not need

A chief of staff

Or a press secretary

Even at its greatest,

This bread will soon get eaten

-or go moldy.

This bread won’t build walls

Drop bombs, sell fighter jets

Or make secret deals with

Shady Russians

This bread cannot lie

This bread will not exaggerate

How many people it fed

-its list of ingredients

Is astonishingly short

This bread will not play golf

Instead of sitting patiently upon your table

This bread is smarter than you think:

It will teach your tongue

About the Fertile Crescent

It will move your mouth

With a song of scythes,

Of broadcasting hands,

of the furrow on the miller’s

hands, and his stones

This bread believes in

universal health care, from the

inside out, a gut feeling

about common sense

and simple decency

This bread has a heel one can chew on

a crust you can sop up sorrows with

wings for the Angel of Victory

over every kind of hunger

Poem reprinted from Jonathan Stevens’ Bread Poems, collected and published by the author in 2019.

Revitalization by the Pint

Holyoke Craft Beer

By Jordana Starr, Photos by Dominic Perri

Chemical engineer Mike Pratt started playing around with fermentation as an undergraduate at UMass, when he took a fermentation lab his senior year. Though he admits that the wine he ultimately made “came out terrible,” the class had piqued his curiosity. He wanted to learn more.

After graduation, Pratt started homebrewing. Initially taking it up as a hobby, his love for the craft evolved into the desire to open his own brewery. But then life got busy, as it often does, as he and his wife grew their family by two. Now that their daughters are approaching school age, the time was finally right to revisit that dream.

And that dream, as it turned out, was twofold. After moving to Holyoke, Pratt fell in love with the city and could see enormous potential among the unoccupied buildings in the once-thriving industrial town. He points out that Holyoke, with its former paper and textile mills and brick warehouses, is set up for producing things. The new Arts & Innovation District on Race Street, which includes Gateway City Arts, the Holyoke Community College Culinary Center, and Freight Farms—an urban hydroponic farm located inside two refurbished shipping containers in which residents and HCC students are growing food—seemed like an obvious choice for a new brewery and taproom.

“We need to do this now,” he says, “and on Race Street.”

At 208 Race Street, precisely. On February 2, 2019, Holyoke Craft Beer officially opened its doors to the public in the basement of the STEAM Building, a former factory that had once produced valves and steam lines. The brewery itself is a one-barrel kettle with six fermenters, which allows them to keep a rotation of a variety of beers on tap. Ninety-five percent of the grain they use comes from Valley Malt (see page 26), just up the river in Hadley.

The beers themselves pay tribute to Holyoke, with names like Revival Pale Ale, Dreamers & Makers Saison, and Podoke Porter—a reference to the Podokesaurus holyokensis, a dinosaur fossil that was discovered in a hill near Mt. Holyoke College. Holyoke Craft Beer’s head brewer Adam Copeland, the creative mind behind the names, also wrote the recipe for 413, a session New England IPA comprised of four types of grain, one hop variety, and three yeast strains. “This beer,” he explains, “is an homage to where we come from and what put the area on the map: making hazy New England IPAs.”

In addition to Copeland, Pratt brought on Andy Gaylord and Corey Lynch as assistant brewers. All the brewers—who, just like Pratt, got their start homebrewing—work as bartenders in the taproom, which is open on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons. Pratt also has enlisted the help of local brewing consultant Mike Schilling,* who has designed several of their recipes.

Holyoke Craft Beer is starting to show up on tap in places beyond its Race Street taproom, such as Gateway City Arts, Smith’s Billiards in Springfield, and the Taproom in Hadley. But right now, their main focus is their taproom and encouraging people and businesses to return to downtown Holyoke, as their Double IPA’s name, No Vacancy, suggests.

*Disclosure: The author is married to Mike Schilling.

holyokecraftbeer.com

Will Travel for Food

MUSSEL RISOTTO WITH PARSLEY PURÉE

By Sanford D’Amato, Photos by Dominic Perri

mussel-risotto.gif

I’m keeping my foot to the floor so I don’t lose the firefly-sized tail lights in front of me. It’s almost a losing battle as the matchbox Fiat rental Angie and I are in seems to be powered by a wind up rubber band. The rain is pummeling the windshield and the only thing I’m sure about is that there is a large crevasse on either side of the road.

It’s 1985 and my wife, Angie, and I are driving through Europe for the first time. From our starting point in Brussels until our last day in Paris, there was one daily ritual we could count on—we would be lost for part of the day.

This day, it was the second largest city in Italy: Milan. We started out from a small pensione called Hotel Asnigo situated in the hills overlooking Lake Como. The older proprietor, Luigi, lent us his personal map—which, judging from the condition of the paper, must have been a christening gift—to direct us the 40-some miles to Milan from Cernobbio.

We arrived in Milan a few hours before our dinner reservation at 8pm. Being that it was sunny and light out, we didn’t really need the map as the route was very well posted with “Milano” directing signs every few miles.

We went to a traditional Milanese restaurant, and we put ourselves in the hands of the waiter. He brought us a selection from the copious antipasto table that we had to maneuver around as we were seated. The plate contained all pristine grilled and roasted vegetables, some sweet and sour, stuffed or crusted, flanked by paper-thin regional cured meats and salamis.

For the entrée, it was Piccata of Chicken and Veal Cotaletta. All was delicious, but the star of the dinner arrived between the antipasto and entrée. This was usually the position reserved for pasta in Italy, but we were in the north, which means rice, and the waiter brought two of the special Seafood Risottos. This was my first taste of risotto and it immediately changed the way I thought about the white grain. Growing up, we were a Minute Rice family, and I felt that the bland white kernels just took up valuable real estate on my plate that could have been put to better use. This rice took more than a minute. It was cooked all’onda, which loosely translates to wavy. When you tap the rim of the dish, the creamy rice slightly undulates like ocean waves with the pristine chunks of seafood looking like little bouncing buoys. It was absolutely luscious, with each perfectly cooked kernel of rice exploding with briny crustacean goodness.

We walked out of the restaurant after dinner, and the perfect night had turned into an impromptu gale. We ran to the car and unfolded the map, which quickly deteriorated into four separate pieces. Using our best internal GPS, we tried to retrace our way back to the Autostrada (highway), but soon found ourselves following the only tail lights around down a dark and otherwise deserted road. We knew we were in big trouble when the tail lights became headlights that started to beam down on us, eventually swiping right past us on the narrow road. That’s when we figured out we might be following another lost traveler.

After an hour of aimlessly driving, we miraculously ran into the Autostrada ramp flanked by a minute arrow sign pointing toward Cernobbio. Saved again from self-destruction.

Today’s risotto is inspired by that night of highs and lows. I suggest using short-grain Carnaroli or Nano Vialone rice or the easier to procure Arborio for this dish. Be sure and keep it fluid (but not watery) and please don’t overcook the rice. After your first taste, you’ll agree this is a dish worth driving for.

MUSSEL RISOTTO WITH PARSLEY PURÉE

Serves 4 as an appetizer

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, peeled and diced fine; need ½ cup

1 cup Carnaroli rice

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

½ teaspoon hot pepper flakes

2 bay leaves

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 cup dry sherry, heated

2–2¼ cups no-salt vegetable stock, heated

24 cleaned mussels, placed in a covered pot with ¼ cup dry white wine

½ cup packed (½ ounce) cleaned fresh Italian parsley leaves, puréed with ½ cup no-salt vegetable stock

2 tablespoons salted butter

Fresh Italian parsley sprigs for garnish

Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Place a saucepan over medium heat. Add oil, then add onion, and cook about 3–4 minutes, until opaque. Add rice and, with a wooden spoon, continually stir to lightly toast, about 3 minutes.

Add garlic, pepper flakes, bay leaves, and thyme and stir for 30 seconds. Add hot sherry, continue stirring, add salt and pepper, and cook until rice starts to absorb sherry.

Start adding the stock by small ladles, just enough to keep the rice liquid and continually absorbing—keep stirring so rice does not stick.

While rice is cooking, place mussel pot over medium heat and steam mussels open—should take 2–3 minutes. Remove pan from heat as soon as the mussels open. Keep pan covered.

Add all liquid from mussels as the next addition of liquid to the risotto. Taste rice and continue adding stock until rice is just cooked, but still al dente. At this point, rice should be creamy and fluid, but not watery.

Finish rice by stirring in butter and parsley purée, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately in 4 hot bowls. Garnish with warm mussels and parsley sprigs on top.

Field Notes from Old Friends Farm

Farmer in resiPANTS

By Casey Steinberg, Photos courtesy of Old Friends Farm

Over the past two years, we’ve used our Field Notes column to bring you stories from farmers across the Valley. We loved getting a peek into a different farm each season, but thought it would be nice to try something different and invite a single farmer to share a whole year’s worth of insights. In his second column of the year, Casey Steinberg continues to share his perspective with us all.

It’s easy to slip into the cliché of writing about how fall is the time we start turning inward, thinking about sweaters, the crispness of the air, the waning light, and the impending immense task of extracting the bounty out of the Valley’s farms. But that tends to get predictable and boring. I should talk-up our imminent, magical crop of ginger and turmeric and the gorgeous triple-washed and spun-dry salads we produce weekly. Instead, I want to talk about blue jeans.

Yep, blue jeans, or rather brown, as the filthy case may be. According to a segment of “fashion” news I heard recently, it appears that “dirty” pants are in style. You can now buy the appearance of having worked all day on the farm without having lifted a finger (save for the one it took to click “add to cart”). No joke—these faux-dirty pants go for over $400. Maybe fake dirt is really hard to source? I won’t go into all the potential character judging and social commentary these pants inspire. The attraction is likely rooted in our culture’s innate desire to be connected to the earth in this new world of concrete.

The dirt (read: soil) and wear and tear on our pants at Old Friends Farm is genuine. We feel proud to offer up some real mud-caked-stiff competition to those clean-fingernailed posers. With that, I introduce the limited edition Old Friends Farm Real Dirty Pants, and with them a window into farm life! Each of these unique pairs comes adorned with real soil, mud, grease, and rips! (We can assure you that even though some of our clothes get quite dirty, our produce is immaculately clean by the time it gets to market!)

We’ll start with the old style double knee jeans. They are rare, as the new cuts are baggier with tiny pockets (not large enough for the standard equipment: wallet, mini-wrench, various nuts and bolts, collection of pens and markers, mini tape measurer, granola bar, drip irrigation couplers, write-in-the-rain notepad, handkerchief, cotter pin, and the special rock my daughter insisted I carry with me on any given day). They don’t make these anymore, and when they finally give up the ghost, I will be devastated.

Then there’s the artfully ripped jeans. The back left pocket of these well-loved pants tore when they got caught on a tractor implement. The hammer loop (which is actually completely useless) is tattered because it catches on everything, including the knobs of my cabinets at home—very annoying. Not visible are the mended front pockets, which developed holes due to carrying around loose hardware and sharp giblets. Without these extra stitches, your change winds up in your boots!

Don’t forget the “give and take” jeans. The first area to “give” is always just above the double knee due to repeatedly carrying harvest crates, tools, and other whatnot and the sharp corners on our greenhouse tables that catch our pants at that exact height. Randomly spaced dark spots are a combination of mud, grease, used vegetable oil (used to fuel our delivery truck), and resin from harvesting sunflowers. Some of the newer spots are from sneaking bits of leftover flourless chocolate birthday cake from the crew fridge and wiping the sticky evidence on my pants.

Finally, we have the real dirty Real Dirty Pants. The soggy knees variety originated from a morning of transplanting fall stock—a beautiful, fragrant flower. (The flowers smell infinitely better than the pants.) And the holes-in-the-knees style is created by crawling miles of veggie beds in order to hand weed them.

If, as the poet Kahlil Gibran suggests, “work is love made visible,” then Real Dirty Pants are work made visible, and we love our work!