Sounds of long ago...whispers in New Hampshire

Sweet Potato & Cod Soup with a hint of Cinnamon

The month of May rolled in smoothly adorning the countryside of New Hampshire with her gorgeous blooms and quietly blowing fresh soft winds all over the state to gently sway the newly leafed maples back and forth.  Last month, after thoroughly enjoying the Hancock Inn's first historical tour of the April trek through the early spring pine scented woods to visit and hear stories behind New Hampshire's abandoned cellar holes... I was thoroughly anticipating May's historical tour.

The next historic tour and dinner evening at The Hancock Inn in Hancock, New Hampshire would introduce us to the history behind the quaint and serene New Hampshire cemeteries.

As I drove from Merrimack county into Hillsboro county, pots of pansies dotted front porches and the little flowers peeked out of window boxes.   It is small wonder the state flower of New Hampshire is the purple lilac, or Syringa vulgaris.  The heady gorgeous scent teases us first like a beautifully wrapped gift that must wait to be opened.  The scent fills the air but the blooms are still tightly shut.  Their blooms promise to open soon but fortunately for us, they send out their lovely fragrance first before popping open second.

I was quite excited about this second historic tour because we would be touring one of the oldest cemeteries in Hancock, NH and learning about the residents who were buried there during the 1700 and 1800s.

Back at our own home, right down the road from our farmhouse, across the covered bridge and to the left of the river is the quietest most serene little cemetery up on a hill overlooking the water.  I very much enjoy wandering through our own little cemetery.  It overlooks the river below and beyond that the train station on the other side. I have become curious about the history of New Hampshire cemeteries in general.  One reason is because they all look like a scene out of the countryside of England or Ireland.  Their inscriptions on the headstones drip with stories of the past as they sit topsy turvy in little nooks and plots all over the state.  

Beautiful Magnolia trees in bloom for May

Hot coffee in hand, I drove up and over the verdant hills from our little village of Warner to the adorable picturesque village of Hancock.  The air felt scrubbed clean.  Where the trees were blanketed in snow just a short time ago, now they were as green as a sea of shimmering jade.

I admired the lake houses nestled along the shore of Lake Massasecum and noted the now bustling flower markets opening for the summer season.  Arriving at The Hancock Inn, I glanced at the busy little restaurant called Fiddleheads across the street.  I noticed the unfurling mass of fiddleheads clustered beneath the little restaurant sign across the inn...aptly named.

Apple Blossoms in full bloom

People were already gathering along the sidewalk to meet our guide, John Hayes, while getting to know one another.  It promised rain that morning so we all readied for our walk through town up to Pine Ridge Cemetery.  

Walkers were wearing knee high Wellies.  Some were crimson red, others were charcoal black.  Many men wore  Bean's Rubber Mocs, perfect for squishing through the spongy moss that covered the cemetery grounds.  The scent of lilacs was everywhere and The Hancock Inn had them in vases in many of the main rooms.

I am enjoying these monthly tours immensely.  I have met people local to the area, from different parts of New Hampshire as well as from the New England area.  I have met naturalists, writers, painters, geologists, historians, and all manner of people interested in the history behind the quaint cemeteries of New Hampshire.  

In 1920, the late Orland Eaton bequeathed the town of Hancock $100 to document as many of the tombstones in the graveyard as possible.  The town of Peterborough, up the road, had gone through a similar documentation and the Historical Society of Hancock decided to do the same.

As we wandered quietly through the Pine Ridge Cemetery, I couldn't help but notice little iron pins with etched numbers and letters on them.  These were placed here long ago so the town could map out the gravestones in order to document the cemetery.

Sweet Potato and Cod Soup with a hint of Cinnamon

The names on the dark smoky grey tombstones were wonderfully classic.  Names like: Elwyn, Orvan, Eugene, and Abbie were easy to read on some stones and harder to make out on others.

My mind tried to imagine life here in this little village during the 1700 and 1800s.  One inscription made me pause with sadness.  The mother's name was Mary, but there was no mention of the daughter's name.  It read:

Here lies a mother and her only daughter, closed in the grave side by side, with hopes of meeting their precious Saviour. (May 28, 1851)

Scenes in New Hampshire

As we stood around John Hayes,  he spoke about the lives of the people buried underneath our feet.  I couldn't help but fully embrace the moment, the images of the time period then versus now.  The time that we each have on this earth seems so fleeting as we each leave traces of our lives that will be recorded for future generations to ponder.

Another sweet grave stone stood wobbling to the left.  Tiny little pink flowers surrounded the earth around it.  Again, the inscription caught my eye.  The tombstone was in dedication to the daughter of Captain John and Millicent Washburn who died at the age of 14 years old.  It read:

But yesterday, her eye her smile, were sweet as thine Her heart as gay.  Fair flower she bloomed a little while, Now earth resumes its native clay.

How utterly bittersweet, heartbreaking,  and lovely all at the same time.  Again, my imagination soared as we progressed over to the gravestones of those those men who fought  in the French and Indian War.   The soldiers who fought in the Civil War had their resting spots identified with medallions and little American flags that stood proudly waving in the soft May breezes.

Again, my attention was diverted.  I tend to wander away from group situations.  I yearned to sit in front of each gravestone and carefully read  the inscriptions of each one.  While I was reading one little tombstone, barely a granite nub above the ground...a tiny little chipmunk popped out the rock wall to my right.  

He didn't seem afraid.  Possibly, the little guy was used to people wandering dreamily through this historical site.  I exchanged a few words with him.  He shuffled his little chipmunk paws at the sound of my voice.   I stood up to join the group again and he scampered back in his little hole making cute little scuttling sounds with his tiny little feet.  

John Hayes, our tour guide through Pine Grove Cemetery in Hancock, New Hampshire

One tombstone literally made me gasp when John Hayes walked us over to it.  It is the tombstone of Moses Eaton.  The name immediately made me think of the entryway to our farmhouse we just bought. We were told that our stenciling in our front entryway was done by this  renowned New Hampshire stenciler named Moses Eaton.  

Pine Grove Cemetery in Hancock, New Hampshire

Moses Eaton was one of the best documented stencilers of New England in the late 1700s.  As European fashions were making their mark on wealthy Bostonians, one of those fashions was imported wallpaper.  For those who couldn't afford the expensive imported wallpapers, stenciling was the next best option.

Moses Eaton later settled in Hancock and began copying some of the wallpaper patterns by stenciling them in people's homes.  After he died, the original kit of wall paper stencils was found in his attic.  Many of them matched the designs found in the homes of that area of New Hampshire.

New Hampshire stenciling became an art form in its own right.  The stencils were filled with symbols that had important meanings to settlers during that time period.  I found this bit of information about the stencils that helped me define and become even more curious if the stencil in our own farmhouse is one of Moses Eaton's stencils:

The swag and pendant, known as the liberty bell, was a patriotic emblem of post-Revolutionary America. Of those derived from nature, the flower baskets represented friendship; the oak leaf, strength and loyalty; the willow, everlasting life; and the pineapple, hospitality. Hearts, then, as today, stood for love and happiness, and were part of the "redding up" of a homestead for a new bride.

We definitely have one of the floral patterns found in Moses Eaton's collection of stencils.  It can be seen here.  The curious thing is that at the bottom of our entry way wall, there is a stencil of a camel being pulled by a man as well as a stencil of an elephant.  I've looked carefully at all of the Moses Eaton stencils that I can find online.  I only see his stencils of horses, so we'll have to do more investigating on the the origins of these animal stencils.

It is a mystery that we cannot wait to delve into and see if we can put the pieces together!  Meanwhile, we are bouncing around ideas on how to preserve the stenciling as we do some redecorating of the entry way.  

As everyone marveled at the tombstone of Moses Eaton, we eventually moved on to discussing the markings and artwork that adorned tombstones of this period.  What I love about these historical tours is dreaming about not only the wonderful dinner being prepared for us later that evening back at the Hancock Inn, but knowing the  discussion of historical cemeteries will continue into the evenings.

The Hancock Inn in New Hampshire

The group eventually dispersed and everyone went their own way again.  We were going to meet back at the inn for the gourmet dinner.  I took my time and ambled down the Main Street of Hancock.  I passed the tiny little post office building.  It sits on the bank of a pretty little lake.  As I walked further, I looked up at the gently swaying weathervane at the top of the elegant white church.

The Hancock Inn, New Hampshire

Next I walked by a few historical homes.  Their gardens along the street were all nicely tended and some blooms, like purple foxglove and lily of the valley were opened.

I couldn't resist stopping into Main Street Cheese Co. to visit the baby goats in the back.  They were scampering from log to log showing off their cuteness..  Some were munching of wads of hay while curiously looking at me.  Others were nudging each other trying to start up a game of tag.

Sarah, the goat herd owner and cheesemaker,  makes the most delicious goat cheeses.  Basically, anyone can pop into the barn, choose from a variety of goat cheese in the refrigerator, leave some money in the tiny money box and be on their way.  I picked out a goat cheese/dill combination.   When my cousin visited, I put this out with crackers next to my sweet potato/cod soup.  Delicious!

With Wellies discarded and fresh clothes on, Patrick and I returned to The Hancock Inn for the evening dinner.  The speaker, Glenn Knoblock, was invited to join our table and continue the discussion about New Hampshire historic cemeteries.  Glenn is a historian and author of twelve books.  He studied the markings and artistry used during the 1700 and 1800 time periods and unraveled the rich stories of historical events, such as the Great Awakening, the Throat Distemper epidemic, and the American Revolution.

Dinner was delicious!  I believe I had the best meal I've had yet at The Hancock Inn.  I selected the North Star Farm Lamb with spring herbs, split pea & sugar snaps.  Phil and Lisa Webster run North Star Sheep Farm up in Maine.  They have been sheep farmers in Maine for years as their families go way back in the sheep farming industry.  The lamb was cooked perfectly and just melted with flavor.  

New Hampshire scenery

As usual, the meals at the inn inspire me to return to my own kitchen and create dishes based on these experiences.  Last month, I enjoyed the delicious creamy turnip soup.  I decided to make at home a sweet potato & cod soup for my cousin's visit during May.

The soup I made has a slight hint of cinnamon and oregano.  Surprisingly the combination of that with the sweet potato and cod  with that touch of unexpected cinnamon came together nicely.  

The month of June will bring a much anticipated historic food tour.  The theme will be "food" of New Hampshire.  Not only does the theme work perfectly for my never ending thirst for new food endeavors, I will meet Edie Clark of Yankee Magazine.  

With our house being torn up from kitchen to Master Bedroom, these evenings away staying at the inn are much needed breaks.  The hammering and plaster tearing that is happening over here at the farmhouse has left our lives in temporary disarray and on certain days in chaos!  Much of the style that we are decorating our house is of similar time period to that of The Hancock Inn so it is also inspiring for to see their finished product.  

Until next month's tour...

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