I’ve just returned from a week in Rockport, Massachusetts, a little town on the edge of Cape Ann, about 45 minutes north of Boston. I’ve written about Rockport before, on several occasions. And for good reason.
I’ve spent every summer of my life in Rockport, in a house on a hill that was first purchased by my great-grandmother, Helena Meredith, as a fair weather escape from her home in Brookline. This original house was nothing more than a small cottage, unsuitable for winter, and had once been the blacksmith shop on a larger farm.
It’s since been rebuilt, but even now with four bedrooms and heat for the winter, it’s nothing fancy. Yet it houses the hallmarks of my youth, and for that, it is and always will be my favorite place on Earth.
Gone are the creaky old stairs, the dusty eves, the stinky gas range that had to be lit with a match – all major novelties when I was a kid. What remains are the objects that alone seem inconsequential, but together fill a house and make it so much more than four walls and a roof. Ancient, weathered novels occupy shelves with yellowed 70’s Jackie Collins trash and the ever resourceful Berenstain Bears. Mismatched bone china tea cups sit next to Roxbury Latin and Harvard cocktail glasses, both now forced to inhabit the same space as a New York Yankees plastic abomination, courtesy of my husband (oh, the indignity). Fraying, faded bath towels piled up in the linen closet still have my mother and uncles names on them from their camp days in Maine and New Hampshire. Dresser drawers that stick in the heat squeak loudly in protest every time they are opened, revealing loose change from who-knows-when and a musty summer house smell that cannot be replicated.
My great-grandmother’s guest book sits on the sideboard, documenting old addresses, the dates and details of decades of summer visits. It is filled with handwriting I love so well, my grandmother’s specifically, but also the 6 year old chicken scratch that later became my own mother’s hand. Still chicken scratch – indeed it is a family trait.
The flag presented to my mother at my grandfather’s funeral, thanks for service to his country during World War II, sits proudly on the mantle. His old “jackass pants” (the madras style pants that were his Rockport uniform) and a few cable knit golf sweaters still hang in the upstairs closet. I daresay they always will.
Across the dirt and pebble drive live my godparents, two of my most beloved family members. Their house sits on the slope that was once the chicken coop – though you’d never know it now – and is just about the most peaceful place I’ve ever been. Littered with knotted old apple and pear trees, a bench swing dripping with wisteria and complete with a Japanese style garden and pond, you can close your eyes and the only thing you will hear is the wind whispering in the trees, welcoming you home.
The barn and the original farmhouse are inhabited and have also been lovingly rehabbed, so the old Cleeves farm on Pigeon Hill is still brimming with life, these many years later.
From most vantage points on our hill you can see a scrap of water, the sparkling blue dotted with the white sails of the Sandy Bay Yacht Club sailing school. At night, you can hear the fog horn, its soft, low drone lulling you to sleep, calling you back from your brink and reminding you that you are safe here, at home.
Gregg’s Peach Kuchen
This is my godfather Gregg’s recipe. He is a fabulous baker and I am always stealing ideas from him. He taught me at the age of 9 not to be afraid of pastry, which has proved to be a valuable lesson in my life! He made this for one of several family dinners last week in Rockport. I have made a couple modifications, so here it is, “Dot” style.
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
5 ripe peaches, peeled and halved
2 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 400.
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and 2 tbsp sugar. Cut in the butter until its crumbly and resembles wet sand. Press mixture firmly on bottom and up sides of a non-stick 11 inch tart pan.
Arrange peach halves, cut side down, on pastry. Mix remaining sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle over top peaches, bake for 15 minutes. In the meantime, beat together the egg yolks and the cream. After 15 minutes, remove kuchen from oven and pour cream mixture over tip. Bake for 30 more minutes.
Cool to room temp or chill. Can be made a few hours ahead.