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Peterborough

Food is art at MacDowell Colony

Evolution of the traditional basket lunch that fuels creativity at the Peterborough artist colony

  • Eggplant parmesan sandwiches, mushroom and rice soup, a pear, coffee and a cherry turnover cookie for lunch at The MacDowell Colony on Wednesday March 12.
  • Eggplant parmesan sandwiches, mushroom and rice soup, a pear, coffee and a cherry turnover cookie for lunch at The MacDowell Colony on Wednesday March 12.
  • Jeannie Wegmueller of Temple, a kitchen assistant at MacDowell prepares lunch baskets for colonists.
  • Jeannie Wegmueller of Temple, a kitchen assistant at MacDowell prepares lunch baskets for colonists.
  • Jeannie Wegmueller of Temple, a kitchen assistant at MacDowell spoons out mushroom and rice soup.
  • Eggplant parmesan sandwiches, mushroom and rice soup, a pear, coffee and a cherry turnover cookie for lunch at The MacDowell Colony on Wednesday March 12.
  • <br/>“Food is our art,” said MacDowell chef Maryel Chabot.
  • <br/>“Food is our art,” said MacDowell chef Maryel Chabot.
  • Eggplant parmesan sandwiches, mushroom and rice soup, a pear, coffee and a cherry turnover cookie for lunch at The MacDowell Colony on Wednesday March 12.
  • <br/>Blake Tewksbury collects lunch baskets that he will deliver to the artist's in their cabins.
  • <br/>Blake Tewksbury collects lunch baskets that he will deliver to the artist's in their cabins.
  • Blake Tewksbury collects lunch baskets that he will deliver to the artist's in their cabins.
  • Eggplant parmesan sandwiches, mushroom and rice soup, a pear, coffee and a cherry turnover cookie for lunch at The MacDowell Colony on Wednesday March 12.

People know the MacDowell Colony. They know it is the oldest artists’ colony in the United States, and they recognize many of the former fellows such as Leonard Bernstein, Thornton Wilder and Alice Sebold.

Most people don’t know one of the best adjectives to describe MacDowell: Delicious.

Homemade granola, freshly baked bread, oatmeal, local yogurt, fresh fruit, eggs benedict, goat cheese omelets, juice and coffee for breakfast. Eggplant parmesan sandwiches, mushroom and rice soup, a pear, coffee and a cherry turnover cookie for lunch. Sirloin steak, salad, roasted red potatoes, possibly macaroni-and-cheese with a sage crust, and peach crisp for dinner.

Food is a huge part of life at MacDowell.

“Food is our art,” said MacDowell chef Maryel Chabot of Peterborough.

Chabot has been making food for fellows at MacDowell for 20 years.

When she first started at MacDowell, the kitchen served items such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Campbell’s soup, and store bought cookies for lunch. Today, Chabot said artists are increasingly interested in knowing where their food comes from, and the Colony has shifted to meet these needs. “We make everything from scratch and try to buy as much local produce and organic items as we can,” she said.

For today’s fellows, “Vegan is big, guten free is big and people really want to stay away from GMOs,” she said.

To meet these needs, MacDowell began raising chickens for farm-to-table eggs and has also raised pigs for pork.

Chabot said she draws inspiration for her cooking from restaurant menus and cookbooks. Her favorite cookbooks and cooking magazines take up two large shelves in the dinning hall. Her favorite cookbooks are The Moosewood Cookbook - featuring sophisticated and easy-to-prepare vegetarian recipes; anything written by Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa; the Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl (a former fellow); The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham; and The New American Cooking by Joan Nathan, another former MacDowell fellow.

Chicken burritos, tofu wraps with peanut sauce and “Scott’s” fried chicken are colony favorites, Chabot said. Fruit-based desserts are also extremely popular. “I think people see dessert as a little bite of love at the end of the meal,” said Chabot.

Items like olive-and-cream-cheese sandwiches, breakfast-for-dinner and hotdogs with baked beans, are no longer on the menu, Chabot said.

Chabot said feels that nurturing the artists’ creativity with food is critical.

Jeannie Wegmueller of Temple has been a kitchen assistant at MacDowell for a year and a half. Wegmueller, too, believes that food is essential for creativity. When the artists are freed from worrying about daily tasks such as laundry and meal preparation they have more room to be creative, she explained.

Wegmueller believes that dinner is the most important meal of the day because it is a time when all the colonists come together to network and share ideas.

Blake Tewksbury has been working at MacDowell since 1980, he agrees there have been major changes in the food options since he first started. But, he feels lunch is the most important meal of the day. Tewksbury delivers lunches to colonists in Peterborough Basket Company picnic baskets. His visits help break the routine, and are sometimes the only human contact colonists have during the day, he said.

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