Boston Cream PiePhoto Credit : Aimee Seavey
Whether it is the gooey wild blueberry pie of mid-summer or the thick Indian pudding of late fall, New England desserts embody the warmth and comfort that traditional New England cuisine is so famously known for.
Some of these classic New England desserts originated in the northeast and some did not, but over the centuries, and in typical New England style, our ancestors adopted them, giving them a New England flare. A repertoire of recipes is incomplete without these classic New England desserts!
Apple pie has a long history. Now popular just about anywhere you go, it arrived in New England with the original settlers from Britain. Records show that something like what we’ve come to recognize as “apple pie” existed in England, but eventually, it became the pastry-encased sliced apples we cherish today. As many Yankees can confirm, nothing beats the aroma of tart, hand-picked New England apples coated in cinnamon and sugar baking on a chilly fall day. For the most authentic New England apple pie experience, we northerners know that a piece of sharp cheddar must be served on the side or on top of your slice. (Of course, we wouldn’t say no to a scoop of vanilla ice cream instead.)
A chef at Boston’s Parker House Hotel invented the Boston cream pie. At the time, the term “pie” and “cake” were used interchangeably, and the designation of “pie” stuck to this dessert despite its resemblance to a cake. The Boston cream pie is a two-layer yellow cake separated by a generous layer of yellow custard and drenched in a chocolate glaze. You would be hard pressed to find a self-described New Englander who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned piece of Boston cream pie. The pie is so iconic in Massachusetts that it was named the official state dessert.
RECIPE: Boston Cream Pie Recipe
Indian pudding dates back to colonial times. Some believe that the Native Americans introduced early settlers to this hearty treat, others claim that it was a modification of Britain’s Hasty pudding. Either way, Indian pudding has been a part of the New England menu for hundreds of years. In recent decades, this tasty dessert has become less common. Some people may not have even heard of it, but it is the perfect dish for fall and winter evenings. Sweetened with molasses, seasoned with cinnamon and perhaps a little ginger, this cornmeal-based dessert resembles a very thick porridge, though certainly more flavorful. It may not look appealing, but this is the ultimate comfort dessert of New England, and really is worth a bite.
RECIPE: Indian Pudding Recipe
Flavors ranging from pumpkin to coffee often land at the top of “most popular ice cream” lists in New England, but Maple Walnut ice cream is perhaps the most New England ice cream flavor there could ever be. It existed at least as far back as 1948 when Howard Johnson, restaurateur of New England, advertised it with his 28 flavors of ice cream. It is no wonder that the flavor has remained popular. It includes two things we in New England take very seriously, ice cream and maple syrup, creating a smooth, sweet concoction that should not be missed!
RECIPE: Maple Walnut Ice Cream Recipe
The Rhubarb plant is sometimes referred to as the “pie plant,” and it has a fascinating history. The plant was first grown in Asia, but eventually made its way to Europe. Some claim that Benjamin Franklin was the first person to introduce Rhubarb to the New World, but other sources suggest it was a farmer from northern New England. In any case, the plant became a popular ingredient in the pies of colonists and has thrived in New England ever since. While you can make a delicious sweet pie with only rhubarb, a lot of people prefer to add strawberries for strawberry-rhubarb pie.
RECIPE: Deep-Dish Rhubarb Pie Recipe
The chocolate chip cookie is perhaps the most famous and widely enjoyed of the New England Desserts, and is the only dessert that originates in New England without question. Ruth Wakefield invented the cookie in the 1930s at the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. People have their preferences: nuts or no nuts, chewy center or crunchy center, with milk or without, but I have never met a New Englander, or a person anywhere, who doesn’t love a good, old-fashioned, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chip cookie.
The Amish people of Pennsylvania originally invented the whoopie pie, however, the treat became more popular in New England when it was brought to Maine around 1925. The chocolate cake-like cookie sandwich held together with a thick layer of fluffy marshmallow or cream, has become one of the most recognizable New England desserts. (Maine even adopted it as its official “state treat.”) People of all ages enjoy the sticky goodness of the occasional homemade or store-bought Whoopie pie.
RECIPE: Whoopie Pie Recipe
New England’s claim to the blueberry pie stems from Maine’s position as the top wild blueberry producer of the world. Blueberry picking is a favorite summer pastime and the berries that aren’t eaten in the field often find their way into a blueberry pie (or other pastry). The summer dining experience in New England is not a success until you’ve sampled a juicy wild blueberry pie, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream slowly melting on top.
Which of these New England desserts is your favorite?
This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated.